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December 10, 2007

Nuclear Iran? Not So Much

Sometimes one story can change everything. That’s what happened this week, when the latest declassified National Intelligence Estimate revealed the astonishing news that Iran had in fact suspended its nuclear weapons program – four years ago.


The news, released as part of an estimate that counts as the unanimous opinion of 16 separate U.S. intelligence agencies, probably came as the biggest foreign news-related shock of the past five years, and seemingly threw every assumption, from left or right, into question.


My first reaction? Good. I’m glad that an evil, genocidal, theocratic regime with designs on regional domination does not have a nuclear weapon. The world is a better place if that’s the way things are. My second reaction? It sure is good that we found out about the lack of WMDs before invading, as opposed to after, like last time.


Is Iran still dangerous? Sure – they were, after all, enriching uranium in the first place, and continue their meddling in Iraq in a very unhelpful way. Their president, of course, remains an invasion-threatening, Holocaust-denying, braying jackass. And of course, there remains the possibility that Iran could re-start its efforts, a situation that certainly bears watching.


But with Iran now nowhere close to a nuclear weapon, we can cool off a bit. World War III is no longer imminent. Neither is World War IV – or, in the case of Iran invasion advocate/Giuliani advisor Norman Podhoretz, I guess World War V. And some cooling off is what we’ve needed for quite some time.


Conservative pundits, predictably, had two responses: Either (a) the invasion of Iraq, also in 2003, scared Iran into abandoning its own nuclear weapons program, or (b) the report itself is merely a fraud by a radical left-wing intelligence community seeking to undermine the Bush Administration any way they can, even if it means spreading false intelligence that could hurt America and its allies.


Those making these arguments seem not to be bothered that there’s no concrete proof for either argument, or that the two stand in direct opposition to each other and could not possibly both be true. It’s sort of like those on the left who simultaneously bash George W. Bush as both a moron, and also as unspeakably evil. How can he be both?


The other standard argument is to say that the intelligence must be wrong, since America’s intelligence agencies haven’t exactly been getting a whole lot right of late. I find this argument a bit more sympathetic, but still not quite convincing. The conclusion is, after all, the consensus of more than a dozen agencies.


George Friedman of the military research firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor) shot down all these arguments, writing this week that “the Iranians weren't nuts. That is why they didn't build a nuclear program.”


An even bigger surprise, according to Stratfor’s analysis? The group believes that the announcement is a prelude to an actual peace deal between the U.S. and Iran, which will help lay the groundwork for a kind of détente – and eventually, some sort of grand bargain for stabilizing Iraq. I would have expected such a thing to have to wait until the Barack Obama Administration, but once again, events surprise me more and more every day.


How did the presidential candidates react? Sort of predictably. The Democrats took the opportunity to simultaneously bash both President Bush and each other, as Barack Obama called the findings a reminder that Congress must closely follow intelligence, while also ripping Hillary Clinton for voting for the Iraq war.


On the Republican side, it was much of the same, with Rudy Giuliani drawing fire for continuing to run an ad, even after the NIE’s release, in which he vowed to get tough on Iran. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee committed an even bigger gaffe: More than 24 hours after its release, the surging former Arkansas governor appeared not to have yet heard about it.


Where things go between the U.S. and Iran remain to be seen; but two things we know so far – that Iran will not have nukes anytime soon, and that we won’t be invading them anytime soon either – are both indisputably good things.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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