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Finally, Nouri al-Maliki – a guy I’ve been calling an empty suit for years – seems to have grown a pair and is standing up for the Iraqi people against the Americans.

The Iraqis want our combat forces to leave in an orderly fashion by withdrawing troops using a timetable that will be mutually agreed upon. What’s not to like in this?

Well, if you’re President Bush or John McCain, you have a political problem in that you have opposed a timetable being attached to our withdrawal for years. But that was Democrats setting arbitrary timetables not the sovereign nation of Iraq giving their problematic allies a graceful way to exit with honor and a true “Mission Accomplished.”

Saddam is gone. His WMD programs are history. The Iraqi army has proven in Basra, in Sadr City, and most especially in Mosul that they are capable of handling the security of the country (internal). The police – while still a large problem as far as corruption – performed quite well in Mosul also.

Just what is it we are still needed for?

Security from external threats? Agreed – but we don’t need 135,000 troops for that. We don’t need 50,000 troops in Iraq either. A “tripwire” force of less than 20,000 should be all that’s needed to keep Iran or Syria or any other hostile power from violating the territorial integrity of Iraq. With the pre-placement of equipment for a much larger force along with several thousand American advisers to continue the Iraqi’s training, a large combat presence will be tough to rationalize.

It was unrealistic of us to think that we could nurture this fledgling democracy through its growing pains and into the light of true liberty. At some point, the apron strings must be cut and the Iraqi government and people must go out on their own and find their own path to freedom. It will be messy. There will be stops and starts. It won’t look much like western style democracy. But the Iraqis must develop their own traditions, their own institutions if they are to succeed in joining the free nations of the world.

Ben Franklins admonishment to a woman outside of Independence Hall after the Constitution was agreed upon at the convention should hold special meaning for the Iraqis. When asked by the lady what kind of government to delegates had given the people Franklin responded “A republic ma’am – if you can keep it.” I don’t know exactly what kind of government will emerge in the coming years in Iraq. All I’m sure of is that it will be an Iraqi government. It may be free. It may be less free. It may devolve into a dictatorship – perhaps even mimicing the clerical fascists next door in Iran.

And while we will watch with great interest and even powerful emotions, it matters not what we think. We have done all that we can to give them this opportunity – an opportunity that cost us more than 4,000 brave souls and countless thousands who returned maimed, disfigured, and emotionally troubled. Other unforseen consequences will no doubt emerge not the least of which is a regional power in Iran who will try their best to undermine what we have started in Iraq. They may succeed. And then again, they may not. There are many in Iraq who are dedicated to establishing a secular democratic state. Perhaps their good hearts and good intentions will hold off the beast to the south who will work through proxies to try and destablize the nascent state.

But it will not be our direct concern anymore. Take the deal, Mr. President. The Iraqis have grown up and are ready to take responsibility for their own security, their own state. Hasn’t that been our goal all along.

Make the deal, Mr. Bush. It will be your parting gift to the country and might – just might – raise you up in the estimation of your countrymen. Goodness knows you’ve done enough the last 8 years to lower it.

By: Rick Moran at 8:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

Macsmind linked with Iraqi Call for Withdraw?...

There are days that I really hate politics – days when my cynicism and contempt for the politicians, the process, the whole bloody, unholy mess of spin meisters, pundits, press, bloggers, and commentators from all sides of the ideological spectrum make me want to chuck it all and write about sports, or gardening, or cats.

Readers of this site know that this too, shall pass; that tomorrow or the next day or day after that, I will resume my role as cantankerous curmudgeon railing against the left, the right, and the squishes in the middle as if this feeling of utter, depthless depression about the state of the nation never existed.

Part of it is, I’m sure, the coming slaughter of conservatives at the polls in November. The ignorant, smug, self-righteous liberals who visit this site (as opposed to most lefty visitors who are thoughtful and eager to engage in dialogue) who keep telling me to “get used to it” haven’t a clue themselves what is about to transpire with this coming election.

We are about to hand the presidency to the most ill-equipped, shallow, unschooled, and naive candidate in American history. Less than 4 years ago, Barack Obama was an obscure Illinois state senator with a paper thin record of accomplishment and a work history that included organizing inner city residents by bringing their resentments against white America to the surface thus motivating them to vote and put pressure on city hall.

If one asks the question how he rose so quickly to the heights he finds himself now, all you have to do is look at his sponsors in the Chicago political machine; state senate Majority leader Emil Jones (who helped pad his non-existent resume by putting his name as a sponsor on bills he never worked to pass), the as yet unfleshed out Tony Rezko connections to the operators and moneymen who were invaluable in his 2004 senate run, and Mayor Daley himself whose brother Bill, former cabinet official in Clinton’s administration and the man who ran the Gore 2000 campaign, an unpaid consultant to the Obama campaign who possesses one of the most valuable Rolodex in the Democratic party.

And let’s not forget the man who has brilliantly packaged the Obama message of “change” and “hope” by obscuring the candidate’s unabashed liberalism with enough amorphous, non-ideological platitudes to pave the road to heaven twice over. David Axelrod has many gifts. But perhaps his most valuable contribution to the Obama campaign has been in message discipline. Never before has a liberal Democrat stayed on point through appearance after appearance, debate after debate, talk show after talk show.

And, of course, the candidate’s own numerous political gifts have rounded out a campaign that looks unbeatable at this point.

Given all of this, just how bad (or good) would an Obama presidency be?

I have written previously how this election reminds me of 1980’s debacle for the Democrats. And while I still think this is true, there is a major difference between then and now; Democrats today are much less united (outside of the Iraq War) on what needs to be done to “fix” things than Republicans were a generation ago. Back then, the mantra of “lower taxes, less regulation, higher defense spending” was an easy sell and GOP candidates from top to bottom embraced the themes that Reagan hammered home day after day on the campaign trail.

But the left today is not in as much agreement as to what needs to be done although the outlines of some programs will see broad acceptance among Democrats on Capitol Hill. There will no doubt be a primal thrust at the beginning of an Obama administration for some kind of national health insurance. All depends on whether Obama insists on his own plan (that does not include mandated participation) or whether he breaks down and realizes there is nothing “national” about what he is proposing unless people are forced to sign up and pay into the insurance fund.

Some of the more entertaining moments during the debate occurred when watching Hillary criticize Obama’s plan for not covering all Americans while twisting and dodging about the draconian mandates contained in her own plan that would force Americans to buy health insurance – even if they don’t want it. And if they don’t buy it, enforcement provisions will almost certainly involve the IRS. What other government agency is set up to do it?

Will Americans feel the same about national health insurance once they realize what it means – what it really means – as far as forcing citizens at the point of the IRS gun to pay up or suffer the consequences? We’re an independent minded citizenry and don’t like to be told what to do but my guess is we will meekly submit to this massive intrusion of our liberties because citizens are convinced only the government can act to supply them with competitive insurance rates. Regardless of whether that’s true or not it doesn’t matter. We’re going to have national health insurance by the time the cherry blossoms are blooming in the tidal basin next year.

On the surface, it appears that Democrats are united in their desire to end the Iraq War. However, here too, you have a wide range of options being pushed forward by Democrats that almost certainly guarantees there will be token withdrawals of troops from Iraq and little more.

Unless a President Obama is willing to fire Gen. Raymond Odierno (who will be top commander in Iraq this time next year), CENTCOM commander Petreaus, and a host of lesser lights and replace them with generals who will tell him what he wants to hear on Iraq (don’t put this past Obama – Bush did it, why not him?), it is likely we will have virtually the same number of troops doing pretty much what they are doing now in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Obama’s on again-off again advisor Samantha Power said the same thing and common sense alone makes Obama’s “plan” to reduce troops by a brigade a month little more than a pipe dream.

The reason Obama will give – Bush screwed things up so bad that the troops are needed to prevent catastrophe – will be close to the truth so all but the Dennis Kucinich wing of the party will probably cut him some slack.

The real test of Obama’s leadership will come when dealing with the economy. Whether we are in an official recession won’t matter as much as the fact that economic activity will almost certainly be sluggish with most vital sectors experiencing slow or no growth. There will also no doubt be considerable slack in the labor market as well. The question is will the Democrats and Obama take actions that will help spur growth or will they give into their worst impulses and raise taxes, gut NAFTA, and take other actions that might exacerbate the situation?

I have zero confidence that anything the Democrats propose will make the situation better. Overall, the Democrats are unfriendly to the idea of a globalized economy and given the opportunity (or forced into it by their masters in the labor unions), they will find a way to throw a monkey wrench into free trade agreements while perhaps making it illegal to “outsource” goods and services to other countries. This will force other nations to react to what we are doing and the entire edifice of global trade will be threatened.

This will almost certainly mean slower growth and more difficulty in getting the economy back on track. Of course, the blame will successfully be placed at the feet of Bush and the Republicans where some of it belongs but without the inconvenience of having to own up to policies that have actually made the situation worse.

As far as foreign policy, I am actually less nervous about Obama than I was a few months ago. The reason is I don’t think Obama as president will emphasize foreign policy the first few years of his presidency but rather keep his nose to the domestic grindstone. Allowing things to float at this point – with the exception of Iraq and Afghanistan – wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will go nowhere as will negotiations with Syria. Pakistan is already a lost cause. Russia will continue to be a thorn in our side as will China but there might be areas – nuclear nonproliferation – that would benefit all countries and where Obama might actually do some good.

The Iranian situation will resolve itself with or without President Obama’s help. If he actively tries to prevent Israel from removing what they believe is an existential threat, his presidency will be over. And since the US is going to get blamed for anything Israel does anyway, my guess is he will tacitly support any Israeli action against the Iranian nuclear program.

Would he attack Iran? Despite his bellicose comments about not allowing the Iranians to develop nuclear weapons, since there will likely be no evidence that the Iranians are constructing nukes, it is extremely unlikely that a President Obama would greenlight any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Israel, of course, doesn’t have that luxury and once it is clear that Iran could enrich uranium on an industrial scale to the 85-90% level, all bets are off and US support or no, they will hit the Iranians with everything they’ve got.

Admittedly, the fallout from such an attack could be extremely serious. But Syria won’t commit suicide for their Iranian allies by starting a war they can’t win and Iran’s military is something of a joke – outside of some rockets that could hit Israeli cities with conventional explosives. The fact is, for all their bluster, Syria and Iran can’t do much damage to the Israelis and they know it.

Diplomatically, it might be a different story. It would almost certainly cause the Arab street to explode – Jews attacking Muslims – and it would almost certainly cool relations between us and our “moderate” Arab allies. But as I’ve mentioned previously, the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia aren’t looking to expand their own “peaceful” nuclear programs because they need power plants. They fear Iran and any action taken by anyone – even the Israelis – to remove the nuclear threat will be greeted by outrage on the outside but relief behind the scenes.

How Obama manages all of this – and I fear it is a virtual certainty he will have to face it – will test both the man and his presidency. Is he up to the challenge? I am of the school of history that believes great leaders are sometimes born but more often rise to the occasion having given little indication they were up to managing great happenings. Think Lincoln. But also think James Buchanan who sat paralyzed in the White House while state after state seceded from the union. Buchanan had great experience in government having served two terms as a senator and 4 years as Secretary of State. But all that experience went for naught when he froze during the greatest crisis the union ever faced.

The next 4 years will see the US tested as perhaps it hasn’t been since the end of World War II. Our alliances, our security, our leadership in the world – all will present enormous problems for the next Commander in Chief. Couple that with a moribund economy and a restless citizenry searching for a unity of purpose and you have perhaps the most daunting challenges a new chief executive will have faced at least since Reagan and possibly since FDR.

I know one thing. Obama will be the only president we have. Doing everything we can to support him – at least as far as our consciences allow – could make the difference between success and failure.

By: Rick Moran at 7:25 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (30) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Obama weighing visit to Iraq this summer...

In golf, if you step up to the tee and proceed to hit the ball out of bounds, there is a fine tradition on public link courses that you are allowed a do-over, or “Mulligan” so that you can try to hit the ball a little straighter and not be penalized for your wayward swing.

There’s no such thing in politics, of course…that is, unless you happen to be an inexperienced liberal Democrat campaigning for president who is vouchsafed such luxuries as getting to “clarify” a monumentally stupid statement that demonstrated a dangerous cluelessness about a vital part of the world.

Barack Obama’s statement on the crisis in Lebanon fell as flat as 3 week old champagne in Israel and Lebanon, and probably other places where reformers are seeking to overturn the established order in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people there. It’s bald faced ignorance about Hizbullah, about the Lebanese people, and what has been going on for more than 2 years in the streets in that tragic country underscores a dangerous naivete on the part of the candidate as well as a shocking lack of perspective on the true nature of groups like Hizbullah and Hamas.

In an eye-brow raising interview with the New York Times David Brooks, Obama was offered a chance to amend his mealy mouthed, pusillanimous statement on Lebanon made over the weekend and substitute instead thoughts that might connect to some semblance of reality regarding Hizbullah and their threat to whatever is left of democracy in Lebanon:

First, Obama’s initial swing that duck hooked clean out of bounds for a 2 stroke penalty:

He called on “all those who have influence with Hezbollah” to “press them to stand down.” Then he declared, “It’s time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment.”

I took the candidate to task for his naive belief that “those who have influence with Hizbullah” care one whit what happens to Lebanese society and in fact, were encouraging Hizbullah in their violent efforts to undermine the legitimacy and authority of the elected government.

As for a “diplomatic consensus” on electoral reform I would say to Obama where the hell have you been for 3 fricking years? The Lebanese along with the Saudis, the Syrians, and the Arab League have all been engaged in efforts to reform Lebanon’s archaic electoral laws.

As for the patronage system, have him clean up his homestate’s corruption before he goes over the Lebanon and starts telling them about “corrupt patronage.” Mayor Daley and Governor Blagovetich make the Lebanese look like pikers in that regard.

And what’s with this “New Deal” economic program for Lebanon? He can’t be that dense, can he? When George Bush took office, aid to Lebanon amounted to around $35 million. This year, in keeping with our pledges made at the Paris Roundtable on aid to Lebanon, the President is asking Congress for $770 million which would make Lebanon the third largest recipient of US aid per capita. This is an amount that Iran can’t come close to matching. Clearly, Lebanon has become one of the most important Middle Eastern countries to American interests.

The Roundtable countries pledged upwards of $7 billion to rebuild Lebanese infrastructure pulverized by Israel during the war with Hizbullah. But that aid can’t start flowing until Lebanon has a new government. And Lebanon won’t have a new government until they elect a president. And they won’t elect a president until a new electoral law is passed. And they won’t have a new electoral law until Hizbullah folds up its tents in downtown Beirut and stops threatening to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, joining their fellow countrymen in a national dialogue. And that won’t happen until there is a new government…

And around and around we go with Obama’s laughable ignorance exposed for all to see. He wants to treat Lebanon the same way he would go about reforming a corrupt ward in Chicago. For obvious reasons, this did not sit well with any Lebanese blogger or pundit I have read since he released that statement.

A sample from AK:

Oh the time we wasted by fighting Hizbullah all those years with rockets, invasions of their homes and shutting down their media outlets. If only we had engaged them and their masters in diplomacy, instead of just sitting with them around discussion tables, welcoming them into our parliament, and letting them veto cabinet decisions. If only Obama had shared his wisdom with us before, back when he was rallying with some of our former friends at pro-Palestinian rallies in Chicago. How stupid we were when, instead of developing national consensus with them, we organized media campaigns against Israel on behalf of the impoverished people who voted for them.

Given this reaction, one would think that given the opportunity to play a Mulligan, the candidate would try and make things right.

Guess again:

Right off the bat he reaffirmed that Hezbollah is “not a legitimate political party.” Instead, “It’s a destabilizing organization by any common-sense standard. This wouldn’t happen without the support of Iran and Syria.”

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.” He knows these movements aren’t going away anytime soon (“Those missiles aren’t going to dissolve”), but “if they decide to shift, we’re going to recognize that. That’s an evolution that should be recognized.”

Obama didn’t only hit his Mulligan out of bounds – the ball made a beeline for the clubhouse and hit the President of the Country Club right in the middle of the forehead.

And while the President of the Golf Club can ban Obama for life, we voters aren’t so lucky. We must deal with this head in the clouds, pie in the sky, completely unrealistic and dangerously naive candidate for the rest of the campaign. All we can do is point out his shocking idiocies and hope that the American people see the danger too.

To take his statement apart, he doesn’t think Hizbullah is a “legitimate” political party. This would come as news to the 24 Hizbullah deputies seated in Parliament and the millions of ordinary Lebanese belonging to what an American presidential candidate has just told them is an illegitimate political entity.

Maybe Obama sees them sort of like Republicans in Chicago’s city hall.

But the real head scratchers in Obamas’s statement have to do with his idea of how government should work in Lebanon. He thinks the Lebanese government should deliver “better services” to the Shia – actually believing that bringing national health care or maybe food stamps to the south will “peel away” ordinary Shias and cement their loyalty to the government. He also thinks we should make the Shias see Hizbullah as an “oppressive force.”

Brooks thinks Obama has been well briefed on Lebanon – that’s a pile of crap. First of all, the writ of Lebanese law does not run in the south – no services, no government officials, just Hizbullah. Perhaps Obama never heard the expression relating to Hizbullah “a state within a state.” How, pray tell, is Obama going to get government services to a people when the terror bosses of Hizbullah control access to the population? How is he going to “peel away” Shias while showing Hizbullah to be “oppressive?”

Of all the platitudinous nonsense ever uttered by Obama, this comes close to taking the cake.

Well, until he said “The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

Wha? Who? WTF? The Shias already have an a very fine mechanism that is “an effective outlet” for their grievances. It’s called Hizbullah. And make no mistake, being funded to the tune of $300 million a year by Iran allows the party to set up an entire social welfare infrastructure that addresses the basic needs of the Shia in a way that the Lebanese government never did. Sorry, Barry but if you would return to earth with the rest of us mortals, you would realize your half assed opinions about the situation in Lebanon can only do damage to the very people we are seeking to help.

It only gets more bizarrely stupid the more he opens his mouth. No liberal panacea for what ails Lebanon would be complete without the “root causes” meme – as in, “Gee, if only the terrorists grew up with good food, shelter, heath care, and a 37’ Sony Trinitron, their hearts would melt and the world would be a fine place, indeed.” He believes both Hamas and Hizbullah “need to understand” that they are going down a “blind alley” with violence that “weakens their legitimate (gulp!) claims.”

Can Obama pick and choose which “legitimate claim” Hamas might want to pursue? Maybe they don’t want peace. Maybe they view their #1 legitimate claim to be the destruction of the Jewish state and death to every jew they can lay their hands on. How now, Barry? Will you help Hamas pursue that legitimate claim?

Hizbullah is a slightly different story but only because you can vaguely place their “legitimate claims” in the context of standing up for the Shia underclass – something that this past week’s violence revealed as a sham as Michael Young put so brilliantly in this piece. Basically, Young believes that Hizbullah’s attempted power grab this past week opened a schism between the Shias and the rest of Lebanese society that has made them more isolated than they were.

To even speak of “legitimacy” of claims by Hamas or Hizbullah is outrageously naive. Obama keeps insisting he has a “realistic” outlook on our enemies. And while he makes some of the right noises about Iran and Syria, he more often comes up with ludicrous statements like this that call into question his fitness for the presidency.

Lebanon is not some senate district in Chicago where someone can jump in and butt some heads together, shower a little money, and talk of about economic development as if it were just a question of opening a spigot somewhere and out would pour goodwill and prosperity.

Our friends in Lebanon are very worried about this man becoming president. They fear he will sell them down the river in order to get a peace deal with Iran or broker a Middle East peace with Syria and Israel. The temptation will be great to do so no matter who is president – McCain or Obama – to give in to Syria’s demands on Lebanon and leave the Lebanese people to the tender mercy of Hizbullah and Gangster Assad’s henchmen.

So far, it doesn’t appear to me that Obama has grasped the essential truth of what is at stake in Lebanon and may not see much wrong with abandoning the tiny country to its own, tragic fate.

And in the game of nations, no Mulligans are allowed.

By: Rick Moran at 1:11 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)


Via the Jerusalem Post comes the disturbing assessment by Israeli intelligence that Iran will be able to begin enriching uranium on a “military scale” by next year:

With Iran racing forward with its nuclear program, Israel now believes the Islamic Republic will master centrifuge technology and be able to begin enriching uranium on a military scale this year, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The new assessment moves up Israel’s forecasts on Teheran’s nuclear program by almost a full year – from 2009 to the end of 2008. According to the new timeline, Iran could have a nuclear weapon by the middle of next year.

Iran, a senior defense official said on Tuesday, had encountered numerous technical obstacles on its way to enriching uranium but was now on track to master the technology needed to enrich uranium within six months.

Israel is also concerned that Teheran is developing a cruise missile that can evade interception by the Arrow, the IDF’s anti-ballistic missile defense system. Iran is suspected of having smuggled Ukrainian X-55 cruise missiles and using them as models for an independent, domestic project. A cruise missile, which flies at low altitudes to dodge radar detection and interception, could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.

Our own intelligence estimate, of course, says that Iran isn’t even trying to build a bomb. But could the Mossad’s evidence cause us to amend that NIE? This also from the J-Post quoting the London Sunday Times:
Mossad chief Meir Dagan is expected to brief Britain’s MI6 head Sir John Scarlett, who is slated to visit Israel later this month, on an intelligence breakthrough regarding the Iranian nuclear program, London’s Sunday Times reported.

Concern has been mounting in Israel that Iran’s nuclear capability may be far more advanced than was recognized by the US National Intelligence Estimate last December, which reported that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 in response to international pressure.

A source quoted by the paper on Sunday claimed that the new information was on par with intelligence that led to the discovery and destruction of a partly constructed nuclear reactor in Syria last September.

Israeli officials believe the US will revise its analysis of Iran’s program.

“We expect the Americans to amend their report soon,” a high-ranking military officer said last week.

In the interest of fairness (and because I enjoy confusing my readers) allow me to quote extensively from a post on Arms Control Wonk in March that talked about a disturbing report from Janes Defense Weekly about what is going on behind the scenes of the Iranian nuclear program:
Documents shown exclusively to Jane’s indicate that Iran is continuing its pursuit of the advanced technologies necessary to develop a nuclear weapon, regardless of Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful. Jane’s was shown the information by a source connected to a Western intelligence service, and the documents were verified by a number of reliable independent sources in Vienna.

These documents purport to show that: organisation within the Iranian MoD has actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years, in parallel with developments within the Atomic Energy Authority of Iran.

The article further states that since 2000 Iran has tested these detonators and found them “good enough” for a nuclear weapon (it also discusses the organization of Iran’s nuclear programme but that’s for a different post).

But to show you the ambiguity inherent in even a report like that, I quote Dr. Lewis and his analysis of this news:
Well, the development of multipoint detonation systems isn’t by itself proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons (let’s skip over the question of whether it really is sensible for the international community to demand proof as opposed to good evidence of wrong doing). As this patent from the US government shows, there are legitimate (largely military) reasons for developing explosive devices which involve multiple initiators.

My guess-and I am not certain-is that a multipoint detonation system can be unambiguously associated with nuclear weapons if its “jitter time” (that is, the time spread of the detonations) is particularly small. My knowledge of the pre-1991 Iraqi programme gives us some idea how simultaneous the detonations in a nuclear weapon need to be-Iraq aimed for a jitter time of less than 1 microsecond and ended up measuring it in nanoseconds. However, I don’t know for certain whether there is a legitimate application that requires the same degree of simultaneity. Sounds like an interesting problem to tackle properly when I get some time.

As you can see, Lewis is not entirely convinced that the detonators are used for the exclusive purpose of setting off a nuclear weapon. It is this kind of uncertainty that makes any decision to go after the Iranian nuclear infrastructure so problematic.

Who or what should we believe of Iran’s nuclear program? No one doubts Iran’s desire to possess a nuclear weapon. But are they really capable of overcoming the immense technical obstacles to build a bomb and a delivery system to threaten Israel as well as our allies in the region?

We can’t just dismiss these questions and then bomb hell out of Iran. An attack on the Iranians would bring far reaching and unseen consequences to not only our own security but the security of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other states in the region.

Others, like our own State Department and intelligence establishment, may have the luxury of burying their heads in the sand and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. But Israel cannot afford to do so – not without the potential for catastrophic consequences.

We know that the Iranians are making good progress in enriching uranium to the 5% level suitable for use in a nuclear reactor. Their facility at Nantanz is gearing up to double its centrifuge capacity which would increase their ability to enrich more raw uranium at a faster rate.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (who it should be noted have yet to prevent any country who wished to build a bomb from going nuclear) is monitoring the Iranian program but still have questions about their intent.

The Europeans for the most part are siding with us – as long as we don’t bomb Iran. Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel all agree that the Iranian program poses a very serious threat to the west and have gone along so far with the US both at the UN and rhetorically as well.

But as far as actually addressing the threat, precious little has been done besides some ineffective sanctions imposed by the Security Council and equally ineffective jawboning by IAEA chief ElBaradei. In effect, the Iranians are getting away with whatever they are doing because they are able to stonewall the international community on what their intentions are.

All of this makes bombing more likely with its concomitant consequences staring us in the face. But as long as China and Russia keep handing the Iranians matches as they run toward the gasoline dump, there is precious little the world can do except stand by and watch the endgame scenario play out.

One of us – Israel or the United States – will almost certainly be compelled to bomb the Iranian nuclear infrastructure – unless the world community, including Russia and China, make a 180 degree turn regarding the seriousness with which they take the Iranian program. It probably will not happen this year. But once Iran is capable of enriching uranium by the pound rather than the gram, expect a countdown in Tel Aviv or Washington to begin.

Which man will you want sitting in the White House when this decision has to be made?

Note: Much of this post originally appears in The American Thinker

By: Rick Moran at 1:47 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (15)


I am beginning to wonder how the authors of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran who wrote that the regime had given up on its weapons program in 2003 are feeling these last few weeks. It isn’t just war mongering right wing fanatics who think that they’re full of bull cookies and their analysis had a political motivation.

Good Lord! Even the French and Germans still think Iran is a danger. And did you see what the Russians said yesterday?

Iran’s ballistic missile tests last week have sparked unusually harsh criticism from Russia. According to the BBC, Russian officials have said the tests

raised suspicion over the true aim of [Iran’s] nuclear programme.

This is remarkable coming from Moscow, and the latest sign of a potentially significant shift in Russia’s stance on Iran. Through 2007, Russia was the main obstacle in UNSC efforts to tighten the thumb screws on Iran, preferring bilateral diplomacy with Tehran over the international sanctions route.

This January, however, Russia finally agreed to a third sanctions resolution. Moscow also opposes the efforts of South Africa to delay the resolution. South Africa, which holds a non-permanent UNSC seat and is an influential member of the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries, wants to wait until IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei finishes his meddlesome freelance diplomacy with Iran before proceeding—presumably in the hopes that ElBaradei gives Iran a clean bill of health, which could undermine the prospects for a unanimous or near-unanimous UNSC vote. The Russians, however, want the resolution to move forward sooner rather than later.

Not so our intrepid liberal friends here in the United States. They’re still acting like Neville Chamberlain, waving the piece of paper containing the NIE report above their heads and proclaiming that they have brought us peace in our time – at least with those cuddly fanatics in Tehran.

To their mind, simply putting their head in the sand and ignoring the Iranian threat solves the problem. The NIE Report on Iran has become their bible, an object of veneration and belief. Like the other bible (the one they think is silly and people who believe in it are goober chewing yahoos), it contains rules to live by. The first commandment “Thou Shalt Not Attack Iran” automatically leads to the second commandment “Thou shalt not act beastly towards the mullahs.”

For that reason, sanctions are a no-no and any utterance by that madcap, mystical mayhem loving midget Ahmadinejad should be taken at face value – except when he says he wants to wipe Israel off the map which he really doesn’t want to do and besides he never said that anyway. Otherwise, when the President of Iran says he has no nukes, that they never had no nukes, that they don’t want no nukes and that anyone who thinks they want nukes is a war mongering puppet of the USA, we should believe him.

But now the left has a slight problem. That timid, confrontation-avoiding Nobel Prize winning peace merchant who runs the International Atomic Energy Agency toddled over to Iran this past week and “confronted” the Iranians with evidence that they had been very, very interested in building the ultimate defense against slandering Mohmammed cartoons. Mohammed ElBaradei whipped out some evidence that the US obtained via an Iranian scientist’s laptop and froze the socks off the Iranians. They didn’t quite know what to say so they said nothing – or at least nothing that only the truly deranged and self deluded on the left in this country would believe.

The Iranians claimed that the evidence was “baseless and fabricated:”

It was the evidence that Iran was secretly working on such a design for many years that is now at the heart of the confrontation between Iran and the nuclear agency, which is based in Vienna.

Since 2005, the I.A.E.A. has urged the United States and other countries to allow the agency to confront Iran with evidence obtained on a laptop computer that once belonged to an Iranian technician with access to the country’s nuclear program. But the U.S. refused until a few weeks ago, and only agreed on Feb. 15, the report said, to allow original documents to be shown to the Iranians. In the report issued Friday, the agency described some of that evidence in public for the first time, “all of which the Agency believes would be relevant to nuclear weapon R & D.”

The most suspicious-looking document in the collection turned over to the I.A.E.A. was a schematic diagram showing what appeared to be the development of a warhead, with a layout of internal components. “This layout has been assessed by the agency as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device,” the I.A.E.A. wrote. But that does not prove it was a nuclear warhead, and Iran argued that its missile program used “conventional warheads only.”

The report referred to other documents drawn from the laptop — though the source of the material was never mentioned — that included documents describing how to test “high-voltage detonator firing equipment” and technology to fire multiple detonators at one time, which is required to trigger a nuclear reaction by forcing a nuclear core to implode. The report also described work on whether a detonation could be triggered in a 400-meter-deep shaft from a distance of 10 kilometers, or about six miles, leading to suspicions that the Iranian scientists were already thinking about nuclear testing. But it is unclear whether the shaft would have been wide enough for a nuclear weapon.

Yep. Sounds pretty baseless and fabricated to me. The Iranians had a logical explanation for all of that stuff – the US are a bunch of meanies and simply manufactured the evidence. What self respecting lefty won’t take that as the gospel truth?

One such lefty is Dr. Andrew Grotto. Dr. Grotto, an arms control and national security specialist with no patience for the Bush Administration’s non-proliferation efforts not to mention looking with a jaundiced eye at US Iran policy, nevertheless is nearly speechless with regards to Iran’s response:

Iran continues to refuse to address evidence of activities that have a much more clear-cut weapons purpose, such as the green salt project, high explosive testing and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle. The IAEA report says much of the evidence comes from an unnamed “Member State,” probably the United States. Iran asserts that the evidence is fabricated and, according to the report, has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of entertaining these matters any further.

There is a clear pattern here. For activities that have a colorable civilian rationale, Iran is suddenly happy to offer one. Since the IAEA is not in the business of second-guessing the sincerity of its member states in the absence of a technical rationale, it must accept these explanations unless and until new data comes along that calls the original rationale into question. And for activities that only have a weapons purpose, Iran plays the “How can you trust the Americans?’ card and simply refuses to engage the evidence.

It is hard to see what happens next in this process. There are a few lingering issues that the report suggests could be resolved, such as the uranium metal document (the report says that Pakistan is the roadblock). But on the most sensitive issues relating to alleged weapons-related activities, this report makes it clear that Iran has no interest in addressing them.

