Daniel Pipes on NIE: Military Action against Iran Now More Likely

The NIE, so uncritically touted by much of the mainstream media, is thought by its relieved proponents to decrease the chances of war. The MSM today sees as its mission the reporting of those items which will strengthen the position of anti-war forces. While war is a terrible thing, it is at times a necessary evil. And it is not for the media to make that judgment. It is the media’s role to dispassionately present the situation and developments from a given region, and it is the public’s and government’s role to decide how to act on those facts.

Daniel Pipes believes that the NIE actually increases the chances of war with Iran by emboldening them while rendering toothless any attempts to coerce Iran to abandon their nuclear programs of their own accord.


[JP title: “Their own worst nightmare”]

With the Dec. 3 publication of a completely unexpected declassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” a consensus has emerged that war with Iran “now appears to be off the agenda.” Indeed, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claimed the report dealt a “fatal blow” to the country’s enemies, while his foreign ministry spokesman called it a “great victory.”

I disagree with that consensus, believing that military action against Iran is now more likely than before the NIE came out.

The NIE’s main point, contained in its first line, famously holds: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” Other analysts – John BoltonPatrick ClawsonValerie Lincy and Gary MilhollinCaroline GlickClaudia Rossett,Michael Rubin, and Gerald Steinberg – have skillfully dissected and refuted this shoddy, politicized, outrageous parody of a piece of propaganda, so I need not dwell on that here. Further, leading members of Congress are “not convinced” of the NIE’s conclusions. French and Germanleaders snubbed it, as did the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and even the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed doubts. British intelligence believe its American counterparts were hoodwinked, while Israeli intelligence responded with shock and disappointment.

Let us skip ahead then, and ask what are the long-term implications of the 2007 report?

For the sake of argument, let us assume the May 2005 NIE was correct, in which sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Let us also assume there are three possible American responses to the Iranian nuclear buildup:

  1. Convince the Iranians of their own accord to stop the nuclear weapons program.
  2. Stop it for them through military intervention (which need not be a direct strike against the nuclear infrastructure but could be more indirect, such as an embargo on refined petrochemicals entering the country).
  3. Permit it to culminate in Iran’s acquiring a nuclear bomb.

As for Option #3, President Bush recently noted that whoever is “interested in avoiding World War III, … ought to be interested in preventing [the Iranians] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” So far, the lame NIE has not changed his mind. He appears to share John McCain‘s view that “There’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option. That is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Therefore, the real question is not whether Iran will be stopped, but how.

The 2007 NIE has effectively terminated Option #1, convincing the Iranians themselves to halt their nuclear program, because this route requires wide external agreement. When key countries banded together to pass Security Council Resolution 1737 in December 2006, it caused the Iranian leadership to respond with caution and fear; but the NIE’s soothing conclusion undercuts such widespread cooperation and pressure. When Washington pressures some Western states, Russia, China, and the IAEA, they can pull it out of the drawer, wave it in the Americans’ faces, and refuse to cooperate. Worse, the NIE has sent a signal to the apocalyptic-minded leadership in Tehran that the danger of external sanctions has ended, that it can go undisturbed about its bomb-building business.

That leaves Option #2, direct intervention of some sort. Yes, that seems unlikely now, with the NIE dropping like a bombshell and shifting the debate. But will this hugely-criticized one thousand-word exercise really continue to dominate the American understanding of the problem? Will it change George W. Bush’s mind? Will its influence extend to a year from now? Will it extend yet further, to the next president?

Highly unlikely, for these projections assume stasis – that this one report can refute all other interpretations, that no further developments will take place in Iran, that the argument over Iranian nuclear intentions closed down in early December 2007, never to revive. The debate most assuredly will continue to evolve and the influence of this NIE will fade and become just one of many appraisals, technical and non-technical, official and unofficial, American and non-American.

In short, with Option #1 undermined and Option #3 unacceptable, Option #2 – war carried out by either U.S. or Israeli forces – becomes the more probable. Thus have short-sighted, small-minded, blatantly partisan intelligence bureaucrats, trying to hide unpleasant realities, helped engineer their own nightmare.

7 Responses to Daniel Pipes on NIE: Military Action against Iran Now More Likely

  1. Lorenz Gude says:

    The best analysis I have read. I have been absolutely unable to believe the NIE – even though I recognize that the to the extent that I was convinced that Saddam had an active WMD program, and evidently didn’t, I must perforce take my own impression of the Iranian program as nothing more than that. That said, I can’t help but think that the word is seeping out that things are going better in Iraq and as an observer of politics it seems to me that destroying any leverage Bush had over the Iranians is a bit of political play acting. Is Bush really going to attack Iran? I doubt it – his military is overstretched and tired.Much of the equipment is worn out. Besides Pipes’s option 1 was slowly beginning to show some promise. No, this feels to me like the intelligence community kneecapping their own president. They are pretending that they are stopping the ‘crazy warmonger from doing it again’. Obsolete cold warriors putting themselves forward as Post Colonial heroes. To use RL’s shorthand – PCP2 Kabuki.

  2. Alex says:

    And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher’s arguments against the peace process ( samsonblinded.org/blog/we-need-a-respite-from-peace.htm )?

  3. fp says:


    this president and his administration have been a catastrophe for the US and have set it up for total decline. they have practically ended the american era, which was ending anyway, but they have accelerated it by a decade or two.

    practically each and every policy that bush started with has been reversed, exposing the superpower as a paper tiger, ignorant, incompetent and lacking any shrewdness and intelligence in foreign policy.

    this is the worst you can do to militant islamism — reversing policies and trying to appease your way out of a hole you dug for yourself is like showing red to the jihadi bull: you are signaling weakness and inviting further pounding.

    the US has dumped lebanon to syria and iran, has abandoned israel, and has driven the arabs into the arms of iran, because they culturally operate by going with the strongman, and the US has proven to be a weakman.

    the consequences for the US are dire and the price that the public will pay for it are hard to even contemplate.


  4. Eliyahu says:

    lorenz, there’s reason to believe that there were ABC weapons being developed in Iraq, and that much of equipment and materials were delivered to Syria before the 2003 war had even started. Maybe some of the CIA researchers in Iraq who were supposedly looking for WMD facilities and materials didn’t find what they didn’t want to find, or minimized what they did find.


  5. fp says:


    the real problem is that the US intelligence is clueless about what’s happening in the ME. so whether there were, are or will be WMD in the ME, the US won’t know about it. they will continue to make wild guesses, will be fooled and, after the Iraq disaster, the NIE is nothing but a logical implication.

    if you eliminated all the US intelligence agencies tomorrow, it would make no difference.

  6. igout says:

    My theory. Iran cut back on trouble making in Iraq to give the US grounds to claim the surge is working, and so a face saving way to depart. Another last chopper from the roof top would be so humiliating.

    In return, the US has “discovered” that Iran is as innocent as the driven snow of acquiring nukes.

    America comes out of this transaction showing itself to be impotent, cowardly, cynical and stupid all at once.

  7. fp says:

    thats the american way

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