Estimating, Intelligently, the Iranian National Intelligence Estimate
Thu December 6, 2007 10:11 am

Stratfor is a private intelligence service based in Washington and Austin. From time to time, a friend e-mails me their assessments, which invariably are well written and insightful. Here is Stratfor's take on the astonishing turnaround in U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons program:

There are only two reasons the U.S. government would choose to issue a report that publicly undermines the past four years of its foreign policy: a deal has been struck, or one is close enough that an international diplomatic coalition is no longer perceived as critical. This level of coordination across all branches of U.S. intelligence could not happen without the knowledge and approval of the CIA director, the secretaries of defense and state, the national security adviser and the president himself. This is not a power play; this is the real deal.

The full details of any deal are unlikely to be made public any time soon because the U.S. and Iranian publics probably are not yet ready to consider each other as anything short of foes. But the deal is by design integrated into both states' national security posture. It will allow for a permanent deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq to provide minimal national security for Iraq, but not in large enough numbers to be able to launch a sizable attack against Iran. It will allow for the training and equipping of the Iraqi military forces so that Iraq can defend itself, but not so much that it could boast a meaningful offensive force. It will integrate Iranian intelligence and military personnel into the U.S. effort so there are no surprises on either side.

But those are the details. Here is the main thrust: Ultimately, both sides have nursed deep-seated fears. The Iranians do not want the Americans to assist in the rise of another militaristic Sunni power in Baghdad -- the last one inflicted 1 million Iranian casualties during 1980-1988 war. The United States does not want to see Iran dominate Iraq and use it as a springboard to control Arabia; that would put some 20 million barrels per day of oil output under a single power. The real purpose of the deal is to install enough bilateral checks in Iraq to ensure that neither nightmare scenario happens.

This sounds right to me. It also explains what has been heretofore unexplainable, which is the president's truly weird response to the new NIE, which has been to downplay it: He knew about it, he hadn't read it, Iran is still a threat.

The more good news that comes out of Iraq, the more the congressional Democrats have to watch their step. They don't want to be in the position of criticizing success.

* * * *

The right is very skeptical of the new NIE. Powerlineblog posted this excerpt of an editorial from the New York Sun, a self-described right-of-center newspaper that publishes on weekdays only.

The proper way to read this report is through the lens of the long struggle the professional intelligence community has been waging against the elected civilian administration in Washington. They have opposed President Bush on nearly every major policy decision. They were against the Iraqi National Congress. They were against elections in Iraq. They were against I. Lewis Libby. They are against a tough line on Iran.

One could call all this revenge of the bureaucrats. Vann Van Diepen, one of the estimate's main authors, has spent the last five years trying to get America to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium. Mr. Van Diepen no doubt reckons that in helping push the estimate through the system, he has succeeded in influencing the policy debate in Washington. The bureaucrats may even think they are stopping another war.

It's a dangerous game that may boomerang, making a war with Iran more likely. Our diplomats, after all, hoped to seal this month a deal to pass a third Security Council resolution against Iran. Already on Monday the Chinese delegation at Turtle Bay has started making noises about dropping their tepid support for such a document. Call it the Van Diepen Demarche, since the Chinese camarilla can boast that even America's intelligence estimate concludes the mullahs shuttered their nuclear weapons program more than four years ago.

So much for diplomatic pressure in the run up before the mullahs have their bomb. And so the options for preventing the Islamic Republic from going nuclear get progressively more narrow. What it means is that when the historians look back on this period, they will see that by sabotaging our diplomacy, our intelligence analysts have clarified the choice before the free world — appeasement or war.

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