The problem becomes immediately apparent. The IAEA is “not in the business of second-guessing the sincerity of its member states in the absence of a technical rationale…” So any “confrontation” with Iran over their weapons program is necessarily short and sweet. If the IAEA asks a provocative question about some evidence and the Iranians have a convincing enough explanation – even if its a lie – the IAEA is forced to drop the issue and move on.

And for evidence that they have no rationale for? All they have to do is whine about the beastly Americans making stuff up and they have a phalanx of support here in America and the west among the ostrich class of lefties backing them up to the hilt.

This report is being delivered as the European Union weighed in with a study showing Iran could be a nuclear power by the end of the year. This could only happen if the Iranian centrifuges at Nantanz operated at near 100% efficiency.

Since the Iranians have never come close to that – more like 25% for short periods of time – it is next to impossible they would have a weapon by year’s end. And with the IAEA breathing down their necks, it is extremely unlikely they would be able to enrich uranium beyond the 5% required for civilian use. If they attempted to enrich their small stock of 5% uranium to the 85-90% necessary to build a bomb, it would be very difficult (at this point) for them to escape detection. (The Iranians have only now explained how traces of some 90% enriched uranium ended up on some equipment that the IAEA detected two years ago.)

The bottom line is as long as Iran continues to enrich uranium for any purpose, they are in violation of Security Council resolutions and are defying the bulk of the international community. The proposed sanctions are extremely limited and won’t harm the regime except at the margins. But it is the principle that is important – that most of the world wants Iran to come clean and stop their enrichment program. Ineffective or not, it is progress. And it lays the groundwork for future sanctions that may have a little more bite.

By: Rick Moran at 6:51 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)


Saying “”It remains a vital interest of the whole world community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,” Germany’s warmongering Chancellor Angela (Hey…wasn’t Hitler a Chancellor too?) Merkel joined French President Sarkozy in virtually ignoring the recently released NIE on Iran and sticking to their plans to promote more sanctions against the mullahs.

Writing in the German daily Handelsblatt, Merkel showed eminently more sense than just about any leftist Democrat in the United States:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that heading off the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, with tougher sanctions if needed, remains a “vital interest” for the world community, according to a report Thursday. Iran’s nuclear program is “one of our biggest security policy concerns,” Merkel wrote in an article for the daily Handelsblatt, which the newspaper posted on its Web site ahead of print publication on Friday.

Germany, along with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has played a leading role in addressing worries over Iran’s nuclear work.

Earlier this month, an American push for new sanctions was dampened with the release of a new US intelligence report concluding Iran had halted a nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and had not resumed it since.

Merkel did not refer specifically to that assessment, but wrote that “it is dangerous and still grounds for great concern that Iran, in the face of the UN Security Council’s resolutions, continues to refuse to suspend uranium enrichment,” Handelsblatt reported.

Compare Merkel’s attitude with the attitude of most lefties who, whenever Iran is mentioned these days, will hold the Iran NIE aloft a la Chamberlain coming home from Munich as proof of the mullahs benign intentions.

If their childish, irrational naivete weren’t so horribly, dangerously wrong, it might be funny. As it is, we have to keep reminding ourselves that these bozos might be in charge of American foreign policy next year – a thought that gives no end of amusement to the leaders of the Iranian regime, I’m sure.

What a terrible turn of events when pacifist Germany subtly criticizes America for “dangerous” thinking when it comes to Iran. A topsy turvy world, indeed.

By: Rick Moran at 5:00 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

CATEGORY: Iran, Politics

Above and beyond the questions about the reasons key judgments on the Iranian nuclear program were altered so dramatically over the course of just two years, the biggest puzzle of all is why the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was released in the first place.

Aside from initiating a political earthquake here at home, the revelation that Iran stopped working on its nuclear program in the fall of 2003 and that there is no evidence they have started it up again is causing a sea change in opinion overseas as well.

Almost everyone now agrees that bombing Iran is off the table – if it hadn’t been removed previously. The President’s jawboning on the issue has recently been less about American options and placed more in the context of why the world needed to act to prevent an Iranian bomb. Judging by their success in getting two rounds of sanctions passed by the Security Council, this seemed to be a winning strategy. As recently as 48 hours ago, China had agreed to the outlines of another round of sanctions against the Iranian regime.

But now, the support for another blast of sanctions directed against Iran seems to be slipping away. Russia is standing firm against more restrictions and China seems to be reconsidering as well:

“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated that the U.S. acknowledgment that Iran halted a suspected nuclear weapons bid in 2003 undermined Washington’s push for a new set of U.N. sanctions.

We will assess the situation regarding a new U.N. Security Council resolution taking into account all these facts, including the U.S. confirmation that it has no information about the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran,” he said.

Russia and China, another veto-wielding council member, have grudgingly approved two sets of limited U.N. sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. But the Kremlin has bristled at the U.S. push for tougher measures, saying they would only widen the rift.

China had said Tuesday the U.S. report raised second thoughts about new sanctions.

This would be a huge blow to our Iran strategy. The fact is, the Security Council placed these sanctions on Iran in the first place not because they were building a bomb but because they defied the Council’s order that they stop enriching uranium and cooperate 100% with he IAEA in assessing how “peaceful” was their program. Even the mild mannered bureaucrats at the IAEA are not satisfied with Iran’s performance in this regard:

“To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the agency (IAEA) said. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.”

The official called the American assertion that Iran had “halted” its weapons program in 2003 “somewhat surprising.”

IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei has constantly urged Iran to be more transparent in divulging information about their program. It hasn’t worked to date which is why ElBaradei has reluctantly gone along with the sanctions.

But losing ElBaradei would be the ballgame as far as sanctions by the Security Council is concerned. And right now, it doesn’t look good:

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s public stance, and the main message of Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general, was to praise the new finding as proof that his agency had been right in its analysis.

The American assessment “tallies with the agency’s consistent statements over the last few years that — although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities — the agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran,” Dr. ElBaradei said in a statement.

He said the American intelligence assessment “should help to defuse the current crisis.”

One reading of that could be “no crisis, no sanctions.” And if ElBaradei would abandon his support for sanctions, it is likely that the entire regime would collapse and all our hard work in getting the cooperation of Russia and China would have been for naught.

This begs my original question; if all this fallout from the NIE could be foreseen, why release it in the first place?

For the answer, ideology and loyalty colors most analyses. The left believes Bush was forced to release the report due to its explosive nature. Indeed, it is likely that if the President had tried to sit on the report, someone associated with the loose cabal of intelligence officers and analysts who have been leaking damaging information for years – both to point the finger at some administration mistake or to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the difficulties we’ve had in Iraq and elsewhere – would have surely passed the NIE on to one of their friends in the national security press.

Or perhaps Bush was persuaded by Congress to release the unclassified version thinking it likely that the report would see the light of day that way. Either way, the NIE would have hit the public in the worst possible light – spun by hostile legislators, spooks and journalists. Rather than create a firestorm of controversy, he allowed the redacted version to be released with his blessing.

All of this may be true. But I think there was another, more compelling reason why Bush gave the go ahead to release the report. He wanted to undercut the neo-conservatives both in and out of his administration who have become a lead weight around his presidency for at least the last 3 years.

For the last year, ever since Donald Rumsfeld left the Administration, the President has slowly altered his course in foreign affairs, taking a more traditional approach to world problems. He has not only changed military strategy in Iraq but has initiated diplomatic moves resulting in meetings with both Syrian and Iranian officials. He has become more engaged in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, culminating in the meeting in Annapolis last week where both sides agreed to resume peace talks. He has shown more willingness to work with the United Nations on a variety of issues not limited to Iran including problems in Lebanon and Africa. Bush has even relented slightly on issues relating to climate change in that he is now at least willing to discuss the problem.

To say that these moves would have been unthinkable during the first 4 years of the Bush presidency would be an overstatement. But there is no doubt that there has been a shift in Administration strategy away from unilateralism and toward engagement. And each of these small steps toward traditionalism has brought criticism and resistance from the clique in the Administration variously known as the neo-conservatives or the Cheney faction.

