Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

December 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PARSING THE PRESIDENT....When were George Bush and Dick Cheney briefed on the new intel concluding that Iran had shuttered its nuclear bomb program? Bush himself is trying to tap dance around that a bit, but the answer appears to be sometime in July or August.

So what did they do? Breathe a sigh of relief and tone down their rhetoric? Don't be silly. This is only obvious in retrospect, but it turns out that a couple of months ago both of them began parsing their language very, very carefully, with the goal of (a) making Iran continue to look as dangerous as possible while (b) not directly contradicting the NIE — just in case it ever became public and someone called them on it. Matt Yglesias dissects Cheney here; Josh Marshall dissects Bush here.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2006:

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) accused the Bush administration of playing down the threat of a nuclear Iran and called for swift action at the United Nations to impose sanctions on the Iranian government."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/19/AR2006011903220.html

Posted by: MikeKC on December 4, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Do you hear the sound of the final shards of American credibilty hitting the ground?

Posted by: Neal on December 4, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Bush has flatly stated Iranian possession of the necessary knowledge to build a nuclear weapon threatens the U.S. and others. How do we bomb what they likely already know, their knowledge? Is he proposing targeting everyone in their nuclear program with the working knowledge of a nuclear device? WTF? And I keep hearing their programs designed to construct a reactor facility(s) to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes constitutes a threat because of dual use fears. Are they forever forbidden from building nuclear powered electrical generating facilities? Kind of unrealistic in a world of dwindling oil supplies, in a nation nearly bereft of coal or hydro opportunities. It's obvious regardless of anything anyone has to say on this matter Bush has decided the Iranians are a threat to be dealt with militarily. What would sanctions, inducements or other methods do to negate Iran's existing knowledege of nuclear weapon devices? Or to stop them from continuing to gather such information? Nothing.

Posted by: steve duncan on December 4, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

This is only obvious in retrospect, but it turns out that a couple of months ago both of them began parsing their language very, very carefully

Not true Kevin. Bush has been saying the same thing for years which is that Iran has the knowledge necessary to build nukes. Whether or not they have something which liberals call a "nuclear program" is unimportant if all they need is a little fissionable material to complete their nuclear project. Fissionable material can be easily maintained from rogue nations like North Korea. Once they get it, they can easily build new nukes like an assembly line factory in a matter of months. This is something which we can not allow to happen.

Posted by: Al on December 4, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

They want to keep as many people scared and worried as is possible. If not scared then confused. Keeping the enough of the population afraid, mobilized is one of the hallmarks of totalitarian governments. How different is "companssionate conservative" from "friendly facist".

I am more scared of what these people are doing to us then what the Iranians might someday somehow be able to do.

Posted by: Bob O'Reilly on December 4, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

If vivisection should ever be performed on the current president and vice president, may it be applied with the same pitilessness they have used to kill and displace so many.

Posted by: Brojo on December 4, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Not true Kevin. Bush has been saying the same thing for years which is that Iran has the knowledge necessary to build nukes. Posted by: Al

As this is clearly a fake Al post, I'll play along by saying that every nation in the industrialized world has the ability to build nuclear weapons. And a lot of Third World nations could simply buy the technology (Pakistan and N. Korea).

The only thing that matters to us, meaning the U.S., separated from the ME, South Asia and East Asia by about 8,000 miles of ocean and land mass, is the capability to deliver nuclear weapons to the continental U.S.

Again, as I've been saying since before the beginning of our Iraq debacle, none of these nations has ICBMs, intercontinental bombers or blue water navies.

No. Dirty bombs hidden in an ocean-going container aren't close to the same thing as an air burst, multi-megaton missile, rocket or gravity bomb.

Yes. Southern Alaska counts, but, ya know. And Hawaii would be really difficult to hit without an advanced delivery system.

So, in short, I don't really care whether Iran has the bomb.

Posted by: JeffII on December 4, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

President Bush's amen corner in the conservative commentariat is apoplectic over the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. After all, the report's conclusion that Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program inn 2003 knocked the legs out from their "World War III" rhetoric. And as you'd expect, the same people who helped bring you the war in Iraq are now quick to claim CIA incompetence and conspiracies are behind the new assessment.

For details, see:
"Right Claims Iran NIE a CIA Plot Against Bush."

Posted by: Furious on December 4, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

So, when do we unilaterally start to removew the brains from the several hundred thousand people in the world who have a reasonable practical knowledge of making nuclear weapons that may, in some way, pass that info on to Iran?

Are we talking about "thought crimes" here?

Posted by: Neal on December 4, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Fissionable material can be easily maintained from rogue nations like North Korea.

That's true. And it's much more of a danger now than it was when Bush took office, because he stood by and did nothing but bluster when North Korea took the fuel rods out of IAEA-monitored storage, took then to the Yongbyon reactor, re-started the reactor, processed the fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium, then trucked that plutonium off to who-knows-where to build bombs with it or sell it to terrorist states. And to give you an idea of how much credibility Bush's bluster had, even back then, they did all of this right out in the open, thumbing their noses at Bush.

