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.