Much ink has been spilled trying to explain the relationship between George Bush and his Vice President. The simple minded portray Cheney as a puppeteer pulling the President’s strings. Others have Cheney as a totally independent force riding roughshod over the executive branch to get his way with Bush standing by helplessly unable to stop him.

Bush himself has a hard time describing his working relationship with Cheney. Here he is trying to talk about it in a special on Fox News:

Q: “Is he a man of few words inside the White House? What’s his style when you meet?”

Bush: “Well, we have several constant meetings. One, when it’s just the vice president and me—which happens on a weekly basis, you know—he’s quite verbose. He comes with things that he wants to talk about, issues that he wants to share concerns about, or things that he’s seen or heard.”

Q: “Some critics claim he’s pulling the strings in this administration. Others don’t go that far, they say he’s managed to figure out the angles and present you with certain options that limit your options when it’s time to make a decision comes.”

Bush: “I think I’m wiser than that—than to be pigeonholed or, you know, to get cornered by a wily advisor. Look, that’s not the way it works. Dick Cheney walks in and I say, ‘What’s your advice on this subject?’ And he gives it to me and I make up my mind based upon a variety of factors including the advice of key advisors and he is one of them.”

Outsiders see something different. David Gergen In an interview for the PBS Frontline documentary Cheney’s Law:

I think this particular vice president has had an enormous amount of persuasion with this president. I think he’s listened to him more closely than anybody else, especially in those early years. But still at the end of the day it’s the president who’s made the calls, and I think this penchant for secrecy and large executive power that Dick Cheney has been pushing, I think it’s something the president has bought into. Did Cheney help to persuade him? Absolutely. But is the president now persuaded? Absolutely. I think he’s now a devotee of expanded executive power.

Not Svengali or Machievelli but more a mentor perhaps. And as the years have gone by and the Administration’s plans have come a cropper in many places but especially Iraq, there must have been a time when Bush realized that relying on his own instincts rather than on the Vice President’s advice served him just as well.

With the hiring of Robert Gates as defense secretary and the exiting of most of the neo-conservatives from the Pentagon that Rumsfeld relied on for support, Cheney’s influence waned. And Condi Rice’s ascension to Secretary of State signalled a more pragmatic, less ideological approach in foreign policy, sidelining many of Cheney’s allies at Foggy Bottom.

It would be ridiculous to say that Bush woke up one day and realized that he was his own man and that he didn’t need or want to rely on the Cheney faction to play such a large role in making policy any longer. But there is no doubt a metamorphosis has taken place in the last year and that the President has been charting a course more independent of his Vice President’s ideas on foreign and defense policy. This is not to say that Cheney is no longer a valued advisor or that he has no power to influence the president or policy. But as the sands of time run out on the Administration, Cheney’s clout has lessened.

Confronted with a complete change in policy on Iran necessitated by the findings in the NIE, Bush has taken the opportunity to embrace the shift, placing it in the context of his successful UN sanctions policy and urging the world to keep the pressure on the Iranians.

The disappointment in the writings of many neoconservatives evident by the dark intimations of conspiracy in the NIE findings against the president’s policies shows how far apart the President and the neocons have grown. Where Bush apparently sees the NIE as a challenge to shift American policy and carry the world along with him, the neocons see dark betrayal.

Not quite a final break but certainly the President is striking out in a direction the neocons are extremely reluctant to follow. It should be interesting to watch the Administration over the next few months to see just where this newfound independence leads.

By: Rick Moran at 5:36 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)

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CATEGORY: Iran, War on Terror

According to the Washington Post, a footnote in the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran which reports a halt in Iranian nuclear bomb building in 2003, shows that the main conclusions in the document came about as a result of two crucial pieces of intelligence; the now famous design for a bomb casing found in an Iranian document dump to the International Atomic Energy Agency back in 2004 and SIGINT from last summer involving conversations between high ranking Iranian generals that clearly indicated the program had been halted:

Senior officials said the latest conclusions grew out of a stream of information, beginning with a set of Iranian drawings obtained in 2004 and ending with the intercepted calls between Iranian military commanders, that steadily chipped away at the earlier assessment.

In one intercept, a senior Iranian military official was specifically overheard complaining that the nuclear program had been shuttered years earlier, according to a source familiar with the intelligence. The intercept was one of more than 1,000 pieces of information cited in footnotes to the 150-page classified version of the document, an official said.

Several of those involved in preparing the new assessment said that when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism. Several of the president’s top advisers suggested the intercepts were part of a clever Iranian deception campaign, the officials said.

The fact that the Administration looked in askance at this new information was prudent, wise, and exactly the right thing to do. After all, it represented a 180 degree turnabout in what we thought we knew about the Iranian nuclear program. The intel folks then vetted the information in a unique manner:

Intelligence officers then spent months examining whether the new information was part of a well-orchestrated ruse. Their effort included “Red Team” exercises in which groups of intelligence officers tried to punch holes in the new evidence, substantially delaying publication of the NIE.

I was mistaken (as was half the liberal blogosphere) when I took the Administration to task for “sitting on the report” for a year. In fact, it appears that the White House had the final report for less than a week before they themselves released it:

Last year, Congress required that key judgments from the NIE be declassified. McConnell said in November that he had no plans to issue an unclassified version, but officials said the dramatic shift in the assessment convinced him otherwise. “Since our understanding of Iran’s nuclear capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available,” Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, said in a statement.

This puts the kibosh on some of my conservative friends who were speculating that this was a leak from the anti-Administration cabal at CIA/Defense/State. It was released by the Administration itself – probably to pre-empt the bureaucrats who would have leaked it anyway.

But no matter how it got out in the open, there is great unhappiness on the right. Michael Ledeen:

At this point, one really has to wonder why anyone takes these documents seriously. How can anyone in his (there was no female name on the document, nor was any woman from the IC present at the press briefing yesterday) right mind believe that the mullahs are rational? Has no one told the IC about the cult of the 12th Imam, on which this regime bases its domestic and foreign policies? Does not the constant chant of “Death to America” mean anything? I suppose not, at least not to the deep thinkers who wrote this policy document.

And as for Iran’s delicate sensitivity to international pressure, just a few days ago, the European ‘foreign minister’ Javier Solana was on the verge of tears when he admitted he had been totally unable to get the Iranians to come clean on their uranium enrichment program, even though he had told them that more sanctions were in the works. Yet, according to the IC, this program–neatly described in a footnote to the “Estimate” as “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment—really doesn’t have anything to do with nuclear weapons. But if that is so, why are the Iranians so doggedly hiding it from UN inspectors?

Ledeen is a smart guy but he’s either being incredibly disingenuous here or deliberately obtuse. The “12th Imam” clique surrounding Ahmadinejad has been losing influence for a year. Ledeen knows full well that there are other factions in the Iranian hierarchy that are more pragmatic (if not less radical in their hatred of Israel and America) than Ahmadinejad’s true believers who have been stifling his domestic reforms and trying to rein him in on foreign policy.

But Ledeen asks a good question about why the intransigence by the Iranians with IAEA? The reason – and I base this on my reading from a variety of learned sources not any independent thinking of my own – is that Ahmadinejad has made the uranium enrichment issue a national sovereignty issue, thus garnering a tremendous amount of domestic support for continuing the enrichment program. The Iranian president seeks, above all, respect from the international community for Iran’s “achievement” in enriching the tiny amounts of uranium they have been able to process. This is where all his talk about “double standards” on the nuclear issue comes into play. He resists the IAEA because he feels their inspections intrude on what he sees as Iran’s sovereign right to develop what he calls a “peaceful” nuclear program.

Of course, the funny thing about a “peaceful” nuclear program is that the process that enriches uranium to reactor grade level is exactly the same process that enriches the uranium to weapons grade level. As I mentioned yesterday, our intelligence people believe that Iran has suspended work on weapons design, warhead and delivery systems, and other aspects of the nuclear program that could be identified as “single use.” It wouldn’t take much time or effort to get those programs out of mothballs and start them moving again.

