I have written too much about why it is a bad idea to bomb Iran now, but there remain nagging questions about the latest intelligence disclosures about Iran as the airways remain full of all sorts of crazy opinions.
1. The politics of intelligence credibility are neither constant nor logical. If Bush was criticized for being provocative after the worrisome intelligence reports in 2005, and the intelligence briefs themselves deemed not credible, then why would he not be praised for letting the intelligence chips fall where they lay in 2007; and alternatively, why would critics suddenly believe reports in 2007, emanating from agencies they had damned in 2005?
2. Why wouldn’t the report explain why Iran, like Libya, supposedly halted enrichment in 2003-when, in a way not true of 2005-6-the U.S. enjoyed a brief reputation of being unpredictable, aggressive, and dangerous to those with supposedly stealthy WMD programs?
3. Were Sarkozy’s and the Israelis’ recent warnings about Iran dependent upon, or autonomous from, these current and more optimistic U.S. appraisals?
4. What exactly in a post 9/11 world of terrorism is the dividing line between weapons capability and enriched uranium, which in itself might be useful to terrorists?
5. More existentially, why would a country that produces 4 million barrels of oil per day at $90 per barrel not use its windfall profits to expand and refurbish an ailing oil industry to get in further on the obscene profit-making, rather than divert resources in the billions for the acquisition of a reactor that is not needed for power production (natural gas is still burned off at the wellhead)?
6. We suffer collective amnesia in suggesting that the chill in Iranian relations was a phenomenon of the last few years alone. Not restoring formal diplomatic relations was a bipartisan policy, presumably based on the notion that neither the Carter nor the Clinton administration ever got genuine positive feedback from their efforts to expand diplomatic channels with the Iranians. After all, what President wanted to be responsible for opening-and losing-another embassy in Teheran? In this regard, the recent hostage-taking of British soldiers abroad reaffirms that Iranian ways have not changed much since 1979.
7. Finally, rather than evoke all sorts of conspiracy theories why Bush candidly released the report now, there are lots of logical reasons.
Given the recent history of leaks, and the partisanship we know in the CIA from a spate of tell-all, self-serving books, it was going to come out anyway and used in an unfavorable context.
Second, things are looking up for the US in the region in a variety of ways: The elections of Sarkozy and Merkel show a new seriousness on the part of Europe in connection to containing nuclear proliferation in Iran;
Third, the situation is vastly improved in Iraq and may well have the effect of weakening Iran as much now as the former bad news there once strengthened the Iranians in the past;
Fourth, the new Sunni anti-Iranian coalition has isolated Iran; and recent reports about last year’s Lebanon war suggest Israel did far more damage to Hezbollah than at first thought, requiring vast amounts of Iranian money to restore its arsenals and Shiite infra-structure; and, again contrary to popular opinion, its Syrian, Hamas, and Hezbollah tentacles are not doing all that well (cf., e.g., the recent Israeli bombing of the Syrian installation with the silent approval of its Arab neighbors; the civil war in Palestine; the growing split in Iraq between pro-Iranian and Iraqi nationalist Shiite factions, and the relative quiet of Nasrallah amid the devastation in southern Lebanon.)