In 2007, just as the Bush administration was hyping the alleged "threat" from Iran’s ostensible nuclear ambitions – and facing renewed pressure from the Israel lobby to go after Tehran – the CIA issued a National Intelligence Estimate that punctured the War Party’s balloon. The NIE, which represents the considered opinion of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, averred that we knew with "high confidence" Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and not restarted it.
This immediately put the kibosh on the administration’s warlike impulses and deflated the propaganda campaign against Iran. No nukes? No problem – and no U.S. military strike in the final days of the Bush administration, which would have left incoming President Barack Obama with a grim inheritance indeed, and precluded the possibility of peace in the Middle East for many years to come.
Fortunately, thanks to the spooks, it was not to be. Yet Obama, while not stuck fighting a war initiated by his predecessor, nonetheless had passed down to him the same albatross that has ringed the neck of every administration since the early 1960s: the power and influence of the Israel lobby. The Lobby was and is bound and determined to enlist the U.S. in its crusade against Tehran, and under Obama the pressure has been ramped up considerably. Obama himself has played a key role in all this, accusing the Iranians of building nuclear weapons while ignoring the 2007 NIE, which is now undergoing a "rethink," according to reports:
"U.S. spy agencies are considering whether to rewrite a controversial 2007 intelligence report that asserted Tehran halted its efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say. The intelligence agencies’ rethink comes as pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill, and among U.S. allies, for the Obama administration to redo the 2007 assessment, after a string of recent revelations about Tehran’s nuclear program."
These unspecified "revelations," however, don’t amount to a hill of beans: the Qom facility was revealed by the Iranians, not the U.S., and we have known about it for years. If there were anything to it, you can bet the Bush administration would have come out with it long before now.
Indeed, the only real revelation unveiled by recent events is the fact that the Iranians have been so unexpectedly forthcoming in the first round of negotiations with the U.S., even offering to ship most of their known fissile material abroad to be refined and used for medical purposes. If and when this comes about, it will put what ought to be the final nail in the Lobby’s campaign to drag us into another bloody and prolonged war on Israel’s behalf.
Yet we aren’t dealing with an ordinary lobbying group here, like AARP or the NRA. The Lobby has the power and influence of a foreign government behind it, one that enjoys the unprecedented benefits of a "special relationship" with the U.S. amounting to virtual symbiosis. These guys don’t give up so easily, and why should they? After all, they’ve dictated U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for many years now, and they intend to continue doing so – no matter the consequences for the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Frantic, the War Party is now launching a preemptive strike against the NIE, making good on the old Bushian strategy of taking the battle to the enemy, which turns out to be the same enemy they successfully faced down in the Bush years: the U.S. intelligence community.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, you’ll recall, dissident elements in the CIA and other intelligence agencies regularly fed the media with reports that contradicted the official administration line on Saddam Hussein’s alleged "weapons of mass destruction" and his purported ties to al-Qaeda. With Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby making regular visits to Langley, looking over the shoulders of analysts as they examined the data, veteran CIA types rebelled. By way of exacting revenge, these rebels were cited as anonymous sources for the contention, widely reported in the media, that the administration was "cooking" the intelligence to suit a preordained decision to go to war.
The Wall Street Journal cites "German, French, and British intelligence agencies" as having "all disputed the conclusions of the … NIE, in recent months, according to European officials briefed on the exchanges." Unmentioned is the central role played by the Israelis, who have fought the hardest to discredit the report. Every few months, we see a headline claiming Israel is about to attack Iran because the mullahs are supposedly on the verge of going nuclear. If Washington had taken any of these overwrought assessments at face value, war with Iran would have commenced several years ago.
Like those millenarian prophets who predict the end of the world on a date certain yet manage to maintain a following no matter how often they turn out to be wrong, our predictors of an Iranian-initiated holocaust in the Middle East will always have their amen corner to keep the faith alive.
The tack likely to be taken by the War Party is that the 2007 NIE was then and this is now. What we have to look forward to is the same internal struggle that preceded the invasion of Iraq, with the pro-war faction collecting "raw intelligence" and refining it into talking points, and the antiwar group leaking contradictory assessments, essentially debunking the phony "intelligence" coming out of the Judy Miller-Ahmed Chalabi lie factory as fast as it was produced.
Batten down the hatches and get ready for a blizzard of "revelations" and "new" intelligence citing evidence of Iran’s continuation of its nuclear weapons program. Already our laptop bombardiers are pointing to the German intelligence agency the BND, which supposedly contests the 2007 NIE in documents released in connection with a German espionage case. The case involves a German-Iranian businessman who was accused of shipping dual-use technology to Iran, a charge rejected by a German lower court partly on the grounds of the NIE: if the Iranians weren’t busily churning out nukes, then the technology transfers were legal, or, at least, not espionage. The BND responded by releasing documents that purport to show the opposite – except they don’t. As Dr. Oliver Meier, the international representative and correspondent of the Arms Control Association, put it at arms control analyst Paul Kerr’s blog:
"In fact, the Court found only that, based on a May 2008 BND report, ‘it is sufficiently likely’ that Iran was working on nuclear weapons in 2007 to reopen the case. The lower court in Frankfurt had described the same BND report as ‘extremely vague’. … The Federal Court came to a different conclusion, saying that the BND made a ‘plausible case’ that Iran continued working on nuclear weapons. But the judges made it explicitly clear that it was not their job to arrive at a substantive judgment about whether Iran had actually been working on nuclear weapons in 2007."
We don’t get this reportorial depth in ordinary news accounts, only the bare assertion that the BND is contesting the NIE and that’s it. As to the basis of their disagreement, we are left in the dark, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. What the War Party is counting on is the blurring of specifics so that a general – and false – impression is left, one that evokes the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran. It is then left to the politicians to pick up the ball and run with it, as Rep. Jane Harman is doing:
“‘We need a much better intelligence picture of Iran,’ said California Rep. Jane Harman, who chairs the intelligence subcommittee on the House Homeland Security Committee and was the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel. Rep. Harman said intelligence officials should assume that the latest revelation of a secret enrichment facility may not be the only one, until they can disprove that assumption."
The last time we heard from Rep. Harman, she was siccing pro-Israel billionaire Haim Saban on Nancy Pelosi and having him threaten to cut off campaign funding if Harman wasn’t appointed chair of the House Intelligence Committee. This was right before the public exposure of her conversation with an Israeli agent in which she promised to intercede on behalf of accused Israeli spies Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. Now she’s insisting Iran must prove it isn’t guilty – a unique legal theory of international law that seemingly ignores the logical impossibility of proving a negative.
One aspect of the debate over the war in Afghanistan that has been largely neglected is what role rising agitation against Iran plays in the administration’s evolving strategy. Obama ran on a platform of fighting the "right war," i.e., on the "Af-Pak" front. Yet political considerations may be dictating a change of course, as Israel turns up the volume against Tehran and Obama faces increasing pressure from our NATO allies to get tough with Iran.
You’ll recall that right after 9/11 the neocons wanted to ignore the Afghans and march straight to Baghdad. They had to wait a few years, but they got their wish in the end. Now a new administration is faced with a similar choice of targets, and it’s not yet clear which way Obama will go.
The 2007 NIE delivered a body blow to the War Party from which it is only now beginning to recover. However, the fight to avert World War III – surely the result of an attack on Iran – is very far from over. The election of Barack Obama, and the vanquishing of the more explicit wing of the War Party, just means the battle will be fought on different terrain. Already Obama is facing challenges from within his own party, as well as the neocon Right, to prove his "toughness." Whether he chooses the proving ground of Afghanistan to establish his bona fides as commander in chief or opts to keep his powder dry until it’s time to go after Iran is a toss-up, at the moment. What we can count on, however, is that the groundwork for a confrontation with Iran has already been laid.