Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clinton's confirmation hearing suffers from lack of intelligence

Echoing her new boss -- and signaling that the incoming administration will be just as impervious to facts as the departing one -- future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made it clear that the phrase "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons" and variations thereof will be a key component of the Obama administration's talking points on Iran:
As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians; that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and sponsorship of terror, and persuades both Iran and Syria to abandon their dangerous behavior and become constructive regional actors; that strengthens our relationships with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, other Arab states, with Turkey, and with our partners in the Gulf to involve them in securing a lasting peace in the region.
Of course, it's not as if Clinton and Obama are unaware of the fact that, according to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, Iran ended whatever nuclear weapons program it might have had more than five years ago. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald noted earlier this week, back in 2007 Obama himself said the NIE served as "an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force" -- a statement that served both as a shot at Clinton (who didn't bother reading the NIE on Iraq before backing the '03 invasion) and as a signal to anti-war progressives that he shared their criticism of the Bush administration's beliggerent stance on Iran.

Meanwhile, Clinton's campaign also reacted to the NIE on Iran by claiming it had exposed "the latest effort by the Bush administration to distort intelligence to pursue its ideological ends." As neither Clinton or Obama have presented any information to back their more recent claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons -- implying that the 2007 NIE was incorrect (or never happened) -- one can only assume that they too are engaged in the distortion of intelligence for political purposes.

But Obama has always been the consummate politicians willing to alter his positions when it suited his rise to power. He has never staked out positions on foreign policy based on a fundamental questioning of American execeptionalism, but rather on political considerations at the time; his much ballyhooed opposition to the Iraq war, after all, took place when he was but a state senator representing a liberal, urban district. When it came to funding the war as a U.S. senator, he had no qualms (until he started running for president). His vocal support for Israel's disastrous 2006 war on Lebanon should also provide some indication of his stance on the current war on Gaza.

During the primaries, however, all Good Liberals were (rightly) convinced that Clinton was a cold-blooded, war-mongering monster, yet ignored Obama's more hawkish comments or chalked them up to the heat of a campaign. Obama, naturally, did his part in capitalizing on progressives' distaste for Clinton, taking his future secretary of state to task for backing a resolution declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization", with a statement from his campaign claiming the measure amounted to dangerous "saber-rattling" that could potentially set off a war. Yet when he had the Democratic nomination secured, the oft-alleged peace candidate declared in an address to members of AIPAC that the Guard had "rightly been labeled a terrorist organization."

Obama also has a long record of conflating Iran's civilian nuclear program with a weapons program, asserting in an April 2007 debate that Iran was in the process of developing nuclear weapons, "and I don't think that's disputed by any experts." At that time, however, the most recent report (pdf) from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that its inspectors were "able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran," and that there was no evidence Iran had an active weapons program. 

The most recent talk of an active Iranian nuclear weapons program from both Clinton and Obama can't be construed as mere misstatements, or shorthand for fears Iran might have such a program. As it stands, their statements are at odds with the U.S. intelligence community and the findings of the IAEA. Should they have evidence to the contrary, let them show it, but until they do they should not be given the benefit of the doubt. Over the next few weeks, reporters should press them to explain why their remarks contradict the facts as we know them. Unfortunately, I'm not sure many journalists are even aware that they do.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:54 AM

    The 2002 NIE was complete bullocks. If you read it and believed it, you might have voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 yourself.

    2002-09-xx: Cheney and Scooter Libby make about 10 trips to CIA headquarters, where they personally questioned analysts. To some in the CIA, it looked like the vice president himself was determined to control the content of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). One former CIA officer tells PBS, “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a Vice President came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on the stage. But not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.”


    2002-10-01: FAULTY INTELLIGENCE: the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is sent to Congress days before lawmakers voted to authorize use of military force against Saddam. The report states with “high confidence” that Iraq “has now established large-scale, redundant and concealed BW agent production capabilities.” It said “all key aspects” of Iraq’s offensive BW program “are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.”

    The presidential commission would state that this assessment was “the most important and most alarming” judgements in the document, and was based largely on information from Curveball. Even though in the last few months the CIA had flagged Curveball’s biggest corraborator as a liar and even though Germany had told the CIA that they thought Curveball was a fabricator, the NIE says it has “high confidence” on what amounts to Curveball’s fantasies.

    The NIE also reports that Iraq has 500 tons of yellow cake from Niger (it doesn’t), mentions the aluminum tubes for centrifuges (which aren’t), that Saddam has stockpiled 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons (he hasn’t), that Saddam is producing biological weapons in mobile labs (he isn’t). The report states it has “high confidence” that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs” (it isn’t), “high confidence” that “Iraq possesses proscribed chemical and biological weapons and missiles” (it doesn’t).



    Full timeline here: