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Tuesday, December 04, 2007 

No nukes? Oh, time to invade then.

Fwwippp, followed by an almighty crash. Heard that sequence of sounds? It's been echoing around the globe, ever since the combined work of the 16(!) American intelligence agencies in the form of the national intelligence estimate was declassified and published yesterday. That fwwippp was the noise of a thousand rugs being pulled from under the feet of a thousand different people, politicians, commentators, bloggers, saloon bar bores, all made to look like fools at best and warmongering loons at worst. Iran not only isn't pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, it hasn't been doing so for four years.

Those who found themselves in a heap on the floor have come up with different ways of adjusting to the new, we're a bunch of liars and chumps, world. For the Sun, which recently informed us that the only thing worse than Iran getting nukes was another cakewalk with 650,000 dead and that anyone who believed Iran wanted nuclear power for peaceful purposes was "hopelessly deluded", the easiest thing to do is to stick your fingers in your ears and pretend nothing has changed, helped along by not reporting on the NIE assessment at all. If you're Oliver Kamm, and the unfortunate author of a piece for the Grauniad which calls for "concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck" when dealing with Iran published on the same night as the report, then you quickly rehash your bullshit and present it to the hordes on CiF as if it was fresh roast beef, rather than warmed up vomit. If you're Melanie Phillips, then this "this report provokes a high degree of scepticism". Scepticism which Mel naturally didn't show towards the intelligence claims that Saddam was going to murder us all in our beds within 45 minutes, or indeed, towards the claims by one Dave Gaubatz that Iraq's WMD was transported post-war from Iraq to Syria with the help of the Russians. Incredibly, President Bush has been the most magnanimous since the report was unveiled: he's gone from talking of nuclear holocaust and world war three to saying little more than Iran remains "dangerous".

Mad Mel does though have something of a point. We should indeed be sceptical. Why should we believe the intelligence services which got it so completely wrong over Iraq that Iran has abandoned any plans for a nuclear weapons? It's perfectly rational to be concerned over the motives of those delivering the intelligence this time round: they found themselves manipulated and used on both sides of the Atlantic to make the case for a war which has proved to be far more disastrous than their worst predictions suggested. We don't know how much of an impact this has had on their thinking and briefings; intelligence has always been nuanced and uncertain, things which Blair and Bush had no time for. Who's to say that they haven't tried to stop this happening again by being even more timid and diplomatic when considering what they know or even a pre-emptive attempt to stop in Marx's famous quote history being repeated for a second time as a farce after the tragedy of Iraq?

With Iraq however there always were informed voices that struggled to make themselves heard that more or less got it right, such as Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector who was convinced Iraq had been 90-95% disarmed. He was 5% out. Robin Cook, who had been party to the intelligence as foreign secretary, stated in his resignation speech that he didn't believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as in those that could be quickly used in a military situation. Although intelligence agencies the world over were convinced that Iraq had some WMD, contrary to popular belief most didn't believe that it was an imminent, let alone an existential threat. As Richard Dearlove wrote, the "intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy". The ravings of men like "Curveball" were believed.

With Iran, it's different. As Oliver Kamm admits, Iran is not a totalitarian society, even if it is an autocratic and repressive one. Juan Cole speculates over whether the new information about Iran's nuclear program has come from a recent defector, having changed its mind from 2005 when the NIE estimated Iran was pursuing weapons, with now, two years' later, more convinced than before that it isn't and hasn't been for four years.

Wherever it's come from, it has already and will only do one thing: stop, or at least postpone any attack at least for some time to come. It also highlights the irony and inequity of the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iran for doing only, according to this latest assessment, what it is entitled to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The UN has been breaking international law, not Iran. This shouldn't negate from the fact that Iran has as yet no reactor where the uranium it has been enriching can be used for such purposes; but there is also nothing now to suggest, apart from the predictable and expected dissension from Israel, that the fuel, only being enriched to fuel grade, is for anything other than an energy program.

It also shouldn't stop the search for a complete solution. Still worth pursuing is the deal Russia has offered, where it would enrich the fuel while providing Iran with the reactors, taking away any reason for doubt. More intriguing still will be where this leaves Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself: he has been hiding behind Iran's nuclear program to negate from the criticism he has faced over the rising cost of living and his broken promise to redistribute Iran's oil wealth. With the nuclear shield taken away, and faced with accusations of endangering the nation for no good reason, his short reign could be brought to an end at the first opportunity. Those also facing defenestration should be those who have so recklessly scaremongered and demanded action: Mad Mel and her second Holocaust have never looked so laughable.

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The first comment below what is already being called "the worst timed post in history" is a classic. "The report is bad news for the left, if it was news at all, which it ain't, and in any case I like suicide bombing".

MartinSmith

December 4, 2007 1:14 AM

Excellent post.

On today's news about the latest intelligence assessment. This means that the pressure, lead by the US, that many people opposed, has actually created a degree of success. They must feel a sense of humility about this; without the US standing up and calling Iran for its nuke programme in 2003, they would doubtless have the bomb today.

This news is also a disaster for the antiwar movement and Respect(s), since they are counting on the threat of strikes on Iran to keep their dying few members onboard.

However, on the other hand, it doesn't really change much. The point has always been whether the world wants Iran to have the technological knowhow and equipment to make nuclear weapons, not that they are building the specific devices right now. Government allies in Iran are quite open about the fact they believe having this technology would be handy if needed in the future, so the debate hasn't really changed if you look below the headline.

I for one remain of the view that a country that believes in suicide bombings can be trusted with nuclear power.

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