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Context of 'December 7-9, 2007: Giuliani, Kristol Say Iran Stopped Nuclear Weapons Program Because of Iraq Invasion'

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The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the first of its kind since 2001. Its central conclusion is that Iran is about ten years away from manufacturing enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. That doubles the previous estimate of five years. (The “five years away” estimate has been a staple of US assertions about Iran’s nuclear program since 1995.) Even then, the report states, it is unclear whether Iran would have the technology capable of using the uranium in a functional nuclear device. The NIE gives little support for recent statements by Bush administration officials that assert Iran is working hard to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and that such deployment could happen much sooner than ten or even five years. President Bush has said repeatedly that while he wants to resolve the crisis with Iran diplomatically, “all options are on the table,” meaning a potential military strike is being considered. The NIE says that Iran is conducting clandestine work as part of its nuclear program, but there is no way to know if that work is on nuclear weapons development. Iran is, the report states, acquiring technologies that could be diverted to bomb-making. It is uncertain whether Iran’s ruling mullahs have decided whether to build a nuclear arsenal, the NIE says, but, according to a senior intelligence official, “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.” The White House has refrained from attributing its assertions about Iran’s nuclear program to US intelligence, as it did with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to Iranian efforts to conceal its activities, and questioned why, since Iran has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, it would need a nuclear energy program. The administration is riven with infighting and competing viewpoints on Iran’s nuclear program, and this NIE does little to resolve those differences. The NIE also says that the US intelligence community still knows far too little about Iran’s nuclear program. The intelligence community gathers most of its information from communication intercepts, satellite imagery, and reports from the UN inspectors who have been investigating Iran’s nuclear program since 2003. Those inspectors have found facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, results of plutonium tests, and equipment bought illicitly from Pakistan, all of which raised serious concerns but could be explained by an energy program. Inspectors have found no evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear warhead design or is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden says that since the October 2002 NIE, which wrongly concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see October 1, 2002), the rules governing the creation of NIEs have been revamped to mandate “a higher tolerance for ambiguity,” even if NIEs would be less conclusive in the process. [Washington Post, 8/2/2005] In 2007, a new NIE will conclude that Iran actually stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Philip Giraldi.Philip Giraldi. [Source: Canal+]Former CIA official Philip Giraldi will later reveal that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney is holding up the internal release of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran starting at this time, because Cheney’s people are not happy with the dissenting views contained within the document. The NIE contains widely differing views on whether or not Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon. It also says that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is arming Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. Cheney’s office wants an NIE that bolsters its view of an aggressive, threatening Iran, and is not willing to accept the publication or the current Iran NIE. Giraldi says that the White House has decided not to release the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections. The NIE will not be released until December 2007 (see December 3, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Philip Giraldi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Conversations between Iranian military commanders indicate that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been shut down for years. The calls are intercepted by the US and lead to the realization that the program was halted in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). However, when they first learn of them, senior White House officials will balk at accepting those calls, with some suggesting that the secretly intercepted calls are part of a clever Iranian disinformation campaign. Intelligence officers will spend months validating the new information before determining it is real. [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: Howard Fineman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Bush administration (43), Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Jonathan Landay, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nicholas Burns, Muhammad Sahimi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Robert M. Gates, Seymour Hersh

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Iran NIE.The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… 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.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, says that he does not know of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has long ago shut down its nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), but he does not believe it. “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” he says. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/4/2007] Huckabee made light of his ignorance of foreign policy earlier in the day, joking on a radio talk show that he’s “not an expert… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” [National Journal, 12/4/2007] Conservative pundit Byron York attacks Huckabee: “Beyond doing nothing to resolve doubts about his foreign policy qualifications, the exchange underscores the fact that Huckabee doesn’t really have much of a campaign, in the sense that [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudolph] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney have campaigns, with teams of advisers and carefully-thought-out policy positions. In important ways, he has been flying by the seat of his pants, relying on his unequaled talents as a retail campaigner. But now that he is leading in Iowa, and moving up nationally as well, the deficiencies of his campaign might come more and more into the spotlight.” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Byron York, Mike Huckabee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

President George W. Bush demands that Iran “come clean” about its nuclear weapons program or face diplomatic isolation. The director of national intelligence recently released a sweeping National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons research program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), and since then the administration has attempted various responses to the document. Bush is now demanding that Iran produce details about its nuclear weapons programs which it “has yet to acknowledge.” Bush says: “The Iranians have a strategic choice to make. They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.” According to analysts, Bush may be worried the US is losing leverage over Iran, as well as credibility around the world.
Response to NIE and US intelligence community - Bush does not directly criticize the US intelligence community, but says he appreciates its work in helping his officials understand past and present activities in Iran, and helping his administration develop a sound policy towards Iran. Of the NIE, Bush continues to portray it as in line with his own policies and suspicions, saying, “It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.” Bush says that his administration will continue to push for tougher UN sanctions against Iran. Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto says that Iran continues to hide information, remains in violation of two UN Security Council resolutions, tests ballistic missiles and is enriching uranium. “Anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts,” Fratto says. [Associated Press, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” [Fox News, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol say that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007). Giuliani says Iran was intimidated into halting its program: “It worked in 2003 to get him [sic] to back off their nuclear program. And what happened in 2003? What big thing happened in 2003? We deposed Saddam Hussein. America showed massive military force in the country right next to Iran called Iraq.” [ABC News, 12/7/2007] Kristol, whose magazine is one of the premier showcases for neoconservative thought and opinion, echoes Giuliani’s belief on Fox News, saying, “I believe we invaded a neighboring country in 2003 and removed their dictator and that sent shock waves through the region and at the time people were quite worried.” Kristol also attributes the end of Libya’s nuclear weapons program to the invasion of Iraq. [Think Progress, 12/9/2007] However, the reason Iran’s nuclear weapons program ended in 2003 is not specified in the recently released National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the program’s end. [Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Weekly Standard

