President Bush has been scrambling to rescue his Iran policy after this week's intelligence switcheroo, but the fact that the White House has had to spin so furiously is a sign of how badly it has bungled this episode. In sum, Mr. Bush and his staff have allowed the intelligence bureaucracy to frame a new judgment in a way that has undermined four years of U.S. effort to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.
This kind of national security mismanagement has bedeviled the Bush Presidency. Recall the internal disputes over post-invasion Iraq, the smearing of Ahmad Chalabi by the State Department and CIA, hanging Scooter Libby out to dry after bungling the response to Joseph Wilson's bogus accusations, and so on. Mr. Bush has too often failed to settle internal disputes and enforce the results.
An earlier WSJ editorial is also derogatory over this president's apparent inability to instill even a modicum of control over who his Administration hires:
As recently as 2005, the consensus estimate of our spooks was that "Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons" and do so "despite its international obligations and international pressure." This was a "high confidence" judgment. The new NIE says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 "in response to increasing international scrutiny." This too is a "high confidence" conclusion. One of the two conclusions is wrong, and casts considerable doubt on the entire process by which these "estimates"--the consensus of 16 intelligence bureaucracies--are conducted and accorded gospel status.
Our own "confidence" is not heightened by the fact that the NIE's main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials," according to an intelligence source. They are Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
For a flavor of their political outlook, former Bush Administration antiproliferation official John Bolton recalls in his recent memoir that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage "described Brill's efforts in Vienna, or lack thereof, as 'bull--.'" Mr. Brill was "retired" from the State Department by Colin Powell before being rehired, over considerable internal and public protest, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
No less odd is the NIE's conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to "international pressure." The only serious pressure we can recall from that year was the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the time, an Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of a covert Iranian nuclear program to mill and enrich uranium and produce heavy water at sites previously unknown to U.S. intelligence. The Bush Administration's response was to punt the issue to the Europeans, who in 2003 were just beginning years of fruitless diplomacy before the matter was turned over to the U.N. Security Council.
Mr. Bush implied yesterday that the new estimate was based on "some new information," which remains classified. We can only hope so. But the indications that the Bush Administration was surprised by this NIE, and the way it scrambled yesterday to contain its diplomatic consequences, hardly inspire even "medium confidence" that our spooks have achieved some epic breakthrough. The truth could as easily be that the Administration in its waning days has simply lost any control of its bureaucracy--not that it ever had much.
Bush's asleep-at-the-wheel management of his foreign policy appears to extend horizontally and vertically across all the major agencies. He's giving the Harvard MBA program a bad name with his executive ineptitude. But Harvard isn't at fault for his inability to convey information or impart any confidence that he knows what he's doing.
Bush's inability to explain himself at his press conference belies belief. He is either almost totally inarticulate or hoping that somehow his dissembling and simpering will convince his critics that he's a "good guy, so lay off the criticism." GWB goes back instinctively to his cheerleading vibe, rather than any explication of a complex intersection of events, which he is apparently unable or unwilling to attempt.
Everyone in Florida knows the story of GWB's mome & poppy, who wanted Jeb to run for prez in 2000. The plan was for Jeb to beat "Walkin' Lawton" Chilesm for FL gov in '94, which didn't happen. Instead, the family black sheep GWB won the Texas gov in '96, which paved the way for the family's second-choice to grab the 2000 nomination.
Perhaps GWB's inarticulate streak is astrological. He was born on July 6, 1946, the same day and year as Sylvester Stone, whose grunts and screams were a major part of his on-screen dialogues throughout his career.
Darwin & Lincoln were also born same-day, same-year, if you catch my drift.
UPDATE Another reassessment of the NIE situation by a company which believed Iran would SPEED UP its nuclear program in 2003.
It should be noted as obvious to any geopolitical analyst that any country like Iran which possesses over 30% of the entire WORLD's natural gas reserves would not have the SLIGHTEST NEED for nuclear power for electricity generation. Natural gas is the most efficient fuel for generating power and electricity, as everyone should know.
The Iranian program is therefore a policy determination to develop a nuclear weapon at some time in the future---or have the capability to do so.