So Al got one right for a change. Except for the part where he thinks that "maintained" and "obtained" mean the same thing.

Posted by: bob on December 4, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

For details, see: "Right Claims Iran NIE a CIA Plot Against Bush." Posted by: Furious

Why do conservatives hate America?

"Good news for people who love bad news."

You think that shits like Pod-boy Sr. would want to spin this as Iran suspending its program because the Iraq invasion scared them. But no. They come up with some McCarthy-era nonsense about the CIA and others being in league against the administration. Hey, you assholes, that's the left's fantasy. Didn't you see Seven Days In May?

Posted by: JeffII on December 4, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

The NIE stated that Iran had halted its declared nuclear program in 2003 (high confidence) and had not restarted it as of mid-2007 (moderate confidence). That's great news and certainly eases any urgency to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities or anything like that.

The NIE also reiterated Iran's continued interest in nuclear weapons and its pursuit of commercial technical skills that could be applied to its nuclear program. So the notion that the NIE somehow "proves" that Iran isn't committed to acquiring nukes or somehow no longer presents a threat is simply wrong. Kevin, Marshall, Matt, and others have all asserted that the NIE is a 180-degree smackdown on Bush-Cheney but it isn't. Bush's comments are and have been completely in line with the NIE (which, as I noted yesterday, wasn't really all that different from the 2005 NIE). That's why efforts to "parse" their speeches are so weak.

The bottom line of the NIE is that Iran halted their formal program and are pursuing uranium enrichment and dual-track technologies (in addition to continuing to develop missile technology Jeff II). The expectation in the NIE is that Iran could have a nuclear weapon sometime in the middle of the next decade. That's what the 2005 NIE said as well and fits consistently with what the president has been saying, even if lefty bloggers insist it isn't.

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 4, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Hacksaw: More War, Dammit!

Posted by: Hacksaw's Colostomy Bag on December 4, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Marshall, Matt, and others have all asserted that the NIE is a 180-degree smackdown on Bush-Cheney but it isn't. Bush's comments are and have been completely in line with the NIE (which, as I noted yesterday, wasn't really all that different from the 2005 NIE). That's why efforts to "parse" their speeches are so weak.

au contraire, Hack -- the revelations that Bush and Cheney were making statements clearly intended to imply a nucelar threat from Iran that they were aware didn't exist, while parsing their own language carefully so as to not quite contradict the actual language, incontrovertibly reveals a deliberate attempt to decieve the nation in the direction fo yet another war.

It's shameful, though not surprising, to see you repeating the same spin about "intention" and "knowledge" in the face of what a decent person would find a humiliating contradiction of the Administration's implications and assertions. Shame on you, Hack.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

The bottom line of the NIE is that Iran halted their formal program and are pursuing uranium enrichment and dual-track technologies (in addition to continuing to develop missile technology Jeff II). Posted by: Hacksaw

While technological also rans like Pakistan, N. Korea and, maybe, Iran have or will be building nuclear devices of some sort, none, I repeat, none are even remotely close to possessing a long range delivery capability. Period. The technology is more advanced than building the bomb itself.

Furthermore, the reason Iran wants a bomb is because it doesn't particularly like or trust any of its neighbors. Also, having the bomb makes it less likely that we'll fuck around with them as well. The same is true of N. Korea, and is why Pakistan (India) got them.

As Iran has never shown any extra-territorial designs over the last 50 years, I don't think it's going to be invading any of its neighbors, with or without a bomb.

Again, while it is regrettable when any state "goes nuclear," whether or not Iran has nuclear weapons has no direct consequences for the U.S. The proverbial ball is in our court, as it has been since 1979. We can either get along with the mooks, secure in the knowledge that we could turn the country into a really glassy parking lot if necessary, or we can continue to cause additional unnecessary concern in the region with our bellicose behavior.

As Shrub and Dick are unlikely to change their personal preferences, it's up to congress, the military and the intelligence agencies to keep these warmonger rogues in check, and hope that we extricate ourselves from Iraq (and Afghanistan for that matter) shortly after the inauguration of the Democratic president in January of 2009.

Oh, and BTW Hack, fuck off.

Posted by: JeffII on December 4, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

The bottom line of the NIE is that Iran halted their formal program and are pursuing uranium enrichment and dual-track technologies (in addition to continuing to develop missile technology Jeff II).
Posted by: Hacksaw on December 4, 2007 at 2:39 PM

i hear the jeff ii missile is da bomb.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on December 4, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Carnegie put out an interesting paper in 2005 on the declining ballistic missile threat. It talked about how the overall threat has gone down (primarily thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union). The report also casts doubts on the ballistic missile commission which in the late 1990 looked at the prospects of missile technology proliferation. All in all, a pretty calming view of the missile threat.