It troubles me that both sides in the debate over this document are cherry picking information to buttress their cases. Seen in its totality, I believe this NIE is cautious (perhaps overly so), prudent – in that it takes into consideration what we might not be able to see, – and careful in drawing conclusions. It’s main point – that Iran halted its dual use program in 2003 – appears solid as does its warning that we don’t know if that is still true today. In retrospect, I was too harsh on the Administration yesterday (thanks to my new Watchers Council colleague GW of Wolfs Howling for pointing this out) when I took them to task for their rhetoric. The fact that the White House is still warning the world about possible Iranian nukes is a sound policy that this NIE does nothing to undermine.

This is especially true because the Administration was giving those warnings in the context of trying to get the UN to initiate another round of sanctions. Let’s not forget why these sanctions are in place. The Security Council voted to force Iran to stop enriching uranium until the IAEA could determine the nature of their program. The Iranians refused and sanctions were ordered. And since the Iranians have made no effort to stop since then, more sanctions were applied.

Now the Administration is going for a third round of sanctions. The reason is exactly the same regardless of whether the Iranians have an active weapons program or not; they continue to defy the UN by expanding their enrichment program. Until Iran cooperates fully and the IAEA gives them a clean bill of health (while ensuring compliance through inspections and monitoring), sanctions should continue and be expanded the longer the Iranians refuse. The conclusions drawn by the NIE do not change this situation one iota. It is the enrichment program that poses a danger to the world and must be shut down until there are adequate safeguards in place that the Iranians will not use their knowledge to build a weapon.

One aspect of the NIE wasn’t changed from the 2004 document; the fact that prior to 2003, the Iranians were on track to build a nuclear bomb. Perhaps before the left begins to accuse the Administration of overselling the danger to the world of Iranian nukes, they remember that fact. We can’t read our adversaries minds so what the future aspirations of the Iranians might be with regard to acquiring a nuclear weapon remains hidden. Therefore, prudence dictates we continue our current course (without bombing) until pressure from the Security Council and the rest of the world brings the mullahs to heel and forces them to fully cooperate with the international community in revealing their entire nuclear program and make it available for long term monitoring.

By: Rick Moran at 7:48 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)

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CATEGORY: Iran, War on Terror

Even if you don’t trust the Iranians farther than you can throw them, the National Intelligence Estimate on their nuclear program should enable you to breathe a sigh of relief. They will not have a bomb anytime soon – 2013 at the earliest according to the NIE - and their program is still plagued with technical problems.

But it is important to look at that program and realize what the NIE is actually saying.

  • Iran no longer has an active bomb program. This does not mean they have abandoned the idea of building a nuclear weapon – far from it, I’d say. What it means is that the parts of their nuclear program dealing with bomb making – weapons design, warhead development, delivery vehicle modifications, and probably the bulk of their experimental work – has been shut down or severely curtailed. It is also important to remember that much of what remains still has dual use capabilities, that while they are enriching uranium to reactor grade levels, they are certainly learning how to enrich it further in order to have weapons grade uranium.
  • The sanctions are working. It is clear that at least part of the reason the Iranians shut down those parts of their nuclear program dealing exclusively with bomb making is because they feared further sanctions.
  • The date of 2013 is probably too pessimistic but is a consensus date that everyone would sign off on. In 2 years, Iran will have several thousand more centrifuges up and running at Nantanz. At that point, assuming they wanted to restart their bomb program, it would probably be a matter of months – a year at most – before they built a bomb. A date closer to 2011 is probably more realistic but was left off in deference to those (and there is apparently a faction in our intel community who believe this) who think Iran is too technologically backward to have a bomb much before 2015.
  • The threat of an Iranian bomb will remain as long as Iran is enriching its own uranium.

Jeffrey Lewis chalks up the change to a bureaucratic shuffle initiated by former President Khatami that sought to forestall the matter of Iranian nukes from being taken before the UNSC:

I made this argument in a July 2005 blog post, pointing to a speech about Iranian decision-making by Hassan Rowhani that I called “wonkporn” and suggesting that the bureaucratic reorganization undertaken by Khatami might later been seen as the “beginning [of] a process of negotiations that constrained his more hardline successor.”

Another nuke expert, Paul Kerr, lays out the changes made:

Iran was publicly defiant and resisted cooperating with the IAEA investigation. Yet internally, there were signs that the government was anxious to avoid a potential confrontation with the United Nations. In an apparent attempt to facilitate cooperation with the IAEA, Iran consolidated decision-making authority over its nuclear program around October 2003. Hassan Rowhani, who was the head of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC)—Iran’s top decision-making body on security-related issues—was put in charge of nuclear diplomacy. Previously, oversight of the issue had been divided between Iran’s Foreign Ministry and its Atomic Energy Organization.

For those disposed to disbelieve or reject this NIE, it would be well to remember that if a consensus about something this vital to our security was found among such a fractious, quarrelling, multi-agenda driven group of spooks, you can bet the information it’s based on is pretty solid.

Now we come to the distasteful question of what in God’s name the Bush Administration has been doing sitting on this damn thing for year? And beyond that, is there any Bush supporter out there who believes anything this president says about national security anymore?

We have been treated to the most bombastic rhetoric emanating from this White House for the last year especially – all the while they were sitting on this NIE and its conclusions about the Iranian bomb program. How do you square Bush’s “World War III” comment with what’s in the NIE? Or any other dire warning we’ve heard coming from the White House?

I understand the need for regime change in Iran. I am not naive enough to believe that the Iranian government doesn’t represent a threat to our friends, allies, and interests in the region – nukes or no nukes. But this Administration has made a nasty habit for 7 years now of employing rhetoric on national security matters that doesn’t match what the situation actually is.

Kevin Drum asks why release the NIE now?

Democratic members of the various intelligence committees saw the NIE (or a summary or a verbal report or something) and went ballistic. Footnotes and dissents are one thing, but withholding a report whose primary conclusion is 180 degrees contrary to years of administration innuendo produced a rebellion. Somebody who got briefed must has threatened something pretty serious if the NIE didn’t see the light of day.

Like I said, just a guess. But who else has the clout to force Bush, Cheney, and McConnell to change course?

I don’t necessarily see a change in course since it’s pretty obvious the Administration had been on the diplomatic track for months now. What the NIE does is knock the chocks from underneath the neo-cons and set them adrift. They’ve got nowhere to go now – unless they want to argue that the NIE is wrong.

For different reasons, that’s exactly the argument being made by AJ Strata:

The NIE is quite clear. We know they stopped, we have no intel on whether they are still stopped or not. The reporting that Iran has stopped as of now is not accurate. Here is the scary part – Iran is still processing fuel! They don’t NEED to process fuel for Nuclear Energy. Russia has offered to SELL THEM fuel if they return the spent fuel so it cannot be used to make weapons

While AJ is right, that Russian offer was conditional on the Iranians halting their enrichment program – something that Ahmadinejad has now made (for largely domestic reasons) a national sovereignty issue and therefore, non negotiable.

Is bombing still a viable option? Unless you believe that the mullahs will not be dissuaded from eventually restarting the bomb making parts of their nuclear program then taking out the infrastructure is still on the table.

I still think bombing would be a bad idea – at least until we can say for sure that they have restarted that part of their program. The fact is, there is no reason for military action against Iran at the moment and every reason to continue applying pressure via sanctions to try and get them to stop enriching uranium. It also gives us time to develop and encourage those elements in Iran who could work to moderate or replace the regime – the latter being much more likely than the former.

The point is that time is once again our friend. Let’s use it wisely.

By: Rick Moran at 6:02 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (13)


Before my conservative friends get their panties in a twist about my skepticism and before my liberal friends start piling on because I’m just not being gloomy enough about the prospects for success in Iraq, l think we should all take a deep breath, step back, and look at what is happening there not through our partisan political glasses – rose tinted or otherwise – but with the critical eyes of observers who have been watching closely what has been going on for more than 4 years in that tragic, bloody country.

