NIE explosion

On Monday the nuclear standoff with Iran finally culminated in a nuclear explosion; yet one that didn’t occur in a remote testing ground in the Alborz Mountains but right in Washington DC. The findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran should leave no stone standing in American politics: the President of the United was again caught red handed lying to the entire nation and the international community about the WMD program of a Middle Eastern regime, trying to construct a case for war on fraudulent allegations and by being forced to make the NIE public against his will was exposed as no longer in control of his own administration.

While the American public understandably is sighing with relief, the world is left speechless and flabbergasted. Not only did George Bush take America’s closest allies and all major powers for fools, but the ridiculous spin the administration is audaciously trying to give this diplomatic fallout – which are forced to comply with for the time being for not being exposed the naïve halfwits they are – will not be forgotten. Realistically, this NIE, thank goodness, should render war with Iran virtually impossible and new sanctions at the UN heading for obscurity until George Bush leaves office. The repercussions of this bombshell will keep analysts, pundits, and bloggers occupied for months and, in the worst case, may leave this administration almost as internationally isolated as if it had attacked Iran.

Bill Richardson cuts right to the chase of the matter:

“This NIE tells us one of two things. Either the Bush-Cheney administration has been willfully misleading the American public on Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities or they are incompetent and were not aware of the consensus view of sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies until yesterday.”

It’s safe to rule out the latter, although it’s often quite hard to tell in this White House where deliberate misinformation ends and blatant incompetence begins. According to all we know at this time, the essence of this NIE was known to President Bush since early summer, and, as demands, it would be the media’s job to hold him accountable for his reckless warmongering since then. Given the fourth estate’s record on Iraq, though, with all due respect, they appear even less capable to defend the public’s right for accurate information and policies based on reason instead of ideological bigotry than the Democratic opposition. Karl Rove recently gave an impressive example on how to rewrite history, and I’m confident in the White House getting off this unprecedented blunder with just a slap on the wrist.

The more so, and this is something the liberal blogsphere seems to miss in their understandable buzz, because making this NIE public must have been greenlighted by the White House, as concludes:

“But there is also no doubt that the Bush White House was behind this NIE. While the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the “intelligence community” contribute to each National Intelligence Estimate, you can bet that an explosive, 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the President … The real story behind this NIE is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far.”

The determining factor that finally led the ‘Decider’ to rule to take the military option off the table for the remainder of his tenure is the oil price. Almost shy of $100 per barrel last week it would have dramatically exacerbated the recession the U.S. is heading for, and, almost certainly, would have given the Democrats a landslide victory (how the oil market has immediately reacted on the good news, read here). By silencing the war rhetoric and selling out on the neocons George Bush tries to save the election for his party; “It’s the economy, stupid”, is an ironclad argument the Bush family came to learn all too well. And the neocons are promised jam tomorrow; in case Rudy wins in November we’re back on field one. No matter what the NIE says, as Norman Podhoretz assures us (how serious they were, highlights a by the notorious Washington Institute for Near East Policy discussing in detail U.S.-Isreali cooperation in aerial strikes on Iran).

All these considerations Bush’s European allies, deceived for the second time, give a rat’s ass about. After trying for years to get the Bush administration on board in actively dealing with Iran and even allowing Washington to helm the international effort, they realize they’ve been as duped as every American voter. For London this is a common déjà vu, but for Paris and Berlin – especially the latter, who just agreed to write off it’s annual trade with Iran worth $5 billion for the sake of international solidarity – this is a rude awakening. Just two days ago, at Paris, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns – in full awareness of the NIE, yet claiming to not have let the allies in on it because he didn’t want to pass over Congress – tried to hammer out a third round of sanctions, to which even Beijing considered eventually agreeing to. On the evidence of having been dissed that thoroughly, keeping up this united international front is as likely as the Bush administration now coming around and considering serious all-issues-on-the-table-addressing negotiations and an eventual realignment with Tehran.

This is even more unfortunate as this NIE potentially could open the first window of opportunity for constructive talks since the 2003 Iranian offer to break its affiliation with Hezbollah and entirely abandon its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. lifting sanctions. I and hundreds of fellow bloggers, together with almost all analysts not funded by AIPAC or PNAC, have repeatedly asserted that Iran, President Ahmadinejad aside, is a rational actor that understands its nuclear program as a bargaining tool and not as a first strike weapon. This view has been fully confirmed by the NIE, in fact, it advocates offering Iran attractive incentives and acknowledging its status as a major power in the Gulf Region:

“Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressure, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might-if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible-prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” [Italics added.]

One can’t put a formal request for direct talks on all issues more explicitly. Yet as much as we rejoice about war with Iran being off the table for the next twelve months, we, alas, shouldn’t have any misgivings about the Bush administration abandoning its confrontational policy towards Iran or this NIE leading to a sustainable détente. To dare such a logic but bold move politicians on both sides of the Atlantic were too blindsided by yesterday’s shockwaves. At the end of the day, it becomes apparent that the most rational actors in this were and still are to be found in Tehran.

Hannes Artens is the author of The Writing on the Wall, the first anti-Iran-war novel, available on Amazon and in all major bookstores.

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