Thursday, December 6, 2007

The "High Confidence" National Intelligence Estimate on Iran

High Confidence
The latest US national intelligence estimate says that Iran discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that it is currently not pursuing such a program. This report validates what the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Iranian Government have both been saying for sometime as the Bush administration has been ratcheting up its hostile rhetoric against Iran, and talking up the "dangers Iran poses to the world". What caught my attention in this report was how the NIE characterized its conclusions regarding Iran as "high confidence". After a report like this, one would expect the neo-cons would re-think the folly of their ways and accept this conclusion. Instead, President Bush, Sen Lieberman, the neo-cons and their supporters such as the Wall Street Journal have started spinning the report in various ways. The spin ranges from claiming " the need for continued US and international pressure on Iran" to outright rejection of the NIE as inaccurate or naive. Among others, Michael Ledeen asserts, since "you can't prove a negative", the NIE must be wrong. Frank Gaffney goes on to say that, since no one "outside a small circle in Iran has certain knowledge about the state of nuclear weapons program", therefore "we had better be prepared to use military force". In other words, the facts do not matter when it comes to their personal animosity toward Iran as a member of the "Axis of Evil".

International Isolation
The initial response from the Bush administration indicates that they will continue their efforts to build international support for sanctions and even military action against Iran. Russia and China have already expressed their opposition and the EU members are clearly rethinking their future course of action. I think any arm-twisting by the US at this point would be counterproductive and could lead to international isolation of the US rather than Iran. No country, even the US, can afford to be isolated in this day and age.

Iranian Reaction
In terms of what will happen next,a lot would depend on how the Iranians choose to behave after the NIE report. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a way of engaging in inflammatory rhetoric, making even his friends and neighbors feel uncomfortable and insecure. Iranian President's statements about "wiping Israel off the face of the earth" not only contravene the UN charter but also invite hostility of the world. He would be well-advised to try and build confidence in his neighborhood with conciliatory gestures toward all of his neighbors and the broader Middle East. Such a policy would serve the Iranian people well and save the US and the world from another disastrous misadventure by the United States.

The Future
There seems to be almost universal agreement in the US and the rest of the world that the Bush foriegn policy has been short-sighted and counterproductive. The excessive use of the military power has been disastrous for the US and its relations with most of the rest of the world. As the US goes into the 2008 general elections, there are hopes that the end of the Bush era would bring greater emphasis on the use of diplomacy and soft power by the US. However, one can not take this for granted. The foreign policy statements by the front-runners of both parties do not seem to be particularly reassuring. Let's hope better sense will prevail once the elections are over and the reality of governing sets in for the new leader of the free world.

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