OpinionIran in the World PressDespite report, Iran still a threat

Despite report, Iran still a threat

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Chicago Sun-Times: President Bush’s critics claim the new assessment that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 discredits the White House’s hard-line foreign policy. But what else except Bush’s policies could have been responsible for Tehran’s decision? Chicago Sun-Times

STEVE HUNTLEY

President Bush’s critics claim the new assessment that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 discredits the White House’s hard-line foreign policy. But what else except Bush’s policies could have been responsible for Tehran’s decision?

The National Intelligence Estimate said only that Iran had responded to “increasing international scrutiny and pressure.” Recall that 2003 was the year of the Iraq invasion, of shock and awe, of Saddam Hussein deposed.

That year marked the high tide of Bush’s policies. Those were the days when Libya abandoned its nuclear program and Pakistan dismantled the atomic weapon network of A.Q. Khan. The year before the president had branded Iran part of an “axis of evil” and in late 2001 American forces had toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, like Iraq a country sharing a border with Iran. The president assembled multinational coalitions for Afghanistan and Iraq. That adds up to a lot of “international scrutiny and pressure.”

Much of official Washington seems to run away from recognizing any success from Iraq. The Democrats are invested in the narrative of a failed war. John McCain is one of only a few Republicans who regularly tout the positive news from the military surge. The White House seems more worried about the implications of its success than claiming credit for it. With good reason. Support for stringent sanctions to stop Iran from enriching uranium is collapsing. It is this research, which Iran says it continues for “civilian” purposes, that is the biggest hurdle to achieving atomic weapons. And Iran continues to develop long-range missiles.

Already China and Russia are shying away from new economic sanctions. Tehran’s business partners in Europe, such as Germany, Italy and Spain, won’t show much enthusiasm for a tough stance.

In this country, with the exception of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidates promised Neville Chamberlain-like “engagement” as the best strategy for Iran. While critical of Bush’s policies, Clinton polished her national security credentials by insisting that only a carrots-and-stick approach would work.

All this debate of course begs the question of the reliability of the NIE report, which after all is an estimate, and NIEs have been wrong in the past, most notoriously about Iraq’s WMD program. Many conservatives don’t believe the latest one and even the International Atomic Energy Commission, responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, is described as skeptical of the NIE’s conclusion.

It’s also rejected by Israel, which has the most to lose if the Washington analysts are wrong. The biggest casualty in the NIE might not be Bush’s stay-tough-on-Iran policy, but rather his strategy for negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fear of a nuclear-armed Iran with hegemonic aspirations was seen as the prime reason Arab nations turned out in Annapolis last month in a show of support for Bush’s efforts to jump-start a new round of Israel-Palestinian talks. With Washington’s spy agencies concluding that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program years ago, that motivation could fade. The good news is the Los Angeles Times reports the Arab world is not persuaded by the NIE and is worried that it will gut Bush’s policies and embolden Iran’s regional ambitions.

And we shouldn’t forget things the NIE said that have been overshadowed by its “high confidence” conclusion about Iran suspending its program in 2003. It said that Iran is keeping open the nuclear arms option and that it had only “moderate confidence” that Tehran has not restarted the weapons program. Bush surely is right that Iran remains a dangerous threat, one that will not be turned back by appeasement — something worth remembering this Pearl Harbor day.

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