We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups," Col. Boylan said. "We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran."
Interestingly, Boylan makes a point of tying "the senior Iranian leadership" to this change in policy. U.S. military leaders are pragmatic people. They no doubt realize at this point that winding down the surge successfully will require Iranian cooperation. If the United States could partner successfully with former Sunni insurgents, why not the Iranians? (It's doing both at once that will be the real feat.)
UPDATE: The story appears to be wrong. Boylan tells Wired's Noah Shachtman that the Washington Times "made a leap of faith logic that was not discussed between the reporter and me." He sent the following to the paper's editor:
The January 3 article "Iran no longer aids Iraq militants" is inaccurate. We do not know if there has been a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons. It is not clear if Iran's leaders stopped supplying weapons or training to extremist elements in Iraq. We hope that they have, but until we can confirm it, we are in the wait and see mode. We have seen a decrease in the attacks using four specific types of Iranian weapons. However, this should not be misunderstood as anything other than lowered levels of attacks using these specific weapons.
Thanks to Passport reader MCJ for bringing this to my attention.
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) thinks the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran ain't right. "We just see politics injected into this," his spokesman, Tory Mazzola, says. "When it comes to national security we really need to remove politics." The way Ensign plans to "remove politics" is by—wait for it—creating a panel of politicians, House and Senate members, to rewrite the intelligence community's work. Only in Congress, friends, only in Congress.
It's always struck me as funny that people get all worked up over the NIEs in the first place. As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the intelligence community will tell you, they are notoriously flawed. Remember the U.S.-Soviet "missile gap"? That was a bunch of nonsense cooked up in an NIE in 1958. The Iranian revolution of 1978? An NIE predicted it wouldn't happen. Then, of course, there's the now infamous NIE 2002-16HC, which made it sound as though Saddam Hussein was weeks away from having nukes.
NIEs are guesses, plain and simple. Just ask the Bush Administration. Even they agree that Ensign's plan is silly. "The President respects sixteen of the intelligence agencies got together to produce the National Intellligence Estimate. I don’t believe that there's any need to have an additional one," White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino told John Gizzi of the ultra-conservative rag Human Events.
Exactly. What is conveening a panel of politicians going to accomplish? The de-politization of the process? Um, right. I'm all for Congressional oversight. Too bad, for instance, that Ensign and his colleagues weren't equally worked up over the 2002 NIE on Iraq, or we might not be in the mess we're in now. But Ensign's plan to waste a bunch of Congress's time and money politicizing the latest NIE will accomplish nothing. I'm nominating this as the dumbest Congressional idea of 2007.
I had lunch this week with Condoleezza Rice. OK, so it wasn't exactly an intimate tête-à-tête; the secretary of state was the keynote speaker at the Women's Foreign Policy Group's annual luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, where she spoke to a crowd of about 400, including yours truly. Condi was pretty much as expected: polished, pleasant, unflappable, and on message.
Her speech began with a bland discussion of general U.S. foreign-policy issues. Yawn. Rice did draw laughs from the crowd when she got in a little dig at Thomas Jefferson, mentioning that the first secretary of state would have never anticipated that the 66th secretary of state would be an African-American woman. She had a little slip of the tongue, saying that when her 12 years in office were over, it will have been 12 years since a white male occupied the top office in Foggy Bottom. Then she laughed, said that it "only feels like 12," and gave a nod to Madeline Albright and Colin Powell, "trailblazers also in their own right."
Basically, there was not much of real substance to her speech, but at least the Q&A session, moderated by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, touched on some real items in the news. She refused to answer questions about the CIA interrogation tapes scandal, saying that she didn't know about their destruction in 2005, but not commenting on questions about what she knew about the actual interrogations, which occurred when she was national security adviser in 2002. Asked about Guantánamo later, she did mention, "no one would like to close it more than I and, I think, the president."
She handled a question about Iran with characteristic aplomb, and reiterated an offer to meet with her Iranian counterpart, anytime, anywhere ... as soon as Iran scaled back and complied with international standards. As far as the greater Middle East goes, Rice expressed her personal faith in Abbas and Olmert (conveniently not mentioning their weak domestic status in their respective homes), and said that peace talks would not have been feasible even three months ago.
What struck me the most about Rice's lunchtime talk was what she didn't say. She barely mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq. She never uttered the name "Osama bin Laden." In 50 minutes, the word "terrorism" crossed her lips but twice, and then only to muse about the challenges her successors would face. The war on terror has been the centerpiece of Bush's foreign policy, and yet she didn't mention it once in her prepared remarks. Could it be a reflection of a changing mindset inside the administration?
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't have a very good day today. First, Hassan Rowhani, a cleric who heads an influential Iranian think tank and is the former chief of the country's Supreme National Security Council had this to say about the Iranian president's big talk over Iran's increasing influence in the Middle East and the conclusions of the NIE:
To discuss this, we should see the proof of power.
The fact that we cannot open a letter of credit, is this power?
The fact that an Iranian student cannot study abroad in (his or her) chosen field, is that power?
The fact that the economic risks have grown, is that power?
The fact that banking activities have been restricted, is that power?"
Also today, popular former President Mohammad Khatami piled on with this gem before a packed hall of more than 1,000 students at Tehran University, where he delivered remarks on Ahmadinejad's anti-poverty strategy:
It is not right to reduce justice to economic justice. Such a justice spreads poverty and empties the purses of the people who should be used to make the country more powerful and more rich. We need to fight for economic justice but what is more important is the right of people to decide their own fate. These are the reforms that the people want."
The new conventional wisdom in Washington is that the NIE was a boost to Ahmadinejad. But these kinds of attacks on Ahmadinejad are likely to increase in the run up to the March 14 parliamentary elections. And they're an important reminder that, despite his blusterings, Ahmadinejad is anything but an all-powerful leader who reigns without dissent.
James Fallows thinks Hillary Clinton's supporters need to come to terms with what the harsh realities of gender politics would mean for her foreign policy if she were elected president:
[H]aving voted five years ago for the war in Iraq, which she then continued to support for years, she went ahead this fall and voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which however you slice it was essentially a vote for legitimizing military action against Iran....
If she is sworn in as the first female president, she will still have to remove doubts about her "toughness." There will be the 2010 midterms to think of. And of course the 2012 reelection campaign. And if she is tough enough to get through that, then concerns about her legacy. Over the long run, is there any difference between a candidate who needs to "seem" hawkish on questions like Iraq and Iran, and a candidate who is an actual hawk?
I sympathize completely with her predicament: dealing with those atavistic voter emotions about the "weakness" of female candidates is a terrible problem. But here's the predicament it creates for voters. If I don't want the next president to be someone who had a hawkish outlook on both Iraq and Iran, do I say: Never mind, she's not really a hawk, she just has to vote like one?
This is the kind of phony trumpeting of the "gender issue" that is at once disappointing and completely unwarranted. Legitimate, substantive questions can and should be asked about Clinton's positions on Iraq and Iran. But to insinuate that as president she would attack Iran with no motive other than the fear of being called a sissy is preposterous. Andrew Sullivan apparently agrees with this cacophony, too. I know it's a boys club over at The Atlantic's blog shop, where just one of the seven "voices" is a woman, but come on, fellas. What century are you boys living in? It certainly hasn't played out that way with Condi Rice on North Korea and Iran. Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, helped convince Bush to exhaust all peaceful efforts with Tehran before seeking punitive steps. And when was the last time you saw Nancy Pelosi calling for a military strike lest she be considered weak? If you want to discuss Clinton's qualifications for the presidency, fine. But let's talk about the things that matter.
On his new blog, Stratfor's George Friedman endorses the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, and he has an unorthodox view of the Bush administration's motives for releasing it now:
We have always regarded the Iranian weapon program as a bargaining chip to be traded for concessions in Iraq. We repeated that ad nauseum I know, but we always thought it true. The NIE agrees with our view so we aren't going to take issue with it. We think it correct.
We also think there was a political component to it being announced. This was not the intelligence community sinking Bush's plans to attack Iran. The U.S. doesn't have the force to attack Iran, as we have argued in the past. Rather, it as [if] Bush [is] taking away [Iran's] bargaining chip. If Iran has no nuclear program, the U.S. doesn't have to make concessions to get rid of it. In an odd way, the NIE weakened the Iranian bargaining position.
This is too clever by half. The simple fact of the matter is that the case for punitive action against Tehran will be far harder to make now. And sure enough, the Chinese already appear to be taking their toe out of the water on a third round of U.N. sanctions. We may yet see a quiet turnaround in U.S. policy toward Iran, since, as Friedman says, the United States won't feel it needs to trade away the store in order to get a grand bargain. There is certainly the North Korea precedent. But that will be a second-best strategy. Somehow, I doubt that NSC staffers were high-fiving each other when the NIE hit the wires. That certainly seems to be what happened in Ahmadinejad's camp, though.
This doesn't exactly inspire confidence, now, does it?
DES MOINES - Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Tuesday he was unfamiliar with the National Intelligence Estimate that reported that Iran had not had a program to develop nuclear weapons since 2003, and he questioned the intelligence work behind it.
Asked by reporters if he had been briefed on the summary of the report, which was declassified and released Monday, Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said "No." Informed of its content by reporters, he said he agreed with President Bush, who said that Iran remains a threat.
I mean, it's only been front-page news for a few days. And who has the time to actually be informed about the issues when you're busy trying to be the next leader of the free world?
(Hat tip: CFR)
The commentariat has, understandably, gone apoplectic about yesterday's news that Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. And several Democratic candidates, hoping to score points against frontrunner Hillary Clinton, are having a field day:
Barack Obama: "[T]he new National Intelligence Estimate makes a compelling case for less saber-rattling and more direct diplomacy."
John Edwards: "The new NIE finds that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapon through diplomacy."
The problem is, the NIE doesn't actually go that far. It strongly suggests that the threat of sanctions and military action is actually helpful, but makes no promises about what can be achieved through diplomacy:
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 security 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.
The NIE's conclusion here is remarkably similar to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's statement, dismissed everywhere as pure spin:
The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically - without the use of force - as the Administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the President has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran. The bottom line is this: for that strategy to succeed, the international community has to turn up the pressure on Iran - with diplomatic isolation, United Nations sanctions, and with other financial pressure - and Iran has to decide it wants to negotiate a solution.
Matt Yglesias cries foul and says that the Bush administration has been hyping the threat, and that's certainly true. And it may well be that Vice President Dick Cheney discounts the intelligence community's assessment. But there may also be a defensible reason for the hysteria. If we take Hadley's statement at face value, the past year of bluster coming from the administration makes sense. The fundamental problem is that the Europeans, the Chinese, and especially the Russians are skittish about enacting U.N. sanctions. But the sanctions seem to be working! Yet to get others on board, the United States has had to sound the alarm about the program and threaten that if sanctions fail, it will turn to its Air Force for solutions. In order to be effective, this threat has to be credible: The Iranians have to believe it, and the other members of the Security Council have to believe it. In other words, the Bush administration has to convince the world that the alternative to sanctions is war, rather than a nuclear Iran that might be unpalatable but is ultimately a manageable problem.
Of course, what the administration hasn't done is offer Iran a credible package of inducements that includes security guarantees, economic incentives, and so forth. In the words of the NIE, "opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways." Hadley's mention of a "willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests" hints that such a package might be in the offing. The trouble is, Iran's negotiators are much more irascible now than they were in 2003, so the price will be far higher than it was back then—assuming a deal is still even possible.
It's been rumored for a while that someone—perhaps U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney—had been holding up the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program. And it's not hard to imagine why, given this explosive finding:
A new assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb. [...]
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran's ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran's "decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."
"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," the estimate states. [...]
The new estimate does say that Iran's ultimate goal is still to develop nuclear weapons. It concludes that if Iran were to end the freeze of its weapons program, it would still be at least two years before Tehran had enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb. But it says it is "very unlikely" that Iran could produce enough of the material by then.
Instead, the estimate concludes that it is more likely Iran could have a bomb by early to the middle of the next decade. The report says that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research judges that Iran is unlikely to achieve this goal before 2013 "because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems."
Remember, the State Department's intelligence shop was the group that had the honor of being least wrong about Iraq's WMD programs.
On Saturday, China indicated it was ready to play ball on U.N. sanctions. There's no word yet on how the Russians will vote. But if they get on board and the new Iran NIE is right—and I imagine it will be hotly debated—perhaps it will be possible to convince Iran to give up its goal of nuclear weapons through diplomacy after all.
UPDATE: Download the pdf of the NIE report here.
Oh, Iran. When will you learn to loosen up and not interpret everything coming out of the West as a threat? This week, the Ministry for Culture and Islamic Guidance began a campaign against rappers, announcing that illegal studios would be closed and artists "confronted." Normally, musicians in Iran who want to record an album or stage a performance have to apply for permission from the government. But as the hip-hop movement in Farsi has continued to grow, driven by links between Iranians and exiled Persians in places like Los Angeles or Paris, many rappers have chosen to bypass official protocol, choosing to distribute their music on the Internet instead.
If only Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other power brokers in Iran read FP. Then they would see that the globalization of hip-hop isn't evil; it's just the continuation of a long history of youths using music and poetry to express themselves.
On Wednesday evening at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spoke broadly about freedom and the Middle East. His prepared remarks (pdf) weren't too surprising—the key point was that the time is right to push for peace because Israel is becoming more receptive to the idea of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians are being more cooperative, and Arab states are engaging in the debate.
Hadley did go off script a bit during the Q&A session, though. A SAIS student asked a question about why some Arabic states would support democracy in Iraq when those states are not democracies themselves. Hadley's answer was pretty standard until he began taking about elections in Iran. But Hadley replaced the "l" in elections with an "r" and instead began to speak about Iranian erections (The audio is here. Right click and save as. It's around the 38:30 mark).
Not enough Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in your life? The Iranian president has been blogging on and off for about two years—and now he's looking for feedback. In his latest post, Ahmadinejad asks for more readers write to him about Iran's relationship with the rest of the world:
As you know, the purpose of running this blog is to have a direct and mutual contact and communication with the viewers and even though I have received many messages from the viewers to update the blog and write new notes, I preferred to write less and spend more time on reading the viewers' messages – and not let this communication tool become just a one-way medium.
And apparently, people are responding. Here are some of the more colorful comments, both in agreement with and opposition to Mahmoud. All errors of grammar and spelling original:
I in fact think you are a great leader and I am actually contemplating moving to Iran because of the ignorance of people and the harsh things they say about all middle eastern countries... - Adara in Canada
Mr. President Allow me to express my admiration for your policy. You are a great example of how one should stand up to the bullies of the world. Keep up the good fight. You are a spoksmen to all the free people, not just Muslims. - Filip in Macedonia
After watching video of your experience at Columbia University I felt tryly ashamed to be an American. The ignorance and intolerance exhibited by Mr. Bollinger in his introduction speech was totally unacceptable and certainly not a befitting welcome for a world leader and scholar such as yourself. - Allison in the United States
Hey! Do all you non-Iranians realize that if you were in Iran, you wouldnt have any rights?! You couldnt serve in the military or police force...youd be discriminated against!!!! Why the hell do you support someone like this?! - Xochitl in the United States
You are a terrible, despicable human being. You WILL be attacked by the US or Israel and will be destroyed! - "Your gone" in the United Kingdom
How does it feel to be the most hated person on the planet? - Martha in the United States
If you read other languages, you can also check out the comments made on the non-English versions of the site. Translations of "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Personal Memos" and their respective comments are also available in Arabic, Farsi, and French.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said something dumb. I know, dog bites man. In this case, it's a comment that shows his misunderstanding of the U.S. political system:
If the White House officials allow us to be present as an observer in their presidential election we will see whether people in their country are going to vote for them again or not," he said.
Of course, President Bush isn't running. He's already served the maximum two terms.
On a private listserv, Columbia professor and Iran expert Gary Sick shares his thoughts on U.S. policy toward Iran (posted with permission):
ALI AL-SAADI-ALI HAIDER/AFP/Getty Images
Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran "made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that's the case." Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.
In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. [...]
I withhold judgment for now, but I think this series of unexpected events that got very little media attention was important in several ways. First, it tends to put the lie to all the heated speculation that the United States is about to bomb Iran. [...] Second, it lays a more constructive background for the next round of U.S.-Iranian talks in Baghdad, which should convene in the near future. [...]
Finally, I note that U.S. foreign policy is increasingly in the hands of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is showing herself to be a consummate realist, particularly as the neo-conservative ideologues increasingly find themselves without government employ and quarantined from the policy process, and as the Office of the Vice President watches its policy influence evaporating almost by the day. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that administration policy toward North Korea and the Palestinian issue have effectively reversed in the past year (regardless of pro-forma administration claims that the policies remain steady and unchanging).
Is there room in these last months of a lame duck presidency to craft a modest opening to Iran, while maintaining a stout anti-Iranian coalition?
Well, if we are to heed the cries of alarm emanating from the neo-conservatives as they watch their grandiose plans to add a third front to the War on Terror crumple into the dustbin of history, perhaps there really is something going on here.
As I noted earlier, these diplomatic openings with Iran have a way of falling apart. Sick goes on to note that any rapprochement with Tehran will proceed under the radar to minimize the risk for both sides:
Nevertheless, since this is a policy that dare not speak its name, even if these titillating signals are true, no turning point will be announced in blaring trumpets, and the message about Iran will be cloaked in vitriol and bile to prevent creating undue alarm among American conservatives and among the Arabs who are only now signing on to a long-term strategy to counter the "Iranian threat" but who also deeply fear the possibility of a sudden deal between the United States and Iran....
Watch this space.
It now appears that the Bomb Iran! crowd is just making it up as they go along. The latest case in point is Joshua Muravchik's column in this morning's USA Today. Let's take a look at Muravchik versus reality:
Our choice is stark. Accept Iran with an atom bomb or cripple its nuclear program by force. Nothing else will stop Tehran. States rarely get talked out of instruments of power, especially not fanatic ones."
Reality: No nation in history has ever -- ever -- been forced to give up its nuclear weapons. Many, however, have been persuaded to do so. Ambitions and scientific know-how die equally hard. This includes North Korea, an Orwellian nightmare of a state where Kim Jong Il, a fanatical dictator if ever there was one, has spent the last couple decades starving millions of Koreans.
The dangers an Iranian bomb would present are intolerable. Iran is the pre-eminent sponsor of terrorism. Iranian weapons are responsible for a large share of U.S. casualties in Iraq.... The list goes on."
Reality: Iran appears to be behind much of the reduction in violence in Iraq. According to Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, deputy commander of the Multinational Corps-Iraq: "We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq. We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up."
Iran also might launch a nuclear missile at Israel, which Ahmadinejad wants 'wiped off the map.' Israel could strike back, but so what?"
Reality: As Blake noted earlier today, Israel has second-strike capability in its submarines. A nuclear strike by Iran would mean its complete destruction. So, please, someone in the Bomb Iran! crowd logically explain to me why Iran is the first nation in history to defy more than a half century of mutually assured destruction (MAD) theory? Give me a break. Rhetoric from politicians is one thing, but there's absolutely nothing to suggest ordinary Iranians are prepared to die by the millions in order to "wipe Israel off the map." Get real.
Only strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities can forestall these terrible scenarios.... We would send no troops, conquer no land. Rather, we would act in pre-emptive self-defense."
Reality: I'll believe this when someone in the know tells me that our intelligence on Iran is far better than our intelligence was on Iraq. So far, I have yet to meet such a person from inside the U.S. government. I have met Israelis who say their intelligence on Iran is good, and it's not improbable they would share it. Still, what exactly will airstrikes accomplish? Setting Iran's program back another five years? Or does the Bomb Iran! crowd intend to send special ops in to assassinate Iran's scientists? That's what it would really take to "eliminate" their program. It's laughable that the same people who criticized Bill Clinton's cruise-missile approach to national defense now want to mimic it.
"Stark choices" make for good newspaper copy. But reality is far more complicated. Mao, Stalin, Kim — they were all far worse than the wanna-be dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We negotiated with all of them. And in the end, we won.
Anne Applebaum airs the familiar complaint that the Iraq mess has made real sanctions on Iran less likely. She then goes on to say:
What, then, are we left with? Fingers crossed, that those who say Iran's nuclear bomb is years away are right. Fingers crossed, that maybe Iran really does just want a civilian nuclear program. Fingers crossed, that if Iran gets nukes, its government will behave responsibly.
Fingers crossed? Anne, like many other pundits, seems to have forgotten about a well-developed doctrine called "deterrence." During the Cold War, math whizzes at places like the Rand Corporation churned out reports and game-theory matrices on the subject; in other words, we know a lot about it, and it's a lot more sophisticated than a pundit's "fingers crossed."
But you don't have to have a black belt in deterrence theory to understand the issues when it comes to Iran's would-be nukes. Let's take the case of Israel, which would theoretically be the country most threatened by an Iran with nuclear weapons. Israel reportedly has upwards of 200 nuclear bombs and/or warheads and second-strike capability. Notably, Israel has three nuclear-armed submarines; Iran has no technology that can detect them.
In the extremely unlikely event that the mullahs are foolish enough to launch their unreliable missiles on Tel Aviv and/or Jerusalem (most likely killing tens of thousands of Muslims and destroying several major Islamic holy sites in the process), Israel will annihilate Iran. With their submarines, the Israelis can do so even if their entire country is destroyed first. Boom. That's deterrence.
It's that simple. And the United States offers another order of magnitude of deterrent power. Sanctions and negotiations may yet prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; there is plenty of time, and there is no hard evidence that Iran has even made the political decision to weaponize. But even if diplomacy fails, as no less a personage than former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid said recently, "Nuclear deterrence would work with Iran." Just like it worked with the Soviets, who were vastly more powerful and much more aggressive. This is not to say that there wouldn't be problems, but they would be manageable.
For whatever reason, some folks are just desperate to believe the Iranians. Take the FP Passport blog for example, which found "plausible" the Iranian explanation for how the country had accidentally ended up with blueprints for a nuclear weapon.
He then goes on to quote selectively from Eric's post, omitting entirely the part where Eric airs his concerns:
Even if Iran did not actively seek out information that could only be used in nuclear weapons, though, the real question is why the country's leaders would wait two years to comply with the IAEA's request to relinquish the documents. At best, the Iranians were holding the blueprints in reserve for situations like today's, as a bargaining chip. At worst, they were holding them to eventually use them in a weapons program. Either way, Iran was not cooperating fully with the IAEA in its attempts to ascertain the true nature of the country's nuclear program—not a good sign.
Eric can defend himself, but that doesn't sound at all like desperation to me. So, I just want to make two things clear. One, "Passport" is an inanimate object that doesn't have views. Individual contributors to the blog have views, and they often differ. Two, Goldfarb's selective quotation misleads his readers. Read Eric's post—or all of his posts, for that matter—and judge for yourself.
Finally, Goldfarb writes, "the IAEA is all trust, and no verify."
This is just false. I'm not in the business of shielding the IAEA from reasonable criticism, but this simply is not true. As the report (pdf) states, "Since March 2007, a total of seven unannounced inspections have been carried out" at Iran's enrichment facility at Natanz."
More: "From 15 to 18 September 2007, the Agency performed a physical inventory verification at PFEP."
More: "The Agency has continued monitoring the use and construction of hot cells at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility (theMIX Facility) and the Iran Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40) through inspections and designinformation verification."
More: "On 11 November 2007, the Agency conducted design information verification at the IR-40 and noted that construction of the facility was proceeding. Satellite imagery appears to indicate that the Heavy Water Production Plant is operating. The Agency must rely on satellite imagery of this plant as it does not have routine access to it while the Additional Protocol remains unimplemented."
More: "The Agency has made arrangements to verify and seal the fresh fuel foreseen for the Bushehr nuclear power plant on 26 November 2007, before shipment of the fuel from the Russian Federation to Iran."
Get the picture? As a result of this work, the report concludes:
The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. Iran concluded a Facility Attachment for FEP. However, it should be noted that, since early 2006, the Agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing, pursuant to the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure. As a result, the Agency's knowledge about Iran's current nuclear programme is diminishing.
Read the whole thing (pdf) if you want; it's only nine pages long. As Elaine Sciolino and William J. Broad characterize it, it's a mixed bag, neither a whitewash nor a full-throated denunciation. It may not be enough to get Russia and China on board the sanctions train. But it's simply not the case that the IAEA is "all trust, and no verify."
In the next few days, the International Atomic Energy Agency plans to release its "eagerly-awaited" report on Iran's disputed nuclear activities. If the agency finds that Iran has not been sufficiently forthcoming about its nuclear program, the report could spur a drive toward further sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.
Earlier this week, Iran released documents that the IAEA has been demanding for two years: blueprints showing how to machine uranium metal into spherical shapes appropriate for the core of a nuclear weapon. When asked why it would have information that has "no value outside of a nuclear weapons program," Iran responded that it received them inadvertently while purchasing its nuclear equipment on the black market decades ago.
On the surface, this claim is plausible. The A.Q. Khan network (and presumably, any other extant illicit networks supplying nuclear material) dealt in all types of dangerous materials and information, and the nature of a black market lends itself to disorganization and mistakes like the one Iran claims occurred.
Even if Iran did not actively seek out information that could only be used in nuclear weapons, though, the real question is why the country's leaders would wait two years to comply with the IAEA's request to relinquish the documents. At best, the Iranians were holding the blueprints in reserve for situations like today's, as a bargaining chip. At worst, they were holding them to eventually use them in a weapons program. Either way, Iran was not cooperating fully with the IAEA in its attempts to ascertain the true nature of the country's nuclear program—not a good sign.
Fortunately, though, these documents apparently did not contain blueprints for an entire nuclear weapons core. Machining enriched uranium (or plutonium) metal into a perfect sphere is merely one of many engineering challenges posed by an implosion nuclear weapon—an explosives array must be carefully designed to compress the metal effectively, for instance, and as we've seen with Iran, the enrichment process itself is very difficult to perfect without help. Hopefully the IAEA report will show Iran has benign intentions or, at least, that it has not progressed further towards building a nuclear weapon. But we'll have to wait and see.