That said, the report noted that "Missile proliferation remains primarily a regional problem, though with global implications." The odds of an attack on the US were considered exceptionally low but Iran and North Korea were among the nations seen as pursuing intermediate and long-range ballistic missile programs. In other words, Iran's ability to launch an ICBM is a decade away but they are currently working on it.

This was the comment on Iran:

Iran’s “Shahab III” program (a missile largely based on and perhaps nothing more than a
North Korean No Dong missile) has progressed in fits and starts. The missile blew up in
two of its three tests in 1998 and 2000 and failed again in July 2002. It enjoyed more success,
though, in tests in May 2002 and July 2003. The missile was last tested on August 11, 2004,
with Iranian officials claiming success, despite a skeptical response from the international
press. The 2001 NIE notes “All agencies agree that Iran could attempt to launch an
ICBM/SLV about mid-decade, although most agencies believe Iran is likely to take until the
last half of the decade to do so. One agency further judges that Iran is unlikely to achieve a
successful test of an ICBM before 2015.” In his 2004 Worldwide Threat Assessment, DCI
George Tenet asserted that Iran would not be able to begin flight-testing SLVs until the
“mid- to latter-part of the decade.”

You can read the report Here

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 4, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

By all means, let's bomb Iran for having "impure" thoughts.
Good God, could the grownups please take back the country and steer us back to reality.

Posted by: ckelly on December 4, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Hack, surveying the ashes of his usual Administration apology bullshit: Hey, look over there!

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

You have to hand it to the tip-toeing Bushies: they are competent in all the wrong ways, and that takes some special kind of determination.

Posted by: Kenji on December 4, 2007 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

and hope that we extricate ourselves from Iraq (and Afghanistan for that matter) shortly after the inauguration of the Democratic president in January of 2009. ~JeffII

Yeah. Good luck with that.

Didn't y'all vote in a Democratic majority in order to put a stop to this insanity? How's that working out?

Clinton told Ted Koppel US troops will still be in Iraq at the end of her SECOND term.

There is ONE viable presidential candidate who will bring our troops home from undeclared, no-win wars and won't try to police the world.

Posted by: Conservative Against Bush on December 4, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Gregory,

Why bother reading and thinking if I can toss out a juvenile insult instead.

Posted by: Hacksaw on December 4, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'll parse for you:

Bush is a liar.

Cheney is a liar.


But we already knew that.
See, it's easy to parse.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 4, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Hack, for the "shorter" concepts to work, they have to be accurate. It's far from a "juvenile insult" to point out that you're trying to change the subject rather than face the fact that your assertions have been rebutted.

A juvenile insult might be, "Hack's straw man reveals him as a typically dishonest and honorless Bush apologist."

Oh, wait, darn, I screwed that up -- that'd be an accurate description, actually.

Shame on you, Hack.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Where have all the words of vengeance, ass kicking and taking names, gone from the GOP faithful?

I remember just about every post had comments laced with threats and innuendo about retaliation against those who were not patriotic.

Times change.

Posted by: MEG on December 4, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw: The expectation in the NIE is that Iran could have a nuclear weapon sometime in the middle of the next decade. ... The bottom line of the NIE is that Iran halted their formal program and are pursuing uranium enrichment and dual-track technologies...

Parse the NIE staements carefully:

We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.
There is a big difference between "technically capable", "enough HEU" and "a weapon". Also note:
We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so.
Almost all enrichment and reprocessing technology are potentially dual-use (which is why we have the NPT, the IAEA, safeguard agreements, and inspections). Note that Natanz--where all those centrifuges and the enricnment activity is taking place--is a declared facility; per the IAEA's last report:
The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.
So in order to actually build a bomb, Iran has few options:
  • Restart a covert program, including a separate infrastructure for processing/enriching material away from the eyes of IAEA. That's a major undertaking.
  • Use their existing facilities (e.g., Natanz), which would essentially require an NPT breakout. I.e., the program would no longer be covert.
  • Acquire material from elsewhere; chancy at best.
In short, Iran's declaredprogram poses little threat, and an attempt to use it to produce sufficient HEU for a weapon would let the cat out of the bag.

Yet the administration's primary focus--and the major sticking point with Iran--remains on shutting down Natanz, as if that is going to magically reduce the risk of a covert/undeclared program, or wipe away the knowledge. It doesn't and it won't. That facility and its materials are (thankfully) still in the bag, but the knowledge is not.

Posted by: has407 on December 4, 2007 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

One of the nice things about the information age is that so much of what happens really is "on the record." Al (and others) may argue their points, but the proof is right there, in countless video clips, for all the world to see.

We're also getting better at picking up the clues. Long before this story broke, many of us had already taken note of the not-so subtle shift in Administration rhetoric. Just as we moved in the post-Iraq invasion era from "weapons of mass distruction" to "weapons program," we now moved from having weapons in fact to merely being determined to acquire vf them.

The President of the United States is an embarrassment who seems to think the rest of us are as gullible as he is. January 2008 can't come a moment too soon.

Posted by: MrToad on December 4, 2007 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment









Remember personal info?










 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly