According to Seymour Hersh’s latest New Yorker shocker, the CIA has found no evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. The White House, given a draft assessment in the fall, has been “hostile” to the agency’s report.
Now why would that be? Why no sighs of relief? Why no, “Thank you guys,” and pats on the back for all their careful intelligence work?
I think the answer’s obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention. Dick Cheney and his neocon acolytes who still dominate Middle East policy (David Wurmser, Elliott Abrams, Stephen Hadley, Stephen Cambone, Eric Edelman, Elizabeth Cheney, with Abram Shulsky, David Addington and John Bolton in supporting roles) have a certain view of what constitutes good intelligence. It’s at variance with the view more widely held among those of us in what they dismiss as the “reality-based community.” That includes many intelligence professionals.
My university hosts the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, a prime CIA recruiting ground. I know from personal exposure that some choosing that career (never at my urging) can be decent, self-respecting, conscientious scholars and researchers. If asked to investigate whether or not a country has a nuclear weapons program, they’re likely to interpret the assignment literally and give it their best shot.
But this is not the neocon understanding of what intelligence entails. When Dick Cheney says, “Find me evidence,” he means, “Validate my project with evidence.” He wants talking points to disseminate to the American public via Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page to justify regime change in Iran. He wants an Iranian client-state, bridging “liberated” Afghanistan and Iraq, helping to encircle rising China, decorated with permanent U.S. bases keeping a watchful eye on the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, and friendly with nuclear Israel.
Before the Iraq War, Cheney, his deputy “Scooter” Libby and Rumsfeld deputy Paul Wolfowitz all strongly opposed the CIA reports concluding that Saddam Hussein had no important al-Qaeda ties and that Iraq didn’t have enough WMDs to threaten anybody. Cheney and Libby repeatedly visited CIA headquarters in person to demand revisions of reports and inclusion of “intelligence” later proven to have come from persons known by the CIA to be unreliable. But dissatisfied with the level of cooperation from the CIA, Cheney with Rumsfeld created the “Office for Special Plans” (headed by Douglas Feith) within the Defense Department to scatter disinformation through the “free” press and then through administration officials appearing on weekend news programs -- including the myths of the Niger uranium deal, aluminum tubes as nuclear centrifuges, al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq, etc.
So of course the White House -- at least if (as I suspect) Cheney retains the upper hand in an apparent power struggle -- is going to be hostile to the CIA report, whose existence has likely been leaked by some self-respecting intelligence officers. The administration knows that war critics in Congress might brandish this report to discourage the well-planned attack, calling for negotiations and dialogue with Tehran. Their voice will be all the more convincing if, as expected, the report of the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker urges that all Iraq’s neighbors be involved in finding a solution to the war in that country. The idea that the CIA would abet such wimps must give the surviving, struggling neocons shitfits. Will the current serve, or will they lose their fortunes?
(Hersh writes that the CIA paper has made “planning for an attack on Iran… far more complicated.” On the other hand the neocons know that AIPAC is strong, and will passionately argue that opposition to a preemptive attack is appeasement, and Ahmadinejad is Hitler, that Iran wants to “wipe Israel of the map,” that Israel’s security and U.S. security are the same, and that whatever the cost the U.S. MUST prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. They know that even now many favoring a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq won’t stand in the way of an Iran attack because they’re intimidated by such reasoning. Few politicians may care to argue back, but they could say, “The historical analogy is ridiculous. Do you even know what Ahmadinejad’s constitutional powers are, in relation to military affairs, foreign policy, and the Iranian nuclear program? Don’t you think the administration’s exaggerating the Iranian threat, like it did the threat from Iraq? Why did State Department Sean McCormack jump last May to validate a totally false and almost immediately discredited report that the Iranian parliament was planning to badge Jews? Are you aware that the IAEA headed by one of the UN’s most respected officials, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, has repeatedly reported there is no evidence the Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program? Just as our own CIA has done, for godsakes? Did you know that Iran has never once in modern history attacked another country? By the way, what is Israel doing to encourage friendly relations with Iran, and with its Arab neighbors? Would complete withdrawal from the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights in accordance with numerous UN resolutions help?”)
I wonder if Dubya’s actually “hostile” to the CIA report. Could be that he hasn’t read it, or has had it summarized for him by a hostile Cheney, who’ll be telling him that the CIA is dominated by liberals who just don’t want to see the evidence and interpret it so cautiously that they’re risking our security. But his dad’s telling him (through James Baker and Brent Scowcroft) to back off a bit on Iran, having screwed up so bad in Iraq, and to actually sit down and talk to the Iranians about settling down that Mesopotamian mess. He’s perhaps been urging his boy not to snap at the CIA because those guys are there to HELP him, after all, as they along with the generals gently suggest that he cool his jets. And meanwhile the neocons, his rock of support, whose words must genuinely hurt, declare him a failure.
Key neocons (including Bill Kristol) turned on Rumsfeld long ago, damning his inclination to use too little force and firepower. But now some neocons out of power (including Perle, “axis of evil” speechwriter Frum, and “Cakewalk” Edelman) are on the president’s own case; having once delighted in his receptivity to their plans (born out his natural callousness and desire to one-up his war criminal pop), they now blame him for not wisely executing the colonization-of-Iraq project.
But notice that the neocons out of power and inclined to comment aren’t turning on Cheney, from his undisclosed location long serving as the real power behind the throne. Hersh reports that the White House (Cheney) insisted before the midterm elections that even if the Democrats took both houses U.S. policy towards Iran wouldn’t change. But, a former senior intelligence officer told Hersh, “[t]hey’re afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, à la Nicaragua in the Contra war.” Cheney and his neocons are surely working closely with Lantos and Lieberman and other warmonger Democrats to achieve the overthrow of the Iranian government before Bush leaves office. The “Office of Special Plans” has been revived in the same Pentagon offices as the “Office of Iranian Affairs,” headed by the Leo Strauss scholar Abram Shulsky and reporting to the vice-president’s daughter Elizabeth Cheney. It will take more than a classified CIA report to stop the train, but the train does appear to be slowing down.
Despite war preparations, the contradictions within the Bush regime and in the power elite in general suggest that rather than expanding the criminal war, those bearing top command responsibility might just have to back off. Their credibility with the people has hit rock-bottom; the mainstream press is no longer so cooperative; traditional power centers have become alarmed at the influence acquired by the neocon cabal, the Israel lobby and Christian fundamentalist PACs. The regimes targeted for change in Damascus and Tehran are working with a somewhat independent-minded (if still U.S.-dependent) Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The announcement of a summit between Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian leaders in Tehran may have taken Bush by surprise; the meeting in Amman with al-Maliki right after the planned summit, requiring Bush to fly down from the NATO conference in Riga, looks as though it was hastily called. Meanwhile, according to reports, Baker’s Iraq Study Group will suggest that U.S. diplomats sit down and talk with Iraq’s neighbors about ending the violence in the invaded country.
Will not even the most mule-headed Democrat in the Democrat-led legislature now have to pause before recommending or approving further aggression against those nations bordering Iraq? Perhaps Bush and Cheney have already given them their cue. “If we don’t attack Iran,” they say, “the Israelis might, and we’d understand that.” And the Democrats can, after expressing any personal opinions they may have on Iran-Israel issues, add, “Anyway it’s not the U.S.’s business to go attacking a country that even the CIA says poses no threat to us.”
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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