TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Intelligence, Not

Whether correctly or not, the National Intelligence Estimate has been read (or misread) and seized upon by the press as claiming that Iran no longer has nuclear ambitions. Happy Days are Here Again, and the pre-election season is spiced up with this one more seemingly incontrovertible evidence of the mendacity of the administration.

Or maybe not so incontrovertible. Neither the French nor the British seem inclined to back down from their hard line on sanctions, effectively dismissing the findings of the American “intelligence” community. On the contrary, they have reaffirmed their concerns about Iranian ambitions, and even Putin has strengthened his position on sanctions. It’s as if the NIE has no credibility outside of Pulitzered op-ed pages and the circles where those pages are avidly celebrated in Tehran.

A dialectic of enlightenment? Our smartest analysts (hence, “intelligence”) get it wrong, again. The best and the brightest are the dumb and the dumber. The decline of American K-12 education has suddenly become a security risk. Nor can we hope that any future administration would ever clean house: elections come and go, but the bureaucracy endures. In the meantime, though, let’s pity the deep thinkers who may have been hoodwinked.

Perhaps the elected US leadership will have the wisdom to overlook the estimate from the depths of the bureaucracy and send it the way of the report of the “Iraq Study Group.” In any case, as Washington fiddles, Iran is becoming an increasingly European concern, ranging from the revelations of illegal trade deals in Germany to the new “No Nukes” movement in Austria, which Irene Lancaster has posted on her blog. Or you can find it here as well.

Matthias Küntzel, whose Jihad and Jew-Hatred just appeared with Telos Press Publishing (and was awarded the Grand Prize of the 2007 London Book Festival), explores the specifically European political connection here. The continued European concern about Iran is outlined (in German) by Richard Herzinger here.

Herzinger suggests interestingly that an unexpected effect of NIE may be to diminish significantly the possibility of US military actions, which in turn could have the positive result of encouraging the Russians and the Chinese to support strengthened sanctions—since they could be certain that sanctions were not a vehicle to move toward war. This may just be wishful thinking though, making lemonade out of the lemons of intelligence. Still, thoughtful Europeans (or Russians, Chinese, and Israelis) probably harbor some concerns that the US may choose to back off from the problem of Iranian missiles, which don’t reach across the Atlantic, but which can threaten any of the closer regions.

For close readers, the question remains: does the report truly claim that the Iranian danger is gone—as giddy administration critics read it? In that case, it is unclear why one should believe this report when the intelligence community has been consistently wrong on other points. Or should the report be read as a kind of post-WMD hyper-caution, making a very narrow point, in order to arrive at the least bold conclusion? If this is the spirit of the text, then it is the press that is at fault for spinning the claim into something much larger. In general, one should not hold authors responsible for every possible misunderstanding to which their texts are susceptible. However, if the intention was a narrow one, it was at the very least imprudent and, well, demonstrably unintelligent, not to have anticipated the foreseeable misappropriation in a bitterly polarized public sphere.

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