When I was at the United Nations earlier this year, I remember being astounded by the religious language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mideastwire.com translated the following excerpt of a recent Ahmadinejad speech; it gives you some of the flavor, and then some:
Two years ago, when we want to go to the United Nations, there, we wanted to utter the blessed name of the Lord of the Age. Some people were saying: Sir, no-one in the world knows the Lord of the Age. We said: Wait now, let us do our duty and see what happens.
"We said it that year. The second year, this year, when we went there, it had become a very normal thing there when we said, a reforming, perfect human being will come, he will smash all these idols and powers, and, by God's grace, will establish justice in the world. That first year, they'd come and ask us: Sir, what are these things that you're saying? This time, when we went there, they were coming up to us and saying: In our beliefs, we have something similar to what your saying. We, too, are looking for a world reformer.
"I want to say to you, dear ones: The dream of your martyrs, the ideal for which the martyrs gave them their lives, and our war-disabled, is rapidly coming to fruition. Let me tell you: The world has no other way. Humanity has no other way. Creation is aimless without it. It is futile and void. All this world has been set up so that, one day, that luminous day will occur. A day on which everyone will come. Listen to me. All the prophets, all the pious, all the martyrs will come. And they will help.
"And let me tell you something that I can see. There are some people who sneer when we say these things because their hearts are empty of faith. They are the modern idol worshippers. They are the modern Satan worshippers. They put on an intellectual demeanour; they don't understand as much as a goat about the world."
Once again, U.S. President George W. Bush is talking about World War III with Iran:
[T]his is a country that has defied the IAEA -- in other words, didn't disclose all their program -- have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. And so I said, now is the time to move."
The timing of Bush's statement kind of makes you wonder. Buried on A14 of yesterday's Washington Post post was a quick story by Robin Wright on the impending release of nine Iranians who had been detained by the U.S. military in Iraq on the grounds that they were helping plot attacks on U.S. soldiers. Bush assuredly knew about the decision, Wright reports:
The status of the captured Iranians is so diplomatically and militarily sensitive that it has been reviewed by the White House. President Bush was briefed on the decision, which was made on the recommendation of military officials after weeks of deliberation, U.S. sources said.
Wright doesn't quite find a U.S. official willing to say that Iran is being less of a problem in Iraq these days, but an anonymous Iraq official apparently believes this to be so:
A senior Iraqi official said the Iranians' release reflects growing recognition that Iran has been playing a less provocative role in Iraq recently, evident in fewer U.S. deaths caused by roadside bombs and in restraint by Shiite militias on U.S. targets.
"There is wide acceptance of the notion that over the past month or two, they have been less problematic in Iraq," he said.
What appears to be happening here is that the United States is testing Iranian intentions by releasing these nine prisoners. Are the Iranians trying to show that cooperation is in the offing? Or are they signaling that Iran has a lot of control over the violence in Iraq, and could therefore make the situation much, much worse in the event of a U.S. attack?
Whatever the case, the Bush administration has a history of screwing up these delicate games of diplomatic semaphore, as Barbara Slavin demonstrates in a new piece for FP. Based on her original reporting for USA Today and her research at the U.S. Institute of Peace for her excellent new book, Slavin's piece offers a reminder that the White House has botched countless opportunities to engage Iran over the last 6 years. Could Bush, with all his loose talk about "World War III," be missing another chance? Check it out.
An Iranian Web site called the Islamic Revolution Document Center just released some new photos from the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Check out this mysterious image, which appears to be some kind of evil Fraggle meant to represent former U.S. President Jimmy Carter:
It's hard to imagine today, but back then, Carter was pretty much the bête noire of the Islamic world. I suppose the Fraggle puppet could also be a reference to the infamous killer bunny story, but it seems odd that the president himself would be represented as some kind of mutant rabbit.
Russia has been in the news a lot lately following President Vladimir Putin's big trip to Iran and what look suspiciously like efforts to stay in power after his term expires. But without much media fanfare, the Russians have been quietly working on an initiative that could do a world of good.
Over the past few years, Russia has been collaborating with the United States and other supplier nations to limit the spread of sensitive enrichment technologies that can be used to produce fuel for civilian uses as well as for nuclear weapons. Cooperation here is a matter of necessity: Efforts to halt the spread of atomic weapons simply won't get very far without Russia, one of the world's most important suppliers of nuclear technology and fuel for energy production.
The Russians are about to launch an "international fuel enrichment center" in Angarsk, a city in eastern Siberia. The precise details of the arrangement are still unclear, but it appears as if all countries will be able to participate in the center "without any political preconditions," according to Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations. In return, it was initially believed that participating states would receive assured access to nuclear fuel from Angarsk. However, a recent report by Oxford Analytica merely noted that participating countries would "share in profits" from the facility — a vague formulation that leaves open many questions about the nature of the agreement.
