Tuesday, December 4, 2007

First Iraq and now Iran

I'll never forget watching U.S. weapons inspector David Kay testify that his team had found no WMDs in Iraq.

The latest NIE on Iran's lack of nuclear capability reminded me of Kay's poignant admission, "It turns out that we were all wrong." Thankfully, adults with conscience from 16 agencies dared to contradict the wrong-headed warmongering of the WH with their NIE findings about Iran.

And, once again, the IAEA and its director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, were right.

Rewind to Aug. 23, 2006, when the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) then chaired by loyal Bushie Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) issued a report, Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States [PDF].

[Keep reading...]

Responding to the House committee brief, U.N. inspectors denounced portions of the report as "outrageous and dishonest." The Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2006:

Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.
The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on pre-war assessments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.
You remember the Niger yellow cake uranium forgeries that led to the 16 words in Bush's 2003 SOTU, right? We still don't know who forged those docs and for what reason... although one can speculate that a nuclear threat would thwart opposition to preemptive military action against Iraq. Sound familiar?
After no such weapons were found in Iraq, the IAEA came under additional criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the administration orchestrated a campaign to remove the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. It failed, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
Yesterday's letter, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, was the first time the IAEA has publicly disputed U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation. The agency noted five major errors in the committee's 29-page report, which said Iran's nuclear capabilities are more advanced than either the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown.
Among the committee's assertions is that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the town of Natanz. The IAEA called that "incorrect," noting that weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent under IAEA monitoring.
When the congressional report was released last month, Hoekstra said his intent was "to help increase the American public's understanding of Iran as a threat." Spokesman Jamal Ware said yesterday that Hoekstra will respond to the IAEA letter.
Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), a committee member, said the report was "clearly not prepared in a manner that we can rely on." He agreed to send it to the full committee for review, but the Republicans decided to make it public before then, he said in an interview.
The report was never voted on or discussed by the full committee. Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the vice chairman, told Democratic colleagues in a private e-mail that the report "took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire -- and the Intelligence Community's assessments as more certain -- than they are."
Privately, several intelligence officials said the committee report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate. Hoekstra's office said the report was reviewed by the office of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.
Negroponte's spokesman, John Callahan, said in a statement that his office "reviewed the report and provided its response to the committee on July 24, '06." He did not say whether it had approved or challenged any of the claims about Iran's capabilities.
"This is like prewar Iraq all over again," said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. "You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."
The committee report, written by a single Republican staffer with a hard-line position on Iran, chastised the CIA and other agencies for not providing evidence to back assertions that Iran is building nuclear weapons.
What? How dare our intel agencies refuse to fabricate a slam dunk on Iran for the preznut and the veep. They will never get a Presidential Medal of Freedom with that attitude.
It concluded that the lack of intelligence made it impossible to support talks with Tehran. Democrats on the committee saw it as an attempt from within conservative Republican circles to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions.
The report's author, Fredrick Fleitz, is a onetime CIA officer and special assistant to John R. Bolton, the administration's former point man on Iran at the State Department. Bolton, who is now ambassador to the United Nations, had been highly influential during President Bush's first term in drawing up a tough policy that rejected talks with Tehran.
Among the allegations in Fleitz's Iran report is that ElBaradei removed a senior inspector from the Iran investigation because he raised "concerns about Iranian deception regarding its nuclear program." The agency said the inspector has not been removed.
A suggestion that ElBaradei had an "unstated" policy that prevented inspectors from telling the truth about Iran's program was particularly "outrageous and dishonest," according to the IAEA letter, which was signed by Vilmos Cserveny, the IAEA's director for external affairs and a former Hungarian ambassador.
A copy of the 2006 IAEA letter as a PDF is here.

To describe the 2006 committee report as flawed would be a gross understatement. The trumped-up handiwork of the Administration's neocon handmaidens served to bolster the WH case to use military force against another member of the "axis of evil." Cheney had already boasted about Iran's "fairly robust new nuclear program" on Imus in the Morning just hours before Bush's inaugural in January 2005. And we know how Bushies work -- the WH claims thus, and then magically... Presto! Documents (and media reports) appear to lend credence to their pronouncements. Before Democrats won majority control over congressional committees, Hoekstra in the House and Pat Roberts (R-KS) in the Senate "vetted" intel for WH lies assertions like the strategic threat that Iran posed to U.S. interests.

What's available to remedy the damage done to U.S. foreign affairs and get back on track? Unfortunately, our rotting press corpse has to cooperate. Today, John Bolton appeared as CNN's NIE contrarian spreading his wacky neocon scaremongering throughout the afternoon. Laughing John Bolton out of D.C. and never permitting him access to a government job or official would be a good step, but don't hold your breath against the neocon revolving door. Impeaching Cheney would be a giant leap for mankind, but too many door-stoppers would halt a Senate indictment or trial if H.R. 799 miraculously revived and passed. Michigan and Kansas voters ought to kick servile Hoekstra and coverup Roberts out on their asses in '08 -- a possibility for Roberts; Hoestra, I dunno. Fleitz can flip burgers; he knows how to take orders. Negroponte, now deputy secretary at State, has already been contained via lecondel. And Iran? Bush remains... undaunted by the NIE to put it politely.

Our best remedy is electing a Democratic president who knows how to use diplomacy, sending a positive signal to Tehran in persuading Iranians to relinquish development of nuclear weapons. You don't think Mitt, Rudy, Huck or Fred can do that, do you?

Repubs have proven they know nuthin' about diplomacy. Or conducting war, which Iraq has revealed so miserably. The neocon dream articulated in the Bush Doctrine has shattered American foreign policy -- our goodwill, blood, and treasure spent. When have the neocons been right?
It's a very useful rule of thumb in foreign affairs to simply assume that the neocons are wrong no matter what, because they are always wrong about everything. That is not to say that all conservatives are wrong about everything, and neocons merge with the more traditional hard line hawk faction just often enough that it gets confusing.
I suspect we will hearing a lot more confusing rhetoric about the worth of the NIE. What's clear to me is Bush's and Cheney's bellicosity towards Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program has been, to refrain David Kay, all wrong.

And for goodness sake, when the ElBaradei speaks, dammit, listen! He was right about Iraq and he's right about Iran. Bush, Cheney and their loyal rubber-stamp Repubs... Not so much.