Friday, December 7, 2007


The recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made the claim that Iran gave up its ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon four years ago and primarily for this reason the document has drawn a lot of critical attention. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, for example, levels some pretty serious criticism of its alleged flaws in a column in the Washington Post, to which I refer readers interested in seeing why the document has generated so much skepticism.

Rush Limbaugh also points out that not only are the authors of the document politically hostile to the current administration but one of them was drawing exactly the opposite conclusions about iran only four months ago:

On July 11, 2007, roughly four or so months prior to the most recent NIE's publication, Deputy Director of Analysis Thomas Fingar, one of the three authors of the NIE, gave the following testimony before the House Armed Services Committee: 'Iran and North Korea are the states of most concern to us. The United States' concerns about Iran are shared by many nations, including many of Iran's neighbors. Iran is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations and working to delay and diminish the impact of UNSC sanctions than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution. We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons -- despite its international obligations and international pressure. This is a grave concern to the other countries in the region whose security would be threatened should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.'

according to the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Fingar is one of the three officials who were responsible for crafting the latest NIE. The Journal cites 'an intelligence source' as describing Fingar and his two colleagues as 'hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.'

What's even more strange about the NIE is the reaction to it by Bush's political opponents. They're alleging that somehow this report discredits Bush's Iran policy, but how is that so? What exactly is Bush's Iran policy? It's to muster international pressure to insure that Iran does not pursue nuclear weapons. His opponents say that this is now pointless because Iran's not pursuing nukes. They then go on to add that now we can stop the "saber-rattling" and use diplomacy. Well, when has Bush rattled any sabers over Iran? And if Iran is not pursuing nukes what do we need diplomacy for? The call for diplomacy seems bizarre coming from people who believe that there's nothing to negotiate with Iran about.

Even if Bush's diplomacy did involve saber-rattling, why is that bad? Surely diplomacy with Iran without the credible threat of force is useless. What incentive does Iran have to behave itself unless it fears punishment? This question brings us to another interesting point about the NIE.

In their eagerness to use this report against Bush his political detractors have overlooked the fact that if the report is to be believed Iran gave up its nuclear program in 2003. There was no U.S./Iranian diplomacy taking place in 2003. The only thing that took place in 2003 was that we invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein in less than a week. That sent shock waves through the axis of evil and if Iran dropped its nuclear ambitions that year then there's every reason to believe that they did so because they didn't want to be next.

If the NIE is right in recent years Iraq and Afghanistan have been liberated from tyranny, and Libya, North Korea, and Iran have all stepped down their march toward nuclear weapons. That's a pretty good legacy, perhaps unprecedented, for whatever administration supervised it, but don't expect the left to give Bush credit. They're more likely to argue that it was out of fear of a diplomatic offensive from future president Hillary Clinton that moved these wise leaders to capitulate to her years in advance than they are to acknowledge that George W. Bush is responsible for a truly remarkable and historic achievement.


Let a Thousand Questions Bloom

So much has been made of Mitt Romney's Mormonism that he felt it necessary yesterday to give a speech about it. Mike Huckabee, too, has had to explain his beliefs to journalists who seem discombobulated by the fact that convictions that have been commonly held by intelligent Americans for two thousand years are still held by some today.

I think these inquiries into the faith commitments of the candidates for leadership of the free world are a good thing. We should know what resources these people draw upon to help them through difficult times and to shape their view of the world, and I would enjoy hearing the media ask Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton exactly what are their views of the person and nature of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is going to happen. The point of the media asking Romney and Huckabee about their faith, I suspect, is to embarrass them among the elites. If they can make them look like religious "extremists" or exotic rubes they may undermine their appeal with a group of voters to whom they might otherwise be attractive. On the other hand, they don't want to undermine the Democrat candidates' appeal among the great unwashed so they won't risk asking them a question that might make them look unsympathetic to the superstitions of the masses.

On a related matter, the protestations of those who complain that we shouldn't care about a person's religion or that the constitution prohibits religious tests for the office of the presidency are getting tiresome. I doubt very much if those who insist we shouldn't delve into a person's deepest beliefs would still say that if a Wahhabist Muslim was running for president. I think the religion-is-irrelevant crowd would be falling all over themselves to demand that such a candidate clarify his religious views ad infinitum. And they should.

Also, while it is true that the constitution prohibits a religious test for the office of president that proscription is a legal limitation. A person cannot be legally prevented from being elected president just because of his religion, but that doesn't mean that voters can't or shouldn't base their vote upon what a candidate believes.

In the case of Mitt Romney, who I happen to like, no one argues that he should be barred from running because he's a Mormon, but it doesn't follow that his beliefs should therefore be considered irrelevant by the voters.