U.S. Intelligence Asks the Wrong Questions, Then Gets Wrong Answers
Former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross writes in The New Republic (www.tnr.com ) on Dec. 11 about the Bush administration's Iran-intelligence folly:
"The National Intelligence Estimate on Iran presents an interesting paradox: Though almost certainly the product of rigorous assessment and questioning, it may actually leave us less secure over time. How can such an improved product of spycraft have such a negative effect? It can when it frames the issue mistakenly and is not combined with statecraft.
"I don't question the assumptions or analysis in the NIE, or for that matter, its main conclusion. I accept that the Iranians suspended their covert nuclear-weapons program in 2003. But I am afraid that misses the point. Weaponizing is not the issue; developing fissionable materials is. Because compared with producing fissionable material, which makes up the core of nuclear bombs, weaponizing it is neither particularly difficult nor expensive.
"In other words, the hard part of becoming a nuclear power is enriching uranium or separating out plutonium. And guess what? Iran is going full-speed ahead on both. With over 3,300 operating centrifuges for spinning uranium gases at its facility at Natanz (and more centrifuges on the way) and the building of a heavy water plant for plutonium separation at Arak, the Iranians will be able to master both by 2010 at the latest.
"Perhaps that's why, in 2005, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani told a visiting group of American experts, including George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons research. According to Perkovich, Rafsanjani said: 'Look, as long as we can enrich uranium and master the fuel cycle, we don't need anything else. Our neighbors will be able to draw the proper conclusions.'
"Maybe, as Rafsanjani was suggesting, the Iranians will be satisfied only to foster the appearance of having nuclear weapons without actually producing them; for Rafsanjani, so long as Iran's neighbors assume it has nuclear weapons, they'll become responsive to Iran's wishes. But can we count on Iran's maintaining such a posture indefinitely? And even if we could, what would the Middle East look like if Iran gained far greater coercive leverage over all its neighbors? Wouldn't we face a region increasingly hostile to our interests? Wouldn't we see the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace diminish as Iran worked to weaken, isolate and demoralize the Jewish state? And to avoid being at the mercy of Iran, wouldn't the Saudis decide to go nuclear -- and wouldn't that impel the Egyptians to do the same?
"One can criticize the intelligence community for framing the NIE around the wrong issue, but the intelligence community was not responsible for the public roll-out of its estimate. President Bush and those around him made the decision to publicize it -- after all, NIEs are not typically publicized.
"Unfortunately, their presentation was not only poor in terms of framing, but also because it blindsided our allies. The British, French and Germans have led the diplomatic efforts at the U.N. and in the E.U. on Iran.
"Sadly, it's now easier for Iran to proceed unimpeded with its nuclear plans. It is far less likely to face the economic (or potentially military) pressures that in 2003 might have persuaded those in the Iranian leadership that the costs of developing their nuclear capabilities were too high.
"Who in the Iranian elite will argue that or oppose Ahmadinejad's approach to nukes now? No doubt, that is not what the authors of the NIE sought, but here poor statecraft has trumped our improved efforts at spycraft."
We Cannot Afford Another 'Durban' -- The Sanity of the World's at Stake!
Think-tank scholar Frank J. Gaffney Jr. writes in the Washington Times (www.washingtontimes.com ) on Dec. 18 about another potential U.N. debacle:
"Few spectacles have more clearly demonstrated what is wrong with the United Nations than the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001.
"Thanks to the domination of that conclave by a substantial majority led by the most despotic -- and racist -- regimes on the planet, 'Durban' became synonymous with unbridled vilification of the United States and Israel. Even the most pro-U.N. secretary of state in memory, Colin Powell, was so infuriated that he felt constrained to walk out.
"Ironically, the insights Durban provided into the extraordinary mutation of the United Nations -- from an instrument the United States was indispensable to creating after World War II in the hope of preventing future conflicts into what amounts to the diplomatic equivalent of mob rule in the hands of America's enemies -- were obscured by what happened within days of the conference's conclusion: the Sept. 11 attacks. Ironic because, as the most indefatigable journalistic observer of the United Nations, Claudia Rosett, has observed, those hijackings were 'driven by the same kind of hate stoked at the Durban conference.'
"It may well be that, because of our preoccupation with Al Qaeda's acting out the Durban agenda, we failed to respond properly as a nation to this 2001 orgy of anti-Western hate-mongering and racism. There is no excuse, however, for what is about to happen: American taxpayers are poised to be charged for the preparation of a follow-on conference that promises, if anything, to be even worse than what is now known as Durban I.
"The U.N. is now launching 'Durban II,' a conference to be held in 2009 to review 'implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.' Given that these products of the first conference were so defective, one might think a review conference could be justified, provided it had any prospect of rectifying their myriad shortcomings.
"Unfortunately, in the farce the United Nations has become, the job of preparing to review the Durban I conference is entrusted to Moammar Gadhafi's despotic and Islamofascism-supporting regime. Worse yet, the Libyans are being helped in their work by other preposterous members of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, including Pakistan, Cuba and Russia, and by non-Council member Iran.
"In the U.N.'s inimitable fashion, there are now no fewer than five organs charged with advancing the Durban agenda. These are the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action; the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Five Independent Eminent Experts to Follow-up the Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (I am not making this up!); and the Ad Hoc Committee of the Human Rights Council on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards.
"Insult will be added to injury, however, if oil-rich Durban II promoters like Iran, Libya and Russia are able to make you pay for the platform with which they intend to revile and hector America and Israel. All other things being equal, they stand to do so if they can get the tab picked up by the U.N.'s regular budget -- of which this country underwrites nearly a quarter.
"Will the Bush administration and Congress allow a new Durban at our expense -- literally on our dime and to the detriment of our moral standing, security and other interests?"