Yesterday’s big story was the Intelligence Community’s “Estimate,” according to which Iran unilaterally and secretly suspended its covert nuclear weapons program back in 2003, and hasn’t resumed it to date. We don’t know the sources and methods that underly this analysis, and it may well be that we have acquired some totally convincing evidence that justifies the astonishing conclusions of the IC’s assessment. But the “Estimate” itself is internally unconvincing–different agencies, notably the National Intelligence Council and the Department of Energy, are not convinced we have the full picture, and argue that we may not know whether the “halt” on which the IC hangs its analytical hat applies to Iran’s “entire nuclear weapons program.”
In other words, we seem to know that something was halted, but we don’t know if that’s the whole story. In Rumsfeld’s famous words, we don’t know what we don’t know.
The most interesting part of the “Estimate” is of course its political and policy implications, which National Security Adviser Steven Hadley was quick to spell out. In his view, and in that of many political leaders and pundits, if Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, there is no great urgency to move against the mullahs.
And indeed, those “intelligence professionals” were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs: “Although the officials as a rule, respecting the norms of their craft, declined to offer policy prescriptions based on their findings, the most senior official present did cite the finding that the Iranians are susceptible to international pressure and say that such pressure should “continue” as a way to “allow IAEA to have significant visibility into the program.”
This sort of blatant unprofessionalism is as common in today’s Washington as it is unworthy of a serious intel type, and I think it tells us a lot about the document itself. The “Key Findings” published yesterday address the obvious question: why would the Iranians abandon a program that had been in the works ever since the late 1980s? The IC replies: because the Iranians are rational, and they respond to international pressure. They shut down the program because the pressure was too great. They couldn’t take the risk of even more pain from the international community.
At this point, one really has to wonder why anyone takes these documents seriously. How can anyone in his (there was no female name on the document, nor was any woman from the IC present at the press briefing yesterday) right mind believe that the mullahs are rational? Has no one told the IC about the cult of the 12th Imam, on which this regime bases its domestic and foreign policies? Does not the constant chant of “Death to America” mean anything? I suppose not, at least not to the deep thinkers who wrote this policy document.
And as for Iran’s delicate sensitivity to international pressure, just a few days ago, the European ‘foreign minister’ Javier Solana was on the verge of tears when he admitted he had been totally unable to get the Iranians to come clean on their uranium enrichment program, even though he had told them that more sanctions were in the works. Yet, according to the IC, this program–neatly described in a footnote to the “Estimate” as “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment–really doesn’t have anything to do with nuclear weapons. But if that is so, why are the Iranians so doggedly hiding it from UN inspectors?
This document will not stand up to serious criticism, but it will undoubtedly have a significant political impact, since it will be taken as confirmation of the view that we should not do anything mean to the mullahs. We should talk to them instead. And that’s just what the Estimate says:
…some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, 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.
Incredibly, the authors of the document claim they can prove all this: “The impact of international pressure is beyond dispute, the officials said, a “cause-and-effect” relationship backed up by an ‘evidentiary trail.’ “
But any good student who has taken Psych 101 will tell you that it’s nigh unto impossible to determine someone else’s intentions, especially when presented by “analysts” who think that Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rafsanjani are as rational as the rest of us. This is demeaning to the Iranian tyrants–for whom their faith is a matter of ultimate significance–and insulting to our leaders, who should expect serious work from the IC instead of this bit of policy advocacy masquerading as serious intelligence.