The declassified National Intelligence Estimate summary states that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapons program in 2003. Plenty of pundits have noted that the NIE has been wrong before. But three questions have been notably absent from the commentary, at least as far as I’ve seen:
- Is it possible that Iran stopped this program, only to start a new one further underground in the fallout from the US invasion of Iraq?
- Is it possible that Iran actually did shut down its programs altogether because of the US invasion of Iraq?
- Is it possible that the NIE, put out by friends of Valerie Plame, was cooked? Is it possible that an anti-Bush agenda, including a bit of vengeance for an anti-Bush former comrade, trumped national security? (Okay, technically, that’s two questions.)
If the first answer is “Yes”, then obviously Bush is right that “nothing has changed” and the only real problem is finding out where the new program is being conducted.
If the second answer is “Yes,” then it’s still essentially true that nothing has changed because it’s precisely the pressure of sanctions and possible military action that moved Iran to suspend its weapons program. Letting up that pressure without substantive and verifiable curbs on future development, especially given Iran’s continued pursuit of uranium enrichment facilities, would be foolhardy. The second possibility, that the NIE is correct and Iran did abandon its program at roughly the same time as the US was showing its mettle in Iraq, is the best case scenario and certainly plausible. After all, Libya abandoned its own WMD programs about the same time Qadhafi felt the heat. But even that best case scenario in no way indicates that a return to the weakness of the earlier era vis a vis Iran is prudent. And, if it is true, then we can chalk up one more indirect victory coming out of the Iraq war.
But as plausible as the timing of Iran’s supposed abandonment of the weapons program may be, the fact that this estimate relied on intelligence produced by the very department where Valerie Plame worked makes it highly questionable. Plame herself was still working in Directorate of Central Intelligence Nonproliferation Center in 2003 and did not resign until December of 2005. In fact, according to a source about as credible as the CIA she “was involved in operations to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.” She was directly involved in the very core subject of this report and certainly even after her departure her friends were in the forefront of work on the issue. Given that she sent her husband to Niger to drink mint tea and lie to the nation about Saddam’s attempts to purchase uranium, what makes anyone think that she and her colleagues would not stoop to lying about Ahmadinejad? Indeed, which is more likely, that Plame and Company would lie to further their aims or that Ahmadinejad would give up on producing the weapons that would accomplish his stated goal of wiping Israel off the map?