Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The NIE as a Diagnostic Test for Sanity

In response to the NIE goring Norman Podhoretz's ox, he suggests that its multi-agency writers may be trading national security for their own political agenda:
But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations. As the intelligence community must know, if he were to do so, it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding. How better, then, to stop Bush in his tracks than by telling him and the world that such pressures have already been effective and that keeping them up could well bring about “a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program”—especially if the negotiations and sanctions were combined with a goodly dose of appeasement or, in the NIE’s own euphemistic formulation, “with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.”

This is patently ridiculous on two counts:

