Fools Rush In: An Expert Dissection of the NIE Report

As usual, Arthur Silber delivers the goods -- and several hard zen-slaps -- on the NIE report about Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program: "Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran "Intelligence" Report."

First he notes the self-evident truths that we alluded to in our hurried piece on the matter the other day: "that this latest NIE tells us nothing -- let me repeat that, nothing -- that was not entirely obvious to a reasonably intelligent layperson following mainstream media reports about Iran for the last several years," and that the report "simply means that the warmongers, whether of the Republican or Democratic variety...cannot easily avail themselves of this particular bogeyman for the moment. For those who seek to begin the next phase of this neverending war, there are many other bogeymen available for use to the identical end."

But as is his wont, Silber delves deeper, and repeats a rare insight he has offered before:

The reaction from all quarters to the NIE relies on several interrelated central assumptions, ones that are regarded as so unquestionably true that no one thinks they need to be stated: that major policy decisions, including decisions of war and peace, are based on intelligence in the first place; that a decision to go to war is one made only after cool and careful rational deliberation; and that nations go to war for the reasons they announce to the world.


He then quotes from an earlier essay on the subject:

Intelligence is completely irrelevant to major policy decisions. Such decisions are matters of judgment, and knowledgeable, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making these determinations as political leaders allegedly in possession of "secret information." Such "secret information" is almost always wrong -- and major decisions, including those pertaining to war and peace, are made entirely apart from such information in any case.

The second you start arguing about intelligence, you've given the game away once again. This is a game the government and the proponents of war will always win. By now, we all surely know that if they want the intelligence to show that Country X is a "grave" and "growing" threat, they will find it or manufacture it. So once you're debating what the intelligence shows or fails to show, the debate is over. The war will inevitably begin...

To repeat...[intelligence] is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.

Several commenters -- including some astute EB readers -- have noted that the Bush Regime has already used the story to perform a neat bit of jiu-jitsu on many of its critics. By accepting the NIE report uncritically -- because part of it does indeed reveal that the Bushists have been lying about the Iranian threat for years -- they inadvertantly (or willingly) buy into the report's underlying assumption: that Iran really was building a bomb all these years, and only stopped because big bad Bush rolled into Baghdad and put the fear of God into them. Thus the report can be seen as accepting a bit of short-lived bad PR -- "NIE Report Muddies the Water in Administration Stance on Iran," etc. (and that's as bad as it would ever get with the corporate media) -- in exchange for "confirmation" of the Regime's basic contention (the dire threat posed by Iran) and another "justification" of the war crime in Iraq.

Silber ably dispatches that last sinister canard:

Several of the reactions collected by Glenn Reynolds advance the notion that, assuming the NIE is accurate, this demonstrates that the invasion and occupation of Iraq did in fact lead to the elimination of a gravely serious threat, namely, the threat that an Iran with nuclear weapons would have represented. If the invasion and occupation of Iraq prevented such a development, that means the Iraq catastrophe was justified.

It is difficult to imagine a more heinously bankrupt moral argument. Iraq itself was no threat to the United States, and it was known to be no threat. We have destroyed Iraq completely, unleashed a genocide that continues with every blood-drenched day that passes, created refugees in the several millions, and wreaked havoc and devastation in numerous other ways. Because Iraq was known to be no threat to the U.S., the U.S. did all this in a criminal war of aggression -- precisely the kind of crime against peace for which we properly condemned the Nazi regime. Yet now it is suggested that all this was morally justified -- because it may have prevented a threat from arising in another country. Because most Americans know only the mythologized, sanitized version of our history, many of you may be surprised to learn that this was one of the "justifications" used to defend the incineration of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- to deliver a "message" to Soviet Russia. It was abominable then, and it is abominable now.

He then lays into the uncritical acceptance of the NIE estimate by liberal bloggers, focusing on Digby's reaction, especially her comment that the Republicans might be "nuts" enough to attack Iran anyway:

On that last point and insofar as the crucial general principles involved are concerned, may it be duly noted that the leading Democrats are just as "hawkish" and "nuts" on this issue: Hillary Clinton, who speaks of our inalienable "right" to take "offensive military action against Iran"; Barack Obama ("In today's globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people," which is license to intervene anywhere and everywhere, on any pretext whatsoever, real or imagined); and all the other prominent Democrats, with their endless trash talk of keeping "all options on the table."

Silber then points out -- as he has done before -- another indisputable but entirely ignored truth: that even if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would not pose a direct threat to the United States.

In the most critical sense, I don't care about this latest assessment, just as I did not care about the earlier ones, about Iran or on any other subject at all -- for in addition to the rather important fact that such assessments are invariably wrong, I recognize that policy decisions are made on different grounds altogether. Moreover, in terms of U.S. foreign policy, I don't care if Iran does get nuclear weapons. As I have noted before, I do not view it as a remotely good thing that any nation has nuclear weapons, including the U.S. -- and I remind you once again that it is only the U.S. that has used them, when it did not have any legitimate reason for doing so and when it lied about every aspect of its actions and their consequences. But in terms of an Iran with nuclear weapons five or ten years in the future: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" But the bipartisan commitment to American world hegemony has not altered in the slightest degree. The criminal catastrophe of Iraq is irrelevant to our ruling class, and it has not caused them to alter any of their most crucial goals.

Finally, Silber notes yet another incontrovertible truth: that the Bush Regime has already laid in another store of "justifications" for a war with Iran -- justifications that have been eagerly embraced by the Democrats. (For more on this, see "War Alarms Drowned by Beltway Bloodlust" and "The Senate's Blank Check for War with Iran.")

This brings us to the most likely way in which a conflict with Iran may still occur in the very near future: as the direct result of the continuing, ghastly, genocidal, criminal occupation of Iraq. In moral and historic terms, it is unforgivable that the Democratic Congress has not defunded the Iraq occupation completely. They have the power to do so, and they refuse to use it. Some people object to defunding on the grounds that Bush will use other funds to pay for it -- and the Democratic Congress has obligingly provided plenty of those. But if Bush is going to do that, then make him do it. It is only the nauseating corruption of our politics that makes it necessary to point out that decent human beings would choose not to have blood on their own hands. With two or three exceptions, there are no such decent human beings to be found in Washington.

There is much, much more in Silber's essay -- including all the essential links that I've omitted here in my midnight haste. Do yourself a favor, give yourself an education, and go read the whole thing now.