Wake Up! The Next War Is
By Ray McGovern
02/12/07 "ICH" -- -- An understated headline moved me
yesterday; it was atop AP’s explosively formed story
about the “explosively formed penetrators” traced to
Iran that are killing our troops in Iraq: “Democrats
Skeptical of Starting Row With Iran.” Yawn.
Webster’s: “row”—“a noisy disturbance or quarrel.” Yawn.
What about starting another unwinnable war—this time
with Iran? If you are a member of Congress, does it
suffice to be “skeptical” about that? Hello?
On January 19, Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., chair
of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The New York
Times he believes the White House is developing a case
for taking action against Iran, even though U.S.
intelligence is not well informed about politics in
Iran. “To be quite honest, I’m concerned that it’s Iraq
again,” said Rockefeller. “This whole concept of moving
against Iran is bizarre.”
Ten days later he told Wolf Blitzer, “I have a great
deal of worry that this [escalation of the war in Iraq]
could expand...into some kind of action with respect to
Iran, which I think would be an enormous mistake.”
Then why not stop it, Senator Rockefeller? Stop the war
against Iran before it starts. You are chair of the
intelligence committee. You don’t have to be
stonewalled, as previous chair Senator Bob Graham was in
September 2002. Yes, he voted against the war in Iraq
because he knew of the games being played with the
intelligence. But he failed to play a leadership role;
he didn’t tell his 99 colleagues they were being
diddled. It’s time for some leadership.
Several of your colleague senators were reeking of red
herring when they arrived home from yesterday’s talk
shows. Many of them allowed the administration to divert
attention from the main issue with Iran—its nuclear
development plans. Instead, the focus was on explosive
technology Iran is reported to be giving to Shiite
elements to blow up U.S. vehicles on the roads of Iraq.
This transport problem is compounded by the unfriendly
skies there, where a handful of U.S. helicopters have
been shot down in recent weeks. So the problem with
“explosively formed penetrators” in improvised explosive
devices (IEDs) at roadside is real enough.
Why not take the Army’s PowerPoint show-and-tell to
Tehran, confront the Iranian leaders and demand they
stop? Sorry, I forgot: we don’t talk with bad people.
Well, we might try it, just this once.
The real fly in the ointment—the real aim of the U.S.
military buildup in the Persian Gulf and of threatening
gestures elsewhere—has to do with Iran’s nuclear plans.
Recent revelations that the Bush administration
summarily rejected Iranian overtures in 2003 to include
this neuralgic topic among others in a broad bilateral
discussion strengthens the impression that President
George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney actually
prefer the military option to destroy Iranian
nuclear-related facilities. In any case, the recent hype
and provocative actions are likely to end up with an
attack on Iran, unless Congress moves quickly to head it
Show Me the Intelligence
Where is the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on
prospects for Iran’s nuclear capability? You, Senator
Rockefeller now have the power to ensure that such
estimates are done regularly and in a timely way. An
estimate is said to be under way, but at a seemingly
leisurely pace completely inappropriate to the
circumstances. And there has been no NIE on this key
issue since spring 2005.
As you know, the Bush/Cheney administration is no fan of
NIEs, unless they can get the likes of former Pentagon
functionary Douglas Feith and former CIA director George
Tenet to fix the estimate to the policy—as the recent
Defense Department Inspector General report’s proved.
In any case, the 2005 NIE concluded that Iran would not
be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a
nuclear weapon until “early to mid-next decade,” with
general consensus that 2015 would probably be the
earliest. Interestingly, since 1995, U.S. intelligence
officials continually estimated Iran to be “within five
years” of the capability to make nuclear weapons.
The new NIE in 2005, though, was the first key estimate
managed by widely respected Thomas Fingar, the State
Department officer who took leadership of the National
Intelligence Council earlier that year. Its key
judgments were not welcome downtown, however, since they
were issued at a time when Vice President Dick Cheney
was warning of a “fairly robust new nuclear program,” in
Iran, and was painting the threat—and particularly the
danger to Israel—as far more imminent.
Several patriotic truth tellers (aka leakers) told The
Washington Post of the NIE’s main judgments. The
exposure of the intelligence judgments came amid
credible reports that the vice president had ordered up
contingency plans for a large-scale air assault on Iran,
that included tactical nuclear weapons to take out
hardened underground nuclear facilities.
The 2005 estimate noted indications that Iran was
conducting clandestine work, but there was no
information linking those projects directly to a nuclear
weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) still has found no conclusive evidence that Iran
is tying to build nuclear weapons. (Does that bring back
painful memories of Iraq four years ago?) But unlike
Iraq, which had been frightened into awarding full
cooperation with U.N. inspectors in early 2003, Iran was
far less than candid in responding to IAEA questions,
and the agency has suspended some aid to Iran and
criticized it for concealing certain nuclear-related
The ambiguities are such that, if we bombed Iran, we
would once again be going to war in the subjunctive
The dearth of hard evidence shines through some of the
more disingenuous pleading of senior administration
officials—Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice, in particular, who have argued
that with all the oil at Iran’s disposal it does not
need nuclear energy. The trouble is that when Cheney was
President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, he and
then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld persuaded Ford to
give the Shah a nuclear program to meet its future
energy requirements. There is even more credibility to
that claim now. Energy experts note that oil extraction
in Iran is already near peak and that the country will
need alternatives to oil in the coming decades.
In 1976, Ford reluctantly signed a directive offering
Iran a deal that would have brought at least $5.4
billion for U.S. corporations like Westinghouse and
General Electric, had not the Shah been unceremoniously
ousted three years later. The offer included a
reprocessing facility for a complete nuclear-fuels
cycle—essentially the same capability that the United
States, Israel and other countries now insist Iran
cannot be allowed to acquire. This is, of course, no
secret to Khomeini’s successors.
What Can Be Said
What Iran is seeking is an enrichment capability, and
that capability would allow it eventually to produce
nuclear weapons. Whether the Iranians intend to use that
technology in the near term for that purpose is open to
debate. But if they can develop a commercial/civilian
enrichment capability, they will have what Israel calls
the “nuclear option.” What cannot be honestly said at
this point is what Nicholas Burns, number three in the
State Department, has been saying: “There is no doubt
Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.” You would think they
would take care not to use the exact same phrases they
used just four years ago making spurious charges
regarding “Iraq’s nuclear program.”
One can argue, as French President Jacques Chirac did in
a recent moment of candor, that Iran’s possession of a
nuclear weapon would not be “very dangerous,” because
Iran is well aware that if it fired it at Israel, Tehran
would be immediately “razed.” And the post-WWII
experience saw mutual deterrence work for 45 years. But
the suggestion that the Israeli government try to relax
into the concept of deterrence in view of the formidable
nuclear arsenal Israel already has, tends to fall on
deaf ears. And, given memories of the Holocaust and the
ranting of Iran’s current president, this is in some
But there is an equally compelling reason to dissuade
Iran from going nuclear. And that is the nuclear
proliferation to which that would inevitably lead in the
Middle East. The U.S. needs to engage in direct talks
with Tehran; we do have common interests and concerns,
and we could work toward devising ways to alleviate
Israeli fears. But, given the testosterone and myopia
that color the Bush administration’s behavior in that
region, appeals to those realities and approaches seem
to fall on deaf ears.
Congress Must Act
Please, Senator Rockefeller, the National Intelligence
Estimate on Iran’s nuclear situation is said to be
targeted for completion in March. That’s too late; you
need to read it before the bombs and missiles start
falling on Iran.
An attack on Iran would bring catastrophe. Americans
would want to know our reasons for doing so.
“Explosively formed penetrators” are unlikely to
persuade. Nor will a nuclear threat to the U.S. 10 years
hence be found convincing. Iran poses no immediate
threat to America. It is right that we be concerned
about the security of Israel, but the burden of proof
should be on those who argue that deterrence cannot work
in that situation.
Most important, bilateral talks with Iran are a sine qua
non. Given the circumstances, including heightened
tensions and the danger of miscalculation, avoiding
face-to-face encounters makes little sense.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing
arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in
Washington, DC. During his 27 years as a CIA analyst, he
chaired NIEs and prepared the president’s daily brief.
He is now on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity.
This article was first published at tompaine.com