2007-12-31

Morning Report: December 31, 2007

The times, they are a-changin'.

Feeling the pinch. Citing the latest unhinged rant from the New York Times, a friend of John Weidner at Random Jottings comments: 'This amounts to a fists-pounding-on-the-floor temper tantrum. My favorite theory is that Pinch found himself alone in the editorial room last night and got this thing out before “cooler” heads (Andy Rosenthal??) arrived. This could only happen on a Monday before a major Tuesday holiday. They are probably hoping no one reads it.' What's got the Gray Lady in such a tizzy? Maybe it's the latest good news from Iraq:
With 24 hours remaining...
The US military is on track to see the lowest number of monthly fatalities in Iraq since the war began in March, 2003.

In February 2004 the US lost 20 soldiers in the 29 day period.This month the US has lost 21 soldiers in the 31 day period.

The Bush Surge continues to show amazing results.

This follows the news yesterday that 75% of the Al-Qaeda network has been eliminated in Iraq.

Then again, maybe some folks at the NYT are flustered by the impending arrival of William Kristol in the New York Times op-ed pages.

Commentary. I'll be interested to see what Bill Kristol has to say in the Times' pages. Maybe this is a sign of healthy change for the paper; I will do my part to encourage this development by buying the Times on Mondays at least. Here's the official scoop from the Times:
December 30, 2007
The Times Adds an Op-Ed Columnist
By THE NEW YORK TIMES

William Kristol, one of the nation’s leading conservative writers and a vigorous supporter of the Iraq war, will become an Op-Ed page columnist for The New York Times, the newspaper announced Saturday.

Mr. Kristol will write a weekly column for The Times beginning Jan. 7, the newspaper said. He is editor and co-founder of The Weekly Standard, an influential conservative political magazine, and appears regularly on Fox News Sunday and the Fox News Channel. He was a columnist for Time magazine until that relationship was severed this month.

Mr. Kristol, 55, has been a fierce critic of The Times. In 2006, he said that the government should consider prosecuting The Times for disclosing a secret government program to track international banking transactions.

In a 2003 column on the turmoil within The Times that led to the downfall of the top two editors, he wrote that it was not “a first-rate newspaper of record,” adding, “The Times is irredeemable.”

Should be fun.

2007-12-27

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Wikipedia: Benazir Bhutto
Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state, having been twice elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was sworn in for the first time in 1988 but removed from office 20 months later under orders of then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan on grounds of alleged corruption. In 1993 Bhutto was re-elected but was again removed in 1996 on similar charges, this time by President Farooq Leghari.

Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in Dubai in 1998, where she remained until she returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007, after reaching an understanding with President Musharraf by which she was granted amnesty and all corruption charges were withdrawn.

She was the eldest child of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Pakistani of Sindhi descent, and Begum Nusrat Bhutto, a Pakistani of Iranian-Kurdish descent. Her paternal grandfather was Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, who came to Larkana Sindh before partition from his native town of Bhatto Kalan, which was situated in the Indian state of Haryana.

She was assassinated on 27 December 2007, in a combined suicide bomb attack and shooting during a political rally of the Pakistan Peoples Party in the Liaquat National Bagh in Rawalpindi.

Phyllis Chesler: RIP Benazir.
Benazir: Rest in Peace. May your death be a turning point, may it inspire your long-suffering people and their leaders to finally say NO! to death cult suicide killers; NO! to Islamism; NO! to despotism.

Evan Kohlmann, CTB: Al-Qaeda to claim responsibility.
There are now widespread reports suggesting that an imminent official statement is expected from Egyptian Al-Qaida spokesman Mustafa Abu Yazid claiming responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Earlier today, Al-Qaida issued a separate statement from Mustafa Abu Yazid denying any role in recent blasts targeting mosques in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar. According to that communique from Abu Yazid (dated December 24), "We do not attack targets in mosques or in public places where there are crowds of Muslims in order to safeguard Muslim blood and to respect the sanctity of mosques. This is our approach generally, and we inform all of our supporters in Pakistan--and everywhere else--about these facts."

