Is Obama Cooking the Intelligence on Iran as Bush Did with Iraq?
In one sense, I agree with Steve Clemons, who wrote last month of the many terrible and entirely foreseeable consequences that would follow an attack on Iran and concluded that those worried by the prospect should "stop hyperventilating." Clemons, who's very well connected to the intelligence and defense communities, wrote:
While there are individuals in the Obama administration who are flirting with the possibility of military action against Iran, they are fewer in number than existed in the Bush administration. They are surrounded by a greater number of realists who are working hard to find a way to reinvent America's global leverage and power -- and who realize that a war with Iran ends that possibility and possibly spells an end to America presuming to be the globally predominant power it has been.But Clemons also notes that while states tend to "operate mostly through carefully considered strategic calculus, such is not always the case." He was discussing Iran, but the same could be said of the United States. It was, after all, only slightly less foolish, and the consequences just as predictable, to attack Iraq while we were engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan in 2003. But we did it anyway. The idea that we'd be greeted as liberators and everything would be fine was as transparently silly as any that's ever crossed a human mind. Certainly as ridiculous as the notion that an attack on Iran could be anything but disastrous. Which brings me to another and much more frightening view from former CIA officer Philip Giraldiat the American Conservative.He discusses a non-binding resolution working its way through Congress that "will endorse an Israeli attack on Iran," which he rightly adds would essentially mean the United States "going to war [with Iran] by proxy as the US would almost immediately be drawn into the conflict when Tehran retaliates."
Ironically, the push against Iran comes at a time when the National Intelligence Estimate on the country is being finished. It might come out as soon as August, but it will be secret and its conclusions will either be leaked or released in summary. My sources inside the intelligence community insist that it will support the 2007 NIE that concluded that Iran no longer has a weapons program. The White House has delayed the process seeking harder language to justify a range of options against Iran, including a military strike, but the analysts are reported to be resisting. (Boldface mine.)This is precisely what happened in the lead-up to the Iraq conflict, and if the report is true, that's some terrifying continuity -- certainly not the "change" we'd hoped for. Over at Foreign Policy, Mark Lynch sees another parallel between now and then. Following the Wikileaks Afghanistan document dump, Lynch touches on "a story making the rounds that the documents bolster the case for significant connections between Iran and al-Qaeda. Information in the documents, according to the Wall Street Journal, 'appear to give new evidence of direct contacts between Iranian officials and the Taliban's and al Qaeda's senior leadership.'"
What's more important in these stories than the details found in the documents about Iran's activities in Afghanistan is the attempt to spin them into a narrative of "Iranian ties to al-Qaeda" to bolster the weak case for an American attack on Iran.... This use of the WikiLeaks documents brings back some old memories, of a long time ago (March 2006) in a galaxy far far away when the Pentagon posted a massive set of captured Iraqi documents on the internet without context. Analysts dived into them, mostly searching for a smoking gun on Iraqi WMD or ties to al-Qaeda. The right-wing blogs and magazines ran with a series of breathless announcements that something had been found proving one case or another. Each finding would dissolve when put into context or subjected to scrutiny, and at the end it only further confirmed the consensus (outside of the fever swamps, at least) that there had been no significant ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda. But the cumulative effect of each "revelation", even if subsequently discredited, probably fueled the conviction that such ties had existed and did help maintain support for the Iraq war among the faithful. The parallel isn't exact -- in this case, there actually is something real there, and these documents were released against the government's will -- but it does raise some flags about how such documents can be used and misused in the public debate.Anyway, lest we just look at the domestic debate divorced from context, let me leave you with a few paragraphs from Gareth Porter's report on the Iranian scientist who popped up in the U.S. recently (Porter also cites Giraldi as his primary source):
Contrary to a news media narrative that Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri has provided intelligence on covert Iranian nuclear weapons work, CIA sources familiar with the Amiri case say he told his CIA handlers that there is no such Iranian nuclear weapons programme, according to a former CIA officer...
The CIA contacts say that Amiri had been reporting to the CIA for some time before being brought to the U.S. during Hajj last year, Giraldi told IPS, initially using satellite-based communication. But the contacts also say Amiri was a radiation safety specialist who was "absolutely peripheral" to Iran's nuclear programme, according to Giraldi. Amiri provided "almost no information" about Iran's nuclear programme, said Giraldi, but had picked up "scuttlebutt" from other nuclear scientists with whom he was acquainted that the Iranians have no active nuclear weapon programme.