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Monday, December 24, 2007

The World After the NIE Report

If anyone wants to know what a brave new world the internet and 24 cable news has created they only need to look at the dynamics created by the release of the National Intelligence Estimate in regards to Iran's nuclear program. Six or eight years ago I would venture to guess that many in government wouldn't know anything about any NIE report. Now, the NIE is subject to water cooler discussion and is being used as spin material by politicians as far away as Iran.

The problem with this brave new world is that most of the people in it know just enough to be dangerous.

First, as Fred Thomspon rightly points out, we should have a healthy skepticism toward this report.

The accuracy of the latest NIE on Iran should be received with a good deal of skepticism. Our intelligence community has often underestimated the intentions of adversaries, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq and North Korea. And are all of the CIA detractors now going to take intelligence pronouncements at face value? It's awfully convenient for a lot of people: the administration gets to say its policies worked; the Democrats get to claim we should have eased up on Iran a long time ago: and Russia and China can claim sanctions on Iran are not necessary

Second, if the report is right, then the reaction is almost entirely spin and in no way relates to reality. There is a great deal of irony that most of the same people that are using this report to attack Bush for some sort of perceived misleading statements also attacked Bush for lying about Iraq. The final NIE report on Iraq painted a scary picture in which the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein was seeking a plethora of WMD programs. Even though that particular report concurred with the picture the President gave, that didn't stop his opponents from claiming that he lied about Iraq's WMD's. Now, most of the exact same people that ignored a previous NIE report to claim he lied are using another NIE report to claim he is now lying. They simply can't have it both ways. Either the NIE is the gospel or it isn't.

Finally, if this report is accurate, then it in fact validates Bush's entire foreign policy strategy. The NIE report says that Iran halted their nuclear program in 2003. Unless you are a believer in strange coincidences that means Iran stopped their program because they noticed their neighbor to the West was getting bombarded because of his own WMD program. In other words, the invasion of Iraq did in fact put tyrants and despots on notice and it changed their behavior. Remember, Lybia also gave up its WMD program in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.

Here is another view...
What did that pressure consist of? In the fall of 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency had not yet referred the civil Iranian nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. That happened in 2006, and the Security Council finally agreed on (weak) sanctions later that year. In the fall of 2003, the European Union had barely swung into action with its negotiations--which have gone nowhere in four years. Thequasi-urgency displayed by both the IAEA and the EU in late 2003 was a result of fear that unless they got engaged, the United States might act unilaterally and militarily. Why such fear?

Much as the U.S. intelligence community, the IAEA, and the EU might prefer to forget it, we did overthrow Saddam Hussein in April 2003. As Rosett puts it, that "was the year in which Saddam Hussein became Exhibit A of the post-Sept.-11 era for what could happen to terror-linked tyrants who ignored America's demands that they abjure weapons of mass murder."

Did anyone notice? Muammar Qaddafi did. Libya, in late 2003, gave up its nuclear weapons program (which was, incidentally, more advanced than the IAEA believed) and invited U.S. experts in to dismantle it.

Perhaps Iran's mullahs also noticed. Perhaps they noticed, too, a large U.S.-led military force just across their border.

Why then are some using this as bludgeon against Bush?

Here is how Joe Biden put it...

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) Tuesday asserted that President Bush is not leveling with the country when he says that he did not know in mid-October that U.S. intelligence services believed at that time that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.“Are you telling me a president who is briefed every single morning, who is fixatedon Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies in the United States government said they had abandoned their effort for a nuclear weapon in ’03?” Biden said in a conference call with reporters.

So, when accusing the sitting President of lying about matters of national security, Biden uses nothing but supposition. Of course, he isn't alone. Most of the entire MSM has claimed this.

Criticism was coming from nearly every single quarter.
The new National Intelligence Estimate — which says Iran had a nuclear weapons development program, but halted it in 2003 — made President Bush's week play out like a sad country song. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was smiling and called the report a victory. Rush Limbaugh blasted the report as a product of administration sabotage. And Democrats were accusing the president of being a flip-flopper.

The NIE drew fire from nearly all sides, including anti-war Democrats in Congress, foreign leaders the administration needs to hold the line against Iran, and conservatives usually supportive of the administration.

The root issue for many critics comes down to credibility: Credibility of the estimate, credibility of the intelligence community that developed it and the credibility of the administration for whom those agencies work. Bridging that credibility gap might prove difficult for an administration heading into its final months.

The most absurd criticism came from those that claimed this would slow down "Bush's rush to war". First, the only rush that Bush had to go to war with Iran was in the minds of the people that claimed he had it. For the last six years the only thing Bush has done is go back to the UN for an endless stream of useless sanctions. If anything Bush hasn't been tough enough, not too tough. Second, to claim that this proves that Iran isn't the threat that Bush claims is to ignore all reality. First here is how some of those think.

To be sure, the first reaction to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is simple relief — the Bush administration is less likely to launch a unilateral, pre-emptive military strike against a nuclear program that doesn’t exist.

But then there are the second and third reactions, which are nearly as important in providing context. Matt Yglesias, for example, reminds us that in 2003, Iran reached out to the U.S. in order to strike a sweeping peace deal, which would have led the country to give up on a nuclear program that they then-realized would be too hard to develop. Bush wasn’t interested.

For anyone to treat Iran as anything short of a sociopathic regime that needs to be isolated and confronted until they understand that confrontation will only lead to their destruction is to ignore reality. Let's review some of the things Iran has done in the last couple years.

One of their proxies started a war in Lebanon with Israel. Another proxy started a war in Palestine with Israel. It is Iran that is responsible for the much of the alphabet soup of explosive devices currently killing our soldiers in Iraq . Let's not forget that the Iranians crossed into international waters, took fifteen British sailors hostage, and then paraded them on television for propaganda purposes. To claim that Iran is not a menace because some government report claims they halted their nuclear program (though interestingly not their uranium enrichment) is to ignore Iran's actions over the last few years. Iran is a menace. If this report is accurate then it proves that the only way to deal with them is with a hammer.

What is frustrating to folks like me is how the White House is again bungling the media handling of this report. Even though they have the bully pulpit of the Presidency you aren't hearing much response to much of this absurd criticism.

There you have the brave new world of the MSM and the NIE report. It is complicated by nature as the NIE report is really not meant for layman. That said, most people are asking all the wrong questions and coming to all the wrong conclusions. It is nothing short of absurd to have the same Joe Biden accusing Bush of misleading on Iraq, all the while ignoring the NIE report, and misleading on Iran, all the while treating this NIE report as the gospel. It is shameful that the MSM has focused solely on perceived misleading statements without even a thought that this report actually confirms Bush's policies.

Finally, and to me most importantly, it is no less shameful that the Bush admin allows all of this to happen even though they have the bully pulpit of the Presidency.

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