Hoping on the basis of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that the Bush administration will be restrained from launching hostilities against Iran (and Syria, too) is to be far too optimistic about the value of these overblown products of the intelligence community. Most Washington insiders of all administrations since the late 1940s have taken these NIEs for what they are — documents to be praised when they support a favored policy view, and documents to be undercut by means fair or foul if their policy implications are unfavorable.
The leaking of conclusions allegedly from the newest NIE on Iran, to the effect that it will be ten years before Iran can acquire nuclear weapons means only that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Israel’s Sharon may have to think up slightly different pretenses for going after Iran than they thought, up to this point, they could use. The considerable evidence that Bush wants to overturn the present governments of Iran and Syria well before the end of his own term remains valid. And the probability that both Bush and Sharon, facing difficulties at home, would believe bold action in Iran or Syria or both could strengthen domestic patriotic support for their policies, remains strong. (See www.counterpunch.org/.) The importance of the NIE’s conclusions pales in comparison with these factors.
Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on March 24, 2002, a year before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Cheney said, “There’s good reason to believe that he [Saddam] continues to aggressively pursue the development of a nuclear weapon. Now will he have one in a year, five years? I can’t be that precise.” The difference between one and five years obviously did not matter much to Cheney. The difference between five and ten years might not matter much more to U.S. and Israeli leaders determined to believe — on the basis of considerable logic if not hard evidence — that top Iranian officials do indeed want nuclear weapons as soon as they can acquire them. Why not hit them as soon as possible, when waiting does nothing but increase the risk?
But if you are Bush and you want to “take care of” Iran and Syria while you are still president, there are other rationales you can use as well. Perhaps you should just go after Syria first, since you think Syria is the sieve through which the aid and supplies are coming that have recently killed so many U.S. Marines. Getting rid of the present Syrian government might solve some problems in Iraq, as well as so weaken Iran’s resolve that it would become an easier target. Or fomenting a coup against the Iranian leadership might become possible if Syria, already an easier target, were hit first.
You may be sure that Rumsfeld would be absolutely thrilled if his own expanding covert action capabilities in the Pentagon, not fully under the control of the new National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, could pull off a coup in Iran. One hopes this could never happen, but who knows for sure that the Bush rogue government, facing some domestic difficulties at the moment and desiring a foreign policy “success,” would not try to pull it off. Or, in extremis and possibly pushed by Israeli leaders, is it possible that Bush and his top advisers might decide on a “first use” use of nuclear weapons against Iran?
The point of such speculation is simply to suggest that the recent NIE on Iran, whatever its final version says, will be just one blip on the radars of the tiny number of U.S. leaders who will decide in coming months what U.S. Middle East policies should be. Those of us who believe that clashes of civilizations, more wars, and more upheavals are not inevitable in the Middle East will have to work harder than ever to bring about changes in almost all U.S. foreign policies. National Intelligence Estimates will not help much.
BILL CHRISTISON was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s new history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be reached at: email@example.com.