We are all aware of the the progress that has been made these last few months; the welcome drop in civilian deaths, the Sunni “Awakening,” the extraordinary progress made in rooting out al-Qaeda terrorists, and the curious but gratifying pullback in the south by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. All of this has combined to create the most important benefit of all in Iraq – the return of hope among the people.

This has been manifested by a return to old neighborhoods by hundreds of thousands of people who abandoned their homes during the worst of the sectarian violence as well as a cautiously optimistic re-opening of business districts previously shuttered due to the violence. It is apparent in many of the interviews with ordinary Iraqis who have voted on the success or failure of our change in strategy with their feet by venturing out and about to sample the nightlife of Baghdad once again.

All but the most unreconstructed liberal (or partisan Democrat) have cheered these events. The reasons for this success vary depending on which side of the political divide you are on. “No one left to kill” say liberals. “It’s the performance of our military,” say conservatives.

Both are right. Both are wrong. And both left out a few details as well.

There are parts of Baghdad that will never see a Sunni Iraqi again just as there are parts that will never see a Shia again. In many neighborhoods, after homeowners were given 20 minutes to pack and told to leave or forfeit their lives (many being executed anyway), Shias and Sunnis moved in to those houses and occupy them to this day. Prime Minister Maliki has a program that pays the squatters to leave if the neighborhood votes to have the original home owner return. But whole neighborhoods were emptied of Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad and there is no doubt that part of the reason for the drop in sectarian violence has been the simple fact that the sects are no longer in close proximity to each other in most of Baghdad.

Our professional military has done more than its fair share as well in helping tamp down the violence. Showing the Iraqis that we have no intention of leaving a neighborhood after it is swept and cleared has given the people confidence to inform against al-Qaeda and the insurgents. This intel has led to information from interrogations that precipitates more raids, more intel, ultimately making the neighborhood much safer.

Our war against al-Qaeda will someday, according to one officer at the Army War College, become a textbook example of rooting out terrorists and insurgents hiding inside a civilian population. The success of this phase of our counterinsurgency plan has shocked even its planners. If the world were fair and the press unbiased, this would easily be the story of the year – the near destruction of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Is it too early to be touting General Petreaus as Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year?”

Then there’s the Sunni “Awakening.” The reason I put that in quotes is because no one is sure – least of all our commanders on the ground who have made this point abundantly clear – just how this “Awakening” will play out.

It pains me to see a note of triumphalism creeping in to some pro-war blogs and columns. I share their enthusiasm for the good news but not their apparent blindness to the dangers of making allies of former enemies – especially enemies whose goals have not changed; America out of Iraq. Some of these Sheiks have truly changed sides and are working with us eagerly on security issues while being open to reconciliation with the Shias – as long as they are treated fairly.

But there are many more tribal leaders who view this marriage of convenience with our military as a lull in their blood feud with the Shias. This is extraordinarily bad news if we can’t differentiate between who our true friends might be and who are future enemies are certain to be. To these Sheiks, no political reconciliation is possible with the government as long as it is made up of Shias like Maliki and his sectarian gang. What they might do if the Iraqi government would be more to their liking is anyone’s guess. But as has pointed out many times, many of these former Baathists are nationalists who will never voluntarily give up power to the Shias and despise the Americans for propping up the Maliki government (who they see as little more than a sectarian thug who has murdered thousands of Iraqi Sunnis).

From all that I’ve read both in media here and overseas, it appears to me that an unknown number of these Sheiks and militia leaders – perhaps less than a majority but that would be a guess – will eventually return to their insurgent ways. In short, we will eventually have to deal with a reconstituted insurgency. Hopefully, we aren’t giving them too many arms that would assist them in being any more formidable than they already are.

I hasten to add that this is not my analysis but has been talked about openly among our commanders as well as other observers around the Middle East. To them, it is not a question of if the Sunnis turn but when.

In the south, there is no other way to describe what is going on but a lull in the violence. The coming war between the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organization for ultimate control of most of the population centers has been put on hold by Mookie, probably at the behest of his Iranian sponsors.

In fact, one could say we have achieved a kind of victory over the Iranians as we have forced them into what David Ignatius calls a “tactical retreat:”

[T]he recent security gains reflect the fact that Iran is standing down, for the moment. The Iranian-backed Mehdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr has sharply curtailed its operations. The shelling of the Green Zone from Iranian-backed militias in Sadr City has stopped. The flow from Iran of deadly roadside bombs appears to have slowed or stopped. And to make it official, the Iranians announced Tuesday that they will resume security discussions in Baghdad with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

I suspect the Iranians’ new policy of accommodation is a tactical shift. They still want to exert leverage over a future Iraq, but they have concluded that the best way to do so is to work with US forces – and speed our eventual exit – rather than continue a policy of confrontation. A genuine US-Iranian understanding about stabilizing Iraq would be a very important development. But we should see it for what it is: The Iranians will contain their proxy forces in Iraq because it’s in their interest to do so.

Of course, there is still infiltration by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They seem to have stopped inciting violence among their cadres as Ignatius points out but there is absolutely no evidence they have left the country.

It seems unlikely that the uneasy peace in the south will remain that way for long. Al-Sadr has been reorganizing his militia while at the same time, reaching out to some unlikely allies in the Sunni and Kurdish communities. He would like to broaden his base, removing the sectarian taint from his militia. So far, he has not had much success but its clear he is seeking allies for when he takes on the Badr Organization.

The Badr Organization is smaller but better trained, and is much more powerful politically, being the military arm of the largest party in Iraq, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly the SCIRI). Both militias received various levels of training and assistance from Iran and still receive support from the mullahs there although the Badr Organization has been sidling away from Tehran since the establishment of the government. Their emphasis has been on infiltrating the Iraqi police and army.

Iran is seeking a Shia enclave in southern Iraq and will, according to some observers of Iran, use the Mahdi Army to achieve that goal once the American drawdown is well underway. The leader of SIIC, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, hates the upstart al-Sadr and will oppose any expansion of his power. Hence, the set up for conflict in the south once al-Sadr gets his act together.

Even what appears to be a permanent reduction in violence by al-Qaeda might be illusory. There is no sign that Syria or Saudi Arabia have much interest in seriously trying to keep their borders secure from terrorist infestation of Iraq. The feeling is apparently because they don’t want them in their countries either. Better they blow themselves up in Baghdad than Riyadh or Damascus.

All this would normally point to exactly the attitude that the Administration has taken relating to the spate of good news coming out of Iraq – cautious optimism.

Not so some commentators and bloggers on the right who have trumpeted the news that we are “winning” in Iraq with all the fervor of a newly baptized convert. The gloating is unseemly by some and is liable to come back and bite them in the butt. We even have Charles Krauthammer comparing what is going on in Iraq with the Inchon Landing during the Korean war and the 1864 turnaround of Union fortunes during the civil war.

That kind of hyperbole is nonsense. We don’t know what the situation is going to be like 6 months from now in Iraq – perhaps not even 6 weeks. There will almost certainly be more spikes in the violence despite the best efforts of the tribes and the US military. Those increases in the body count will not doubt bring equally stupid cries from the left about stupid righties who were “taken in” by the government or some equally nonsensical claptrap.

The situation as it is now in Iraq is just that – the situation now. No more, no less. It would really, really help if the Iraqi government got off its behind and took this extraordinary opportunity that our men and women have bought and paid for with their blood and sweat to get busy with trying to reconcile with those Sunnis willing to join the government. And there are Sunnis out there who wish to reconcile, including the large, diverse National Public Democratic Movement made up of dozens of tribes centered around Ramadi as well as The Iraq Awakening out of Anbar province that enjoys widespread local support among the Sheiks.

What is happening in Iraq now has been referred to by some in the Administration as a “window.” I think they are correct. What must be done is to cement as many of the Sunnis as possible to the fortunes of the government while continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and trying to find a way to neutralize al-Sadr.

How much we accomplish relating to those goals in the next few months will tell the tale about whether the gains we’ve made using our new counterinsurgency strategy, so hard fought and exhilarating though they might be, are to be permanent or not.

By: Rick Moran at 11:06 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)