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Bush Doctrine Revisited (Updated)

Jay Carney, albeit sarcastically, spins the potential spin on the recently disclosed NIE summary of Iran's nuclear weapons program...or lack thereof:


The inevitable spin out of the Bush Administration will be that the NIE is proof that their approach on Iran has worked. In fact, expect to hear and read lots of analysis and punditry about how Chris Hill's success in North Korea, positive surge-induced developments in Iraq, the promise of progress emanating from Annapolis and even, why not, Venzuela's narrow rebuff of Hugo Chavez are all the product of Bushian diplomacy.


Is this really so far fetched? As Ed Morrissey points out, something certainly did happen in 2003 that might've prompted Iran to halt whatever advances they had made in nuclear armament. Whereas Libya rushed to come clean with their nuclear intentions, Iran presumably made an internal political decision to halt their efforts out of self-preservation. After all, they needn't look too far west to see what the result might have been.

Some on the far Left have already used this as a way to dismiss the Bush administration's handling of Iran, and instead credit the IAEA for Iran's 2003 decision. This theory would be stronger, were it actually consistent with the timeline of events from that year.

It was the U.S. that had provided the surveillance photos of the construction at Natanz and Arak in December of 2002--just three months prior to the imminent invasion of Iraq. In November of 2003, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei declared that there was "no evidence" of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Today's bombshell report from the NIE disputes this claim, instead stating that the program was halted in the fall of 2003...right around the time ElBaradei declared there was no program to halt.

So was there "no evidence," or was there a program in motion that ceased to be? The truth is that the threat of American military action always rested as the backdrop to any inspection/sanction policy implemented by the UN. The combination of hard and soft power--the most blatant exhibit of the former being the invasion of Iraq that very same year--likely motivated the preservationists in Tehran to rethink the exporting of the revolution in the form of a nuclear Iran, as they have done repeatedly since 1979.

It would appear as if the gut reaction by some on the far Right has been to reject the legitimacy of the intelligence community on this. While there might be some valid reasoning behind doing so, that tactic strikes me as the least responsible avenue to go down. After all, this report is monitoring trends noticed over several different intelligence agencies, and essentially aggregates their findings by confidence levels. Shooting the messenger--especially those who may have risked their lives to acquire such knowledge--seems somewhat counterproductive.

Iran had been pursuing nuclear weapons up until the latter half of 2003, nearly two years after President Bush had labeled the regime as part of the "Axis of Evil." By late 2002, the U.S. had questioned the activity at two locations in Iran, prompting the rest of the international community to investigate. March 2003, Iraq is toppled for (supposedly) possessing WMDs. By the end of that same year, Iran had given up her nuclear ambitions, at least for weaponized purposes.

This could potentially place the Democratic presidential hopefuls in a box. Embrace the NIE, and embrace the idea that "cowboy diplomacy" may have indeed been effective. However, it only makes the Iran question even larger for both Democrats and Republicans alike. Trust the NIE, and the debate shifts from "do they" to "should they." The report makes it clear:


• We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be
technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this
is very unlikely.

• We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of
producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.
(INR judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of
foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize the
possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015.

D. Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could
be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example,
Iran's civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high
confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development
projects with commercial and conventional military applications--some of which would
also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.


As Dan Drezner notes, this makes the possibility of a Bush attack on Iran highly unlikely. So the onus now falls on the frontrunners for 2008, and the question isn't do they have nuclear weapons, but should they. There also remains the other two of the "big three" Iran concerns: 1. Their state sponsorship of terrorism, and 2. Their destabilizing role in Iraq. As I've argued in the past, it's in fact more immediately imperative that these two concerns be addressed, for the security of our troops stationed in Iraq, and the collective security of our allies in the region.

Perhaps this is the direction the candidates will take the NIE in, but only time will tell. This story has blogtopia abuzz, and rightfully so.

We shall keep you abreast...


UPDATE:

Matt at Foreign Policy Watch makes a valid point:

The only problem is that, if other countries were only recently overcoming a reticence to impose more sanctions on Tehran, they still will after the events of today. In some sense, I (sorta...) agree with Hadley. Iran is still in violation of three UNSC resolutions by ignoring demands to halt uranium enrichment and its adamant refusal of any suspension as of late - including outstanding inconsistencies in the construct of its nuclear infrastructure - has caused a great deal of suspicion about Iranian motives. The task will come, however, in finding others who agree that this by itself warrants new sanctions, for it's reasonable to believe that the admission that US intelligence is confident Iran is not working on a bomb in the basement will weaken the case for a third round of sanctions.
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