Neocon extraordinaire Norman Podhoretz, who currently works as Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy advisor, is engaging in some wild speculation today regarding the new National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Writing at Commentary Magazine, he suggests that the US intelligence community may be gaming its analysis on Iran to undercut Bush’s march to war.
But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations. As the intelligence community must know, if he were to do so, it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding. How better, then, to stop Bush in his tracks than by telling him and the world that such pressures have already been effective and that keeping them up could well bring about â€œa halt to Iranâ€™s entire nuclear weapons programâ€â€”especially if the negotiations and sanctions were combined with a goodly dose of appeasement or, in the NIEâ€™s own euphemistic formulation, â€œwith opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.â€
For starters, the intelligence community does not know that Bush would only order air strikes as a “last resort.” I imagine that’s commonly understood in the “barking loon who completely missed the whole ‘oops, we didn’t find any WMDs in Iraq after all'” community, but the intelligence community certainly knows better. And their judgment, if this were in fact the case, would seem more than validated by the fact that Dubya has apparently known about the NIE report for some time and has continued beating the drums of war anyway.
Of course Podhoretz would be justifiably griped about the possibility that our security analysts were jiggering the data so as to support a preconceived ideological agenda – that, after all, is the job of the White House. Still, if the argument is that the intelligence community is trying to prevent the
unintelligence community Bush administration from starting World War III, I can at least understand how that might happen. After all, our intel gatherers tried playing it straight on Iraq. The evidence did not make the case that Saddam had WMDs and it did not make the case for war, and it was still distorted in such a way that it appeared to support the opposite conclusion. All things considered, you can understand how the next time around you’d want to try extra hard to make sure your analysis wasn’t twisted.
And Podhoretz’s blow-by-blow on apparent intelligence contradictions? These might carry more weight if we didn’t know the degree to which the White House had sought to “influence” earlier analyses. If he can engage in rampant, unsupported speculation, why can’t I? Here’s one – the earlier findings he’s now using to combat the new report with might just have been the product of administration tinkering. What we have now is the real picture, and we’re able to get a clear report out because the “WMDs in Iraq” debacle has forced the White House to keep its fingers out of the pie over the past couple of years.
There. I know I don’t have Podhoretz’s public profile, but take the evidence on the table and prove me wrong.
In the end, Podhoretz does little more than explain why he’s suspicious, and that’s a far cry from having actual evidence, isn’t it? He may be wrong, and if he’s right it’s not like his puppet-masters have anybody to blame but themselves. In fact, if he’s right it’s an even larger indictment of the Bush administration because it demonstrates that their policies have eroded the credibility of our critical intelligence gathering and analysis agencies.
In essence, it seems to me that Mr. Podhoretz sought to lob a very large grenade at those responsible for the NIE. Unfortunately, like a certain cartoon coyote we all know, he seems to have lobbed the pin instead.