Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Good Questions

Kevin Drum wonders why the NIE saying that Iran stopped its nuclear weapon program in 2003 was released.

A couple of random thoughts on the newly released NIE concluding that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003:

– This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA — all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless.

– Why were the key judgments finally released? Cheney didn’t want them released, Bush surely didn’t want them released, and DNI Mike McConnell told Congress a few weeks ago that he didn’t want them released. So who did?

All I’ve got is speculation on the second question, but here it is: it was congressional pressure. Democratic members of the various intelligence committees saw the NIE (or a summary or a verbal report or something) and went ballistic. Footnotes and dissents are one thing, but withholding a report whose primary conclusion is 180 degrees contrary to years of administration innuendo produced a rebellion. Somebody who got briefed must have threatened something pretty serious if the NIE didn’t see the light of day.

Like I said, just a guess. But who else has the clout to force Bush, Cheney, and McConnell to change course?

I trust Kevin’s inside knowledge implicitly, but I find it a little hard to believe it was someone in Congress, especially on the Democratic side, since heretofore they’ve shown absolutely no spine when it comes to challenging the White House on matters like this. And why now? Why not back in October when Bush went “boogedy-boogedy” about Iran with his talk about World War III? It would have been a lot more powerful — and would have spared us six weeks of GOP stem winding about the imminent threat of mushroom clouds from Tehran.

On the other hand, as Kevin suggests, it could be that whoever it was that forced the release of the NIE is holding back something even more devastating to the Bushies and this was just an opening salvo.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the president will now make the case for increasing the funding for fighting his war on terrorism and retain any credibility at all…assuming he has any in the first place. So far they haven’t gotten anything right.

It’s pass-the-popcorn fun to read the right-wing reaction to this news. First is the theory that the intelligence community is out to screw the administration yet again, just like they did with the WMD’s in Iraq.

Given the poor performance of the U.S. Intelligence Community (“IC”) in drafting previous NIE’s, we should review the IC’s work with a skeptical eye–no matter what conclusions are drawn. Interestingly, the IC now concedes that it is certain Iran had a nuclear weapons program. But that isn’t getting the headlines. And after having read the little that has been made public from this NIE, we are left with substantive questions.

In other words, don’t trust the spooks; they’re really territorial. Didn’t you see Enemy of the State?

The second right-wing talking point is that this is bad news for the Democrats because now the administration has been caught shoveling bullshit for the last four years, what are they going to run against?

Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes? But to advance that belief is also to concede that, Iran, like Libya, likely came to a conjecture around (say early spring 2003?) that it was not wise for regimes to conceal WMD programs, given the unpredictable, but lethal American military reaction.

In other words, the Democrats were suckers to trust that the Bush administration would tell the truth about the state of Iran’s nuclear program and therefore they’re the ones with a lot of explaining to do.

Who needs the Writers Guild when you’ve got this kind of creative writing going on?