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Jon Wolfstahl.Jon Wolfstahl. [Source: Washington Note]Jon Wolfstahl, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaks out in favor of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Wolfstahl says: “The last thing we need is more political input into intelligence matters. The facts are the facts, and it’s time conservatives began to deal with the facts on the ground.… The days of Doug Feith and Steve Cambone creating intelligence to suit their ideology are thankfully behind us.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Douglas Feith, Jon Wolfstahl, Stephen A. Cambone, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Israel has no “smoking gun” intelligence it can use to force the US to reassess its recent National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). But even if it did have such a piece of evidence, a diplomatic official says it would be either “very arrogant” or “naive” to think that all Israel needs to do is provide one piece of information to the US intelligence community and have it “take it all back and follow Israel’s line.” The US knows what Israel knows, the official says, but the two nations’ intelligence communities have different interpretations. “If we had information that we held back, then we have only ourselves to blame for the US report,” the official says. Israel continues to insist that Iran is a major threat to Israel, in large part because of its nuclear weapons program. “Israel can’t take the risk that Iran will be nuclear,” the official adds. [Jerusalem Post, 12/18/2007]

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

PBS political commentator Bill Moyers hosts a wide-ranging discussion of the media’s role in legitimizing the Bush administration’s military interventionism in the Middle East (see June 6, 2008). Joining Moyers are John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay; and Greg Mitchell, the purveyor of the media watchdog site Editor & Publisher. The four spend a good part of their time discussing the US’s attempt to “sell” a war with Iran. Moyers says the administration is having trouble pushing such a war because the American public is leery of more dire administration warnings, “given how we were misled about Iraq.” Walcott points out that Iran is a more imminent threat than Iraq, “a much tougher problem than Iraq ever was,” and notes that while Iraq never supported terrorists or had WMD, Iran supports terrorist groups “with a fair amount of enthusiasm” and has a nuclear energy program with the potential to cause grave harm. Landay notes that one big difference in the way the administration is handling Iran as opposed to how it handled Iraq is the fact that the administration is now working with the UN Security Council and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas with Iraq the administration displayed a belligerent, “go it alone” attitude.
They're a Bunch of Crazy Shi'ites - Walcott notes that he finds one argument about Iran particularly disturbing: “[T]hat’s the one that says the Iranians would use nuclear weapons against us or against Israel. Well, both Israel and the United States have the capability to turn Iran into a skating rink. When you explode a nuclear weapon over sand, it turns into glass. And the counter to that from some quarters has been as crazy as anything I’ve heard, which is, well, that we can’t deter the Iranians because they’re Shi’ites and they’re all eager to commit suicide to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. So deterrents won’t work against Iran because they’re a bunch of crazy Shi’ites. That to me is as crazy as anything we heard about Saddam [Hussein] and his ties to al-Qaeda. That one, the fact that that one’s out there concerns me.”
Military Strike against Iran? - Walcott says he knows for a fact that there is a large and influential faction within the Bush administration that is determined to force a military strike against Iraq before Bush’s term of office ends. This faction has the support of influential Israeli government officials, even hints of support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “[T]hat issue’s gonna be on the table until January 20th [2009, when the next US president is inaugurated] because one of the things we’ve learned is these people don’t go away,” Walcott says. “They’re still out there. They’re still advocating.” Landay notes that many of the same people who advocated for the invasion of Iraq are the ones pushing for a strike against Iran, “[a]nd yet they keep being brought on television and quoted in newspaper stories, when their, you know, now, after this horrendous track record they had in Iraq. So you wonder how it is that there are people who have been fanning the flames for going after Iran. Some of them the very same people.” Mitchell notes that the questions that should have been asked and re-asked by the media before the Iraq invasion—will military force neutralize the threats, what will be the aftereffects and ramifications of military strikes, how many will die—are not yet being asked about Iran. Walcott notes how easily Iran could retaliate for US strikes: “sink one oil tanker in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz, just one, and the insurance rates will take care of the rest. And you’ll have $200, $250 a barrel oil. So that’s one thing to think about.”
Iran and the NIE - Moyers asks why it was so easy for President Bush to simply disavow the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons (see December 3, 2007) just by saying that, in essence, “the NIE’s conclusions don’t reflect his own views, that there is an ongoing threat.” Moyers says that Bush does not care “what the facts are, this is [his] reality.” Mitchell notes that NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw called it more of a matter of “theology” (see May 29, 2008). But Landay says that just as interesting is the fact that, if Iran indeed is building nuclear weapons, which it well may be, “the administration’s having a really hard time getting traction for its case. Why? Because it’s lost its credibility on Iraq.” Mitchell adds, “And the media has lost credibility.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]

Entity Tags: John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, McClatchy News, Public Broadcasting System, Bill Moyers, Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Dennis C. Blair

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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