Assured access to fuel, though, is the main principle behind each of the handful of "multilateralization" proposals that have been put forth for the nuclear fuel cycle. Certain states, such as Iran, argue that they need to develop their own fuel-cycle capabilities (i.e. centrifuge enrichment plants) to guard against disruptions in the international market for nuclear fuel. Even though the market has never seen a notable disruption, this argument is valid to a certain degree; for a state that is heavily reliant on nuclear power, a disruption would be crippling, and just because market disruptions haven't happened doesn't mean they won't. Development of enrichment facilities, moreover, is allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The current fuel-cycle countries hope that multilateral initiatives such as the center in Angarsk will reduce incentives for more states to build enrichment capabilities. They could also help reveal Iran's true intentions — why refuse to participate in the Angarsk center if their only concern is reliable access to fuel? With a possible renaissance for nuclear power on the horizon, initiatives like Angarsk are promising attempts to slow proliferation of dangerous technology without eviscerating the NPT.
Steve Clemons gets his hands on a recent letter sent privately to U.S. President George W. Bush by Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last night for the first time at a New America Foundation "salon dinner" in his honor. In his often passionate speech, Hagel, who was an Army sergeant in Vietnam, appeared deeply troubled by the prospect of war with Iran and by the declining readiness state of the U.S. military. His letter reflects that concern. Here's the gist of his appeal to the president:
Now is the time for the United States to active consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. The offer should be made even as we continue to work with our allies on financial pressure, in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution, and in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. The November report by IAEA Director General ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors could provide an opportunity to advance the offer of bilateral talks.
An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran. It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. We should be prepared that any dialogue process with Iran will take time, and we should continue all efforts, as you have, to engage Iran from a position of strength.
We should not wait to consider the option of bilateral talks until all other diplomatic options are exhausted. At that point, it could well be too late.
I urge you to consider pursing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.
Thank you for considering my views.
United States Senator
cc: Condoleezza Rice
Robert M. Gates
Stephen J. Hadley
I have since learned that the letter somehow made its way to US Central Command Commander William Fallon, perhaps through Defense Secretary Gates or other avenues, and Fallon allegedly communicated with the Senator that serious articulations of American interests and consideration of the options Hagel recommends are much needed in this current political and policy environment.
Over the weekend, I finally had a chance to watch Frontline's recent show on Iran, and I found some of the extended comments by the new Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammad Jafari to be very interesting. He said:
The problem with the U.S. intelligence system is that it receives its intelligence about Iran from Iran's enemies. This may prompt the American government to make some mistakes. And you can be sure that this is the case, too, with respect to Iraq. ...
The United States gets its intelligence [about Iran] from two sources in Iraq. One is the Mujahideen-e Khalq [MEK]; the other is the Mukhabarat intelligence [agency].
The Mukhabarat organization, created by the Americans and still not under the control of the Iraqis but under the control of Americans, is made up entirely of Baath Party officials, Saddam's old spies, who were active in spying on Iran. Outside these two sources, no one provides the intelligence they have on Iran.
So these are America's intelligence sources. It's natural -- what kind of information do they provide to the U.S. on Iran? Do they provide good intelligence about Iran to the United States, or will they try to exacerbate existing conflicts between Iran and the U.S. to further their own interests?
Facing escalating drumbeats from the United States, Iran has launched what appears to be a coordinated public diplomacy campaign. In addition to Jafari, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the interior minister, and other Iranian officials have begun explicitly charging the United States with supporting and/or sponsoring anti-Iranian "terrorism" in Iraq and Afghanistan. They darkly cite U.S. inaction regarding the PKK showdown with Turkey and alleged coddling of the MEK, which the U.S. State Department has designated as a terrorist organization, as evidence that the United States supports terrorism. There have been scattered stories from reporters like Seymour Hersh hinting that the United States is secretly using such groups to gather intelligence and "'encourage ethnic tensions'" and undermine the regime," but I am extremely skeptical that anything beyond intelligence collection is going on. I would expect we'd see a campaign of leaks in major newspapers if the United States truly were, say, backing the PJAK, Kurdish guerrillas affiliated with the PKK who are attacking Iran, or Baluchi terrorists operating out of western Pakistan. It's hard to keep something like that secret these days.
Still, Jafari's complaints do raise questions about the quality of the intelligence the U.S. military is getting on Iranian involvement in Iraq and feeding to reporters. In his interview, Jafari was evasive when asked specific questions about the role of the Quds Force and the alleged Iranian supplying of so-called "explosively formed penetrator" bombs in Iraq. If he had been forthright in answering those questions, his protestations might come across as more credible.
Irony can be deadly sometimes:
China will sell Iran 24 J-10 fighters that are based on Israeli technology, RIA Novosti reported Oct. 23. The aircraft have Russian-made engines and are based on components and technology Israel gave China after the cancellation of the Lavi project in the mid-1980s. The total cost of the planes, which are expected to be delivered between 2008 and 2010, is an estimated $1 billion.
UPDATE: China denies the story.
Turkish troops continue massing along Iraqi border, preparing for possible cross-border assaults on safe havens of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party. The United States, among other countries, has urged Turkey to back off, fearing an attack could destabilize the one relatively stable region in Iraq.
What is less known is that Iraqi Kurdistan is already under attack from Iran, which is targeting the Party for Freedom and Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). Members of the party, which calls for a separate Kurd state, have clashed repeatedly with Iranian forces in recent years. The confrontations had been taking place in northwestern Iran, where PJAK forces were attempting to expel Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard from Kurdish area. But last month, Tehran acknowledged it had begun shelling PJAK bases inside Iraq. When asked about the attacks, Gen. Yayha Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said:
Some of their bases are 10 kilometers deep inside Iraqi territory, so this is part of our natural right to secure our borders. Of course we issued warnings to the Iraqi government and told it to take them [PJAK members] away from the border and respect its obligations. But unfortunately the Kurdistan region, the northern part of Iraq, did not listen, so we feel entitled to target military bases of PJAK and they have been under our artillery fire.
Now, there are reports that Revolutionary Guard troops are gathering at the Iraqi border, readying for an assault. So Iraq's Kurds face attacks on two fronts. One attack could destabilize the region. A second could send it spiraling toward all-out war.
President Bush reiterated yesterday that he doesn't want Turkey in Iraq. But oddly, he's been silent on Iran. Some reports suggest the United States is preparing war plans against Iran. Could an overt strike by Iran on Iraq be the public justification for the United States to put these plans into action?
Most of the press on Vladimir Putin's historic trip to Tehran has focused on his warning to the U.S. not to attack Iran and the possibility of some sort of strategic partnership between the Kremlin and the ayatollahs. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that the meeting that Putin attended was some sort of trans-Caspian "death to America" summit. In fact, the real substance of the meeting was about the distribution of the Caspian Sea region's energy resources. On this front, almost no progress was made and more was revealed about Russia and Iran's differences than their agreements.
The Kremlin still views the Caspian as Russia's "near-abroad," and Iran's growth as a regional power is troubling to the Russians as well. The two countries didn't really see eye to eye at the summit, as the AP explained:
Iran, which shared the Caspian's resources equally with the Soviet Union, insists that each coastal nation receive an equal portion of the seabed. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want the division based on the length of each nation's shore, which would give Iran a smaller share.
Another back story behind the summit is CIA Director Michael Hayden's unexplained recent visit to Baku, Azerbaijan where he met with President Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijani analysts have speculated that the U.S. is preparing to use the country as a staging ground for a war on Iran, though the Azeris and the Iranians continue to enjoy strong cultural and economic ties. But Hayden's visit might also have had something to do with the construction of a trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline to bypass Russia, a deal the Russians have wanted to scuttle from the beginning. Witness Putin channeling Al Gore here:
Projects that may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations," Putin said, apparently suggesting each capital should have a virtual veto on energy transport.
The governments of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan are somewhat wary about that proposal as they seek to navigate a middle ground between Russia and the West. In the end, the five countries failed to come up with a formula for sharing the Caspian's resources—which was supposed to be the point of the whole summit—and could agree only on a resolution banning foreign military action from the region. That doesn't look like success to me.
Did you know that Encyclopedia Britannica has a blog?
I didn't either, but this week, Britannica Blog is hosting a discussion about U.S. policy toward Iran. The discussion, which lasts through Friday, features an odd assortment of analysts, from Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute to Scott Ritter, the outspoken former weapons inspector who famously warned all and sundry before the Iraq war that Saddam had no nuclear weapons. Ledeen and Ritter offer no surprises, for those familiar with their arguments: Ledeen wants "regime change" via a democratic revolution (fat chance), and Ritter says that Iran is not a threat to the United States and that the whole thing comes down to Israel and U.S. demand for oil in any case.
The most useful commentary comes from Wayne White, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute who was, among other things, principal Iraq analyst at the State Department's highly respected Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 2003-2005. Most of his post is a fairly straightforward synopsis of the state of play. But here's an interesting nugget:
If the U.S. attacks Iran, for either reason, it would most likely do so during the days of maximum darkness in order to capitalize on its significant advantage in night warfare. That period begins around now and ends next March. The following winter, the president would be in office for only a portion of that militarily advantageous period, and also would have to consider the awkwardness of ordering an attack during an election campaign or in the period between the election and when he leaves office on January 20, 2009.
Unless last month's IAEA "work plan" with Iran (aimed at clearing up some matters by November) shows real progress, offering genuine hope that the diplomatic logjam over nuclear enrichment can be broken, this December through March could be the first period during which U.S. military action against Iran becomes a real possibility. Because of the military considerations noted earlier, roughly the same period would be the most likely timing for a fairly robust and mainly aerial assault against IRGC targets inside Iran.
But as William Arkin notes here in a skeptical WaPo post on Seymour Hersh's latest article about Iran, if the United State goes to war with Iran, "it will most likely be because Iran does something stupid." As in, its proxy forces in Iraq kill a large number of U.S. soldiers and there is smoking-gun evidence that Iran is guilty. Is Iran that foolish? We'll find out.
Whatever street cred Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earned himself in Tehran for last week's appearance at Columbia University in New York, he has certainly become an object of mockery in the United States. His denial of the existence of gay people in Iran (later, in a U.N. news conference, he reiterated that he didn't know of any homosexuals in Iran and asked a reporter for their addresses) was a crystallizing moment. It's obvious to anyone that there are gay people in Iran. So even if Ahmadinejad is telling the truth about Iran's nuclear intentions (doubtful), his preposterous statement about homosexuality will serve for many as all the evidence they need that this guy is a big, fat liar. This will prove useful to the Bush administration if it decides to attack Iran down the road (a big if at this point).
But for now, he's just an object of ridicule. And nobody does ridicule better than New Yorkers. Exhibit A: This hilarious mock gay love song to Mahmoud performed by Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg and Adam Levine of Maroon 5. Check it:
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