In from the Cold: The real Pakistan.
Who killed Benazir Bhutto? The real Pakistan, [Andrew McCarthy] writes, a country where Osama bin Laden has at 46% approval rating. He compares the Pakistan of western fantasy, against the reality on the ground:

There is the Pakistan of our fantasy. The burgeoning democracy in whose vanguard are judges and lawyers and human rights activists using the “rule of law” as a cudgel to bring down a military junta. In the fantasy, Bhutto, an attractive, American-educated socialist whose prominent family made common cause with Soviets and whose tenures were rife with corruption, was somehow the second coming of James Madison.

The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war ...

Passages in italics are from Andrew McCarthy's article.

Aaron Mannes, CTB: Real investigation needed.
Facts about Benazir Bhutto's assassination are in short supply. Unfortunately that is unlikely to change. There is a long tradition of failure to investigate political murders in Pakistan. This cannot continue if Pakistan is to become a stable democratic state that serves its people and exists at peace with the world. The first step is that Musharraf invite the international community to advise in the investigation into Bhutto’s death. The investigation will be politically expensive - it may not reach Musharraf himself but it will reach deep into the civilian and military elites running Pakistan. Broad, tough international engagement is essential to seeing this forward - the stakes are very high. ...


Bill Roggio, Long War Journal: Benazir Bhutto assassinated.
Bhutto supporters have begun to blame President Pervez Musharraf for her death. The sophistication of the attack, the governments reported refusal to provide adequate security, and the location of the bombing have created distrust among Bhutto supporters.

But this attack was most likely carried out by the Taliban and al Qaeda. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the newly united Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, threatened to kill Bhutto upon her return in October. The Taliban and al Qaeda manage training camps in Pakistan's tribal areas and have trainers and recruits from the Pakistani military in their ranks.

"My men will welcome Bhutto on her return," Baitullah told a former senator. "We don’t accept President General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto because they only protect the US interest and see things through its glasses. They’re only acceptable if they wear the Pakistani glasses."

Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, has taken credit for Bhutto's assassination. "We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen," Yazid told Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani reporter. The attack was reportedly ordered by Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, and carried out by a "defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer."


Muslims Against Sharia: We condemn the murderers.
Muslims Against Sharia condemn the murderers responsible for the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her supporters.

Our prayers are with the victims of this atrocity. We send our condolences to their loved ones.

May the homicide bomber rote in hell for eternity. May his accomplices join him soon!


NRO symposium features Jonathan Foreman, Sumit Ganguly, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Victor Davis Hanson, Mansoor Ijaz, Stanley Kurtz, Bill Roggio, and Henry Sokolski.

2007-12-18

Morning Report: December 18, 2007

A murder in the West Bank casts shadows in Jerusalem, an American reflects on his party's - and his country's - future, and fresh water flows in Iraq. Finally, an Iranian activist reminds us of the common enemy.

Return on investment. IRIS:
One month ago, on the day Israel approved the delivery of a Jordanian weapons shipment to the Palestinian Authority (including two million bullets), I wrote:

How many Jews (and Arabs) has Olmert just consigned to be murdered?


Today there is documentation of the first murder from that weapons cache:

The terrorists who killed Ido Zoldan near Kedumim in the West Bank last month used weapons the PA received from Jordan with Israel's approval, a government official said Monday.

The three members of the terrorist cell were members of the PA security forces.


GayPatriotWest on GOP. Gay Patriot:
The volatility of this race suggests that our party is still looking for a leader and a platform to bring us together after the lack of focus of Bush’s second term. Let us hope that the candidate who leads the pack after “Super Duper Tuesday” can unite the party of Lincoln and Goldwater as Ronald Reagan did now nearly twenty-years ago..

While it may appear now that none of the leading GOP candidates can unite the party, we should note that at the outset of the 1980 campaign, many Republicans were wary of the former California Governor. Then-President Carter was supposedly delighted at his nomination, believing him to be easy to beat.

Should our nominee next year succeed as did the Gipper, then not only will the tale of the GOP nomination battle be a story of our party’s search for itself, but also of the nation’s search for itself.

Go to the link for the whole thing.

Soldiers open well in al Wardiya. MNF-Iraq:
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER — Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment joined local leaders and Iraqi Security Forces at a well opening in Al Wardiya Dec. 14.

Leaders from the 1-15th Inf. Regt. worked with local leaders for four months to construct the well and provide a long-term, reliable source of water for the community which had long dealt with water distribution problems.

“The contractor performed exceptionally and the facility is extremely well done,” said Capt. Matt Givens, from Columbus, Ga., the civil-military operations officer for the 1-15th Inf. Regt. “The facility is currently producing water for the people of al-Wardiya.”


Commentary. For a few words of reflection I'll just take you on over to The Spirit of Man:
Iranian embassies and diplomatic missions around the world are not just diplomatic centers. They're evil places run, mostly, by the former IRGC officers currently disguised as diplomats that keep an eye on the Iranian immigrants, opposition groups and anti-regime institutions as well as trying to obtain weapons for the mullahs and recruit future terrorists. That's how incidents like Berlin's Mykonos murder, Bombing of the Jewish center in Argentina or crisis after crisis in Lebanon...etc can happen. Iranian regime sponsors Terrorism around the world and these religious freaks must be the main source of concern for any sane person that might be worried about the peace and stability around the world.

It ain't matter if you're a hardcore liberal, socialist, a conservative, a Jew or a Christian or even an tree-hugging-green-voting vegetarian environmentalist, this regime is against any thing you are or you believe in. The Islamic regime of Iran is against homosexuals, against women's and children's rights, and it is not doing any thing to protect the rich environment of the country, it jails its own people who may question its legitimacy, it kills dissidents who publish stuff against the regime's system of beliefs. How on earth can a sane person of any creed, belief or ethnicity defend this regime? Join us in our struggle against this regime for your own sake. ...

2007-12-10

Morning Report: December 10, 2007

Portland's man in the Middle East visits a once-deadly city.

Fallujah today. "None of the 3/5 Marines – in India Company or any other – have been killed or even wounded since their current tour began in the summer this year." Michael Totten spoke with Corporal Brandon Koch and Sergeant Charles Smith of the 3/5 Marines:
Fallujah today is an impoverished ramshackle mess, but it's not a war zone anymore. In 2004 it was by far the worst place in the country. It was still a hotbed of insurgent activity as recently as the first half of 2007.

“The unit we relieved was monitoring the city, watching the city,” Corporal Koch said. “We took that over from them. Then we started our push. It was a couple of months before the regular civilians got back in the city.”

“Months after you came in?” I said.

“We came in in November, on November 6th,” he said. “It took about two or three weeks altogether. The civilians stayed out of the city for another month or month and a half after that. We were still doing operations then, but it wasn't an all out push. It was just cleaning up. It was loose ends. Weapons caches. Just basically getting this place ready for the civilians to come back in. We made sure people weren't going into their homes while they were rigged to blow.”

Civilians were evacuated from the city before Al-Fajr began. ...

“I don't talk to my friends back home about it,” he said. “We pretty much only talk amongst ourselves.”

“Is it because they don't want to hear about it,” I said, “or you don't want to talk about it?”

“It's because everybody glorifies it so much, I think,” he said softly and a little bit sadly. “Everybody thinks it's cool. You know?”

“You mean American civilians glorify it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Guys our age. You go home and you always get those stupid questions. Did you shoot anybody? Did you kill anybody? How many people? I just don't personally deal with that. I had a great uncle who was in the Korean War. I talk to people like him about it. As far as regular people, I don't. If they ask I just tell them it was nothing. That's what I hear from everybody else, too. They feel the same way.”

“How do you feel about what happened here?” I said.

“I definitely think it was necessary,” he said. “I don't have any regrets. I'm glad I did it, and I would do it again. It's good to see the city the way it is and to go to the same neighborhoods. They're so much cleaner now. These people are doing things on their own, they're taking care of their own stuff. When I was here three years ago, I never would have imagined this place would ever be like it is now. It reminded me of Tijuana. When we got here it just seemed like everything you could think of that was bad, this city had it going on. Now they have regular families thriving in the city. There are people working neighborhood watch, working together. It has turned around a lot. I didn't even want to come on this deployment, but now seeing the city the way it is, I'm glad I did. It's like a closure on everything.” ...

I hear criticism of Iraqis of some kind almost every day when I'm in Iraq. There is a lot to criticize. Iraq is a broken country. Its infrastructure and economy are shot, its political culture dysfunctional. In my experience, though, contempt for Iraqi culture specifically, and Arabs and Islam more generally, is far more prevalent in the American civilian population, even in liberal coastal cities, than it is among American soldiers and Marines who interact with Iraqis every day, forge sometimes intense personal bonds with Iraqis, eat Iraqi food, and speak at least a little Arabic. Stereotypes about racist and psychotic Marines, as well as fanatical and psychotic Iraqis, can't survive a lengthy trip to Fallujah, at least not to the Fallujah of late 2007. ...

“I don't think people really know what to expect from any of this,” he continued. “It's like people say: you only get the bad news on TV. They don't get to hear about how Fallujah is doing good now. I'm sure they'd hear about it if something bad happened. But these people are doing better, the schools are open, businesses are open, people are cleaning up their own city. They're starting their own neighborhood watch. They have their own police force now, their own government. People don't get to hear about that. I think that's important for people to know. You shouldn't focus so much on people who mess up. I mean, people have messed up. Bad stuff has happened. But you should focus on the percentage of people who are doing good as opposed to the percentage who are doing bad. There's a lot of good going on over here. And there's a lot of good people in this city.” ...

“Was it worth it, do you think?” I said.

“Yes,” [Sgt. Smith] said without hesitation.

“Why?” I said.

“We got rid of an insurgency and fought the bad guys,” he said. “That's why people join the Marine Corps, to go and fight.”

Go read the whole thing.

Commentary. There are other things in the news this morning, but I'm just going to focus on Michael's piece. I am personally familiar with those "stereotypes about racist and psychotic Marines". I related to Cpl. Koch's words about "closure", too, even though I am not able to see Iraq for myself.

One of the key concepts in Michael's article, I think, is the role of the "fence-sitters", and of the enemy fighters who are not hardcore "bad guys" but ordinary people fighting for ordinary reasons. I'll let Cpl. Koch tell it:
"But like I said, I think it was a mixture. There were serious guys, then some less serious guys and people who were pressured into it. We could usually tell the difference when we fought them. Some were really there to fight. Others, halfway through, would sometimes think about it and then take off. They'd run or just give up.”

“Did you get many who surrendered to you?” I [MJT] said.

“Not so much,” he said. “But there were houses where we would come in, they'd put their guns down, and be like, okay, we don't want to do this. So we would just detain them. There was a detention facility where they would have to be checked. It kind of sucks, it gives you kind of a weird feeling, because they were fighting, but they're not necessarily bad people. People do weird stuff to feed their family. It goes back to the fence-sitter thing. That makes it hard.”

I'll leave you with what Sgt. Smith said about the Iraqis in Fallujah:
“I think they're normal everyday people who are just trying to get their lives back,” he said. “They're tired of being threatened by Al Qaeda. They're tired of having war in their country. They just want to be left alone. They don't necessarily want to go back to the way things were when Saddam was here. They just want a normal life.”

2007-12-09

Morning Report: December 9, 2007

Views of the Middle East for a Sunday morning.

IraqPundit on Juan Cole. IraqPundit:
There are many advantages to writing about a country you don't know. For example, you have the benefit of creating the image you want of the Iraq that you've never seen. You can complete it with all the details necessary to support your distorted vision. You don't need facts or other such bothersome matters. Build the image, as Juan Cole can tell you, and the media will come.

From his office in Ann Arbor, the professor shares his fantasy today of the troop surge:

"First, it allowed the Shiite militias to take advantage of the disarming of many Sunni Arabs, and to ethnically cleanse hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from the capital during the past six months. As a result, Baghdad is virtually a Shiite city now, like Isfahan or Shiraz."

Some graduate assistant should help Cole read a map and find an Iraqi example such as Karbala or Najaf. And maybe the same kid can tell Cole that the al-Qaeda groups are not the same as Sunni Arabs of Baghdad. It appears that when the murders are kicked out, Cole imagines the Sunni civilians are gone, too. Guess he thinks that all the Sunnis are murderers. ...

Read the rest at the link.

Tehran students: "Death to the dictator." The Spirit of Man:
Once again, the brave students at the Tehran university showed us that no matter what happens on the world stage, they've not forgotten the cause of freedom and democracy. Today, thousands of "angry students" broke the main gates of the university campus and invited the people to unite with them in their protest against the theocratic regime of Iran. The students chanted: "Death to Dictator", "Referendum is what nation wants", "Free Jailed Students".

The student movement in Iran has not died and has not lost its momentum and it is something that we, outsiders, have to support and spread the word about. Those living inside of Iran want regime change and would like to see a day when Iran is not run by these religious maniacs and to achieve that goal, every one of us must unite and give them a helping hand. To those who would suggest that we should leave these students alone and let them fight their own fight, I say this: Look at all those English language signs and banners that students carry with them all the time. It means that the students inside of Iran want foreign press coverage and want the foreign observers to know what's going on in that country occupied by the mullahs. I'll keep you posted on this!

Go to the post for photos.

Aleppo synagogue. A longtime acquaintance of mine is a Syrian Jew of Halabi (Aleppan) heritage. Or Does It Explode posts a haunting photo of the ruins of the synagogue at Aleppo. Follow ODIE's link to the Jews of Alepo.

2007-12-07

NIE: Intentions, Capabilities, and Choices

In reading the controversy over the new National Intelligence Estimate, I've had odd feelings of deja vu. I am persistently reminded of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report of a year ago. But I'll come back to this later. First, I want to look at the wording of two passages in the "Key Judgments" section of the report.

Here's a link to the unclassified summary of the NIE:
National Intelligence Estimate - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (DNI release) - PDF document

In reading the text of the NIE summary itself, I was struck by the peculiar wording of the following passages:
Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

and
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

Emphasis added. Now an "assessment" is an evaluation of the available data; it is not, in and of itself, an objective fact. An assessment cannot directly "suggest" or "indicate" anything except the beliefs of the person making the assessment. A more natural way to word the foregoing paragraphs might have been:
Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure, if correct, implies Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

and:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure is consistent with the theory that Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.

But that's not what the report says. And the strange locution it uses instead suggests - to me - something close to a reversal of cause and effect in the writer's mind. It's as though the NIE's "assessments" on these points have been magically transmuted into empirical, incontrovertible "facts on the ground" from which other things - specifically, foreign policy prescriptions - may be deduced.

You may think I'm quibbling here over a minor point of semantics. I invite you to read the "Key Judgments" section of the report aloud to yourself, all the way through, and see if the awkwardness of those two passages doesn't just jump out at you.

Now go to the second passage in question and read the whole paragraph:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.


Now, notice how quick the authors are to translate their "assessment", which becomes an objective fact, into foreign policy prescriptions. Just in case you didn't get the point when they claimed that "Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon", they spell out for you the implication that
threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.

At this point, the sages of the NIE modestly refrain from offering any advice on "what such a combination might be", but I think it's awfully nice of them to be so concerned for Iran's "security, prestige, and goals for regional influence", don't you?

John Bolton sees 'a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation'; Michael Ledeen thinks 'those “intelligence professionals” were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs.' I agree.

Now about the other thing I was saying. Remember the Baker-Hamilton report? I wrote a couple of posts on it about a year ago. I concluded that with Baker-Hamilton spelling out in such stark terms the choices in Iraq, the public and the Administration would "consider, and reject, the empty and failed policies of the past". I quoted Michael Ledeen saying:
The Surrender Commission Report underlines the basic truth about the war, which is that we cannot possibly win it by fighting defensively in Iraq alone. So long as Iran and Syria have a free shot at us and our Iraqi allies, they can trump most any military tactics we adopt, at most any imaginable level of troops. Until the publication of the report this was the dirty secret buried under years of misleading rhetoric from our leaders; now it is front and center.

As I said earlier, I've been trying to put my finger on why the NIE debate reminded me so strongly of the ISG debate; that's it right there. Now you might argue that Ledeen was wrong - that we did, in fact, win in Iraq by fighting defensively in Iraq. But his point was simply that the report had the unintended value of exposing the utter moral and strategic bankruptcy of the appeasement position.

Which brings us to the new post at The Belmont Club: "Not that far."
What the new NIE has done -- and why I think even the liberals are so worried -- is that the intelligence assessment has made it very difficult to sustain even the bluff of working towards regime change; a threat they would have no truck with but at the same time probably found useful for so long as they could get a President George W. Bush to articulate it. Now that the doves have got what they ostensibly wanted, whether by design or misadventure, it has become apparent that it's not everything they wanted after all. It's ironic that an NIE which was supposed to have "proved" the usefulness of sanctions and diplomacy may wind up underlining its ultimate inadequacy without the threat of more dire action to give it teeth.

And you remember what happened after Baker-Hamilton was released? President Bush smiled politely, thanked the authors of the report, and went ahead and did as he damn well pleased. What Baker-Hamilton wanted was withdrawal from Iraq.

What they got was the surge.


...

Morning Report: December 7, 2007

Misunderestimations: More on the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

National Intelligence Estimate - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (DNI release) - PDF document

John Bolton: Flaws in the NIE. John Bolton at the Washington Post notes that the 2007 NIE differs from the 2005 model more in style than in substance, and enumerates five key areas where he considers the current document flawed:
First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. ...

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. ...

Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. ...

Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. ...

Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. ...

A tip of the hat to LGF; go read Bolton's full article at the link.

Michael Ledeen: The great scam. Michael "Faster, please!" Ledeen: 'At this point, one really has to wonder why anyone takes these documents seriously. How can anyone in his (there was no female name on the document, nor was any woman from the IC [intelligence community - aa] present at the press briefing yesterday) right mind believe that the mullahs are rational? Has no one told the IC about the cult of the 12th Imam, on which this regime bases its domestic and foreign policies? Does not the constant chant of “Death to America” mean anything? I suppose not, at least not to the deep thinkers who wrote this policy document.'

Michael Tanji: Not BDS, just BS. Taking a dissenting view, Michael Tanji at Haft of the Spear doesn't see a sinister plot to discredit the Bush Administration and aid the IRI; he just sees a typical, muddled, committee-written, bureaucratic document.

Finally, building an NIE is not unlike any other bureaucratic exercise that involves multiple agencies of the government. Competing opinions are argued, disputes are mediated, and dissent noted. At the end of the day a deliverable is due – the rough draft – and the involved parties get to sit at their home offices for a period of time, ruminate on the work, and forward to the principle drafter their comments, edits, suggestions and recommendations. What follows are several rounds of review and edit sessions with increasingly more senior members of the agencies involved and the National Intelligence Council, until the final draft is ready for review, approval and dissemination. ...

If there is a bias being exerted here (and again, I do not dispute the presence of Bush Derangement Syndrome sufferers in the IC) it is a bias driven by intellectual and professional fear and less raw politics. That may be parsing to some, but I think the distinction is important. Regardless of where an intelligence officer falls out on the political spectrum, none of them can stand being the experts that never get anything right (or more accurately, have their failures so publicly exposed). I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the business: I knew secrets, I should have been able to make better calls that people who did not, but often times I did not. So the dramatic shift in the NIE may have less to do with any killer piece of new information and everything to do with the fact that the community is in a mindset that has them prepared to do anything (anything but apply a full-court intel press against hard targets – and pay the associated human cost) to avoid being exposed as ineffective. ...

... Ignore the hype and rhetoric and read the key judgments carefully for yourself. Assume everything used to construct the work is accurate and base your own assessment on the language used: do you feel highly confident?

Well, do ya?

George Friedman: Solving a geopolitical problem. Stratfor's George Friedman, taking a more realpolitik view, believes the nuclear program was only ever a "bargaining chip" for the IRI, and that what is at stake here is really the future of Iraq, and Iran's role in the region.
As we have argued, the central issue for Iran is not nuclear weapons. It is the future of Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was the defining moment in modern Iranian history. It not only devastated Iran, but also weakened the revolution internally. Above all, Tehran never wants to face another Iraqi regime that has the means and motivation to wage war against Iran. That means the Iranians cannot tolerate a Sunni-dominated government that is heavily armed and backed by the United States. Nor, for that matter, does Tehran completely trust Iraq’s fractured Shiite bloc with Iran’s national security. Iran wants to play a critical role in defining the nature, policies and capabilities of the Iraqi regime. ...

The NIE solves a geopolitical problem for the United States. Washington cannot impose a unilateral settlement on Iraq, nor can it sustain forever the level of military commitment it has made to Iraq. There are other fires starting to burn around the world. At the same time, Washington cannot work with Tehran while it is building nuclear weapons. Hence, the NIE: While Iran does have a nuclear power program, it is not building nuclear weapons.


Deputy DNI Donald Kerr: Iran regime's intentions "not benign". YNet (from Reuters): 'The deputy director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told a House of Representatives Intelligence subcommittee that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons. Iran still had the "most important" component of a future program, a uranium-enrichment plant, Kerr told the panel. "We did not in any way suggest that Iran was benign for the future," Kerr told the panel.'

Sarkozy, Merkel: Iran remains a danger. YNet (from AP): '''I think we are in a process and that Iran continues to pose a danger,'' German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Paris at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in response to a new US intelligence report indicating Iran stopped nuclear weapons development in 2003.'

Commentary. I'm going to devote a separate post to this, but here's an outline of my impressions of the new NIE.

First, I find Michael Tanji's comments helpful and probably credible. There's a temptation for ideological neocons (including yours truly) to read more into the report than may be there. And I definitely encourage you to follow Michael's suggestion and "read the key judgments carefully for yourself". It doesn't take long, we're only talking two and a half pages. I've put the link right at the top of this post.

Now about those key judgments. A lot of people are claiming this report discounts the Iranian nuclear threat. My reaction to this is, "I do not think that report doesn't say what you think it doesn't say." What the report does say is that
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

and:
We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)

and:
We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.

Whoa. I feel better already, don't you? Let's read that last sentence again, out loud, with feeling: "We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon."

Nowhere does the report assert, as Friedman claims, that "there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program". It does state "with high confidence" that the program was "halted" in 2003, and with similar confidence that the halt lasted "at least several years" (whatever that means). But the report states with only moderate confidence that Iran has not re-started its program ... and with only "moderate-to-high" confidence that Iran doesn't already have a nuclear weapon.

There's something rather peculiar, though, about the wording of a couple of phrases in the Key Judgments that does make me think that there's an agenda to promote the idea that Iran's nuclear program was halted "primarily in response to international pressure". I'm going to go into this at length in the next post. So, with the greatest respect to Michael Tanji, I assess with moderate or maybe even high confidence that there's an ideological agenda here.

Finally, I keep being reminded of the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq a year ago. There was a great kerfluffle and brouhaha around the report ... and President Bush thanked its authors politely, and then proceeded to do exactly as he pleased.

2007-12-06

Morning Report: December 6, 2007

Estimated prophets: A round-up of reactions to the controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

Belmont Club: Less than moderate confidence. The more Wretchard reads about the sources and methods of the NIE, the less confident he feels:
Hmmm. The US has a source who has access to the minutes of meetings by Iranian military officials "involved in the weapons development program". How many persons had this access? Thousands, hundreds? Or maybe a half dozen whose names are on an Iranian counterintelligence list now?

These findings were corroborated, we're told, by communications which conveniently were vulnerable to our interception. Go to the post to find out why, after a careful reading of the public disclosures, Fernandez discerns a calculated efforet " to sell the public on the authenticity of the intelligence finding that the Iranians have stopped their nuclear weapons program."

In from the Cold: More eyes needed. Spook86 at In from the Cold writes:
This much we know: the full version of the NIE covers 150 pages, including appendices and other supporting documentation. The report's key judgments section, declassified earlier this week, runs only four pages, including a chart that highlights key changes between the latest assessment and the 2005 version. Without the declassification of some supporting data, we can only accept the conclusions of an intelligence community with a poor track record on WMD matters, particularly among rogue states.

As with any National Intelligence Estimate, we assume the new Iran assessment makes use of the full array of intel sources and methods--SIGINT, HUMINT, IMINT, MASINT and even open-source reporting. But we also recognize that information from these same sources led to a dramatically different conclusion just two years ago. Moreover, the volume and quality of collection from these platforms has not improved dramatically--as far as we can tell. Technological refinements in our intel systems are offset by the adversary's own advances, and their attempts at denial and deception. ...

Obviously, any intelligence estimate is only as good as the information it's based on. Political agendas and personal biases aside, it's clear that the bottom-line assessment of the new NIE raises questions about the quality and reliability of its source data. No one can reasonably expect the intel community to reveal all sources and methods that were used in generating the report. However, it is not unreasonable for lawmakers--and the public--to demand a more detailed explanation as to how intelligence analysts arrived at their astounding conclusion, and the data they used to support that assessment.


Cliff May: Ask yourself. Clifford D. May invites you to ask yourself three questions about Iran, America, and the NIE. How you answer could affect your career options.
Ask yourself a simple question: Why is Iran still violating international law by enriching uranium? Do you think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and associates worry that more electricity may be needed to keep air conditioners humming in Tehran? Or do you think perhaps they want highly enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons?

If your answer is: “Gee, I dunno,” you may be qualified for a job in the American intelligence community — along with all the CIA analysts who in the past came to erroneous conclusions about the nuclear-weapons programs of Iraq, Libya, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Syria. ...

Second question: If Tehran's rulers did suspend its nuclear weapons program - a big if - what caused them to do that? (Hint: Think back to 2003, the year Iran allegedly suspended - not "abandoned" - its nuclear weapons program.) Cliff May's third and final question is your take-home assignment.

JINSA: Estimative language. JINSA, thinking along the same lines as May, offers the following:
Most prominently in the news, the NIE asserts with “high confidence” that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has “moderate confidence” that it has not restarted. “Our assessment that the program probably was halted in response to international pressure suggests Iran might be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.”

Let us assume for the moment that the NIE is entirely correct. (We know, we know. Hold the nasty e-mails; just suspend disbelief and follow the first train of thought.)

-Question: What international pressure?

-Answer: The American invasion of Iraq in May 2003 followed by the interception through the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI, the brainchild of John Bolton) of an illegal shipment of uranium-enrichment equipment bound for Libya in October. Iran’s nuclear weapons program began in the early days of the Revolution and continued unabated through periods of relative freeze and thaw with the United States. The Iraq war and the PSI, however, certainly convinced Libya and may have convinced Iran that the United States had become serious about stopping proliferation.

-Implication: The NIE doesn’t do implications, but we do. That might change the answer to the question, “Was the invasion of Iraq ‘worth it’?”

Before the invasion, the UN was convinced - through intelligence estimates, including British inspectors’ field reports - that Iraq had a hidden nuclear and chemical/biological weapons program. Even countries strongly opposed to the American invasion [mainly because they were making millions of dollars on the UN Oil for Food (read weapons) Program], agreed with the intelligence assessment that Saddam had non-conventional programs in defiance of UN demands for transparency.

Full post at the link.

Arutz Sheva: Israel intel chiefs unhappy with report. Israel National News:
Israel's intelligence and military leaders are disappointed and feel isolated by the American intelligence assessment that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, the Associated Press reported. "With the U.S. now less likely to take military action, an increasingly nervous Israel might feel compelled to strike out on its own if it perceives a dangerous threat," according to the report.

President Shimon Peres also expressed concerns about the American assessment when he met on Wednesday with former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is visiting Israel. He noted that American intelligence reports have been wrong in the past but did not specifically refer to the Americans' mistaken report that Iraq had developed a mass destruction program.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded, "We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the Earth, even if it is from our greatest friend."


Gateway Pundit: NIE authors' about-face. Gateway Pundit quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial (correct link is here):
Our own "confidence" is not heightened by the fact that the NIE's main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials," according to an intelligence source. They are Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

GP has an excellent round-up, documenting just how recent is this reversal on Iran.

Neocon Express: A train wreck, etc. Neocon Express oberves: "the US steps all over it's own %$#!, shoots itself in the foot", which is quite a colorful metaphor as well as an excellent way to get gangrene. The Matrix also posts a clip from Fox News of an interview with Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN. Key concept: One report doesn't change Ahmadinejad's nature.

American Thinker: Disinformation? Finally, Ed Lasky at American Thinker speaks the unspoken question: "Given that the Iranians knew we were trying to uncover as much information as we could regarding their nuclear program, is it to be believed that they were incapable of planting written notes and engaging in over the air conversations that would mislead America?"

Commentary. No remarks this morning.