The end product of this top US evaluation of the Khomeinist menace is not so different, unfortunately, from previous assessments in the 1990s which dismissed – or even ignored – the threat posed by our other foes: Jihadists, Salafists in general, and al Qaeda in particular. This NIE report is drawing significant debates at critical times; but the most serious conclusion I would make about its findings is that the systemic crisis, about which the 9/11 Commission warned the US Government and public, is still alive and evolving.
The NIE findings based their final conclusion – that the Iranian regime had abandoned its nuclear strategy – on information obtained from Iranian officials who stated they’d stopped their nuclear program in the fall of 2003. So, our best senior analysts’ conclusions are based on statements made by Iranian regime cadre known for their deceptive tactics. The document insisted that the findings didn’t attempt to analyze the Iranian regime’s intention but instead were meant merely to assert that Tehran is changing attitude; but yet the key assumptions made by the NIE bosses used the statements of the regime, not the intentions behind these statements, to construct conclusions about a course of action. That would be the equivalent of considering the statements of Adolf Hitler as true when he assured Britain and France that the invasion of Czechoslovakia was the end of his Nazi program in 1938.
Why do we continually assume that Iran is incapable of the sort of deceptions routinely conducted by first Germany and then the Soviet Union? It is the U.S. that has failed over and over again to deceive its enemies over the past 60 years as Timothy Weiner’s brilliant Legacy of Ashes demonstrates in detail.
Indeed the real story is that the Iranian regime reconfigured its previous nuclear strategy – gradual build up – because by the end of the summer 2003, with “hostile forces” (the US-led coalition) deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, they knew if they didn’t alter the pursuit of that initial route, they could expect a lethal reaction. Since the US strategic intentions weren’t clear in the eyes of the Iranian strategists, they acted as if Washington and its allies were moving forward to disarm Iran’s regime. The Khatemi Government, preferring to avoid an unbalanced confrontation, decided to suspend the open build-up of nuclear power, because it simply concluded that the US would be able to strike them from two borders. Hence, the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) seized the nuclear program and reconverted it in the underground. Thus, the global strategy wasn’t halted, but an alternative strategy was begun.
The NIE failed to see and explain that the 2003 decision was a change of strategy not a halt to a strategy; for the Ahmadinejad plan was to ensnare the US in Iraq so that it couldn’t destroy the process of Iran’s shifting the balance of power in its crucial early stages. Tragically, what was missed in Washington is that Tehran was building the missiles before completing the fissile. While attention was focused on the uranium enrichment process, the Pasdaran were setting up the delivery system, i.e., the actual threat system.
The bomb part of the Iranian nuclear strategy was the last stage, while the missiles were the most urgent to acquire first. Strategically it makes sense, because if the Iranians had produced a weapon, it could have been taken out via airpower without the risk of a second strike (since the delivery system would have been absent). But if the missiles were obtained before, the world couldn’t intervene preemptively against them. And when the bombs were ready (through assembly or purchase) they would be locked on the rockets. At that particular time, unilateral strikes against the Iranian weapons would run the risk of Iranian missile counter attacks against the free world.
Tehran played it very wisely and outmaneuvered its enemies in the West; it got away with the missiles, which are now advanced and deployed. Hence all that the Khomeinists need to achieve by the end of 2007, as their delivery systems are developed, is a conclusion in Washington that will deter it from acting against the nukes, the fusion centers, the launching ramps and other types of deployment. The NIE report has paved the way for that decision.
Read the whole thing. A couple of times. But don’t worry. The New York Phil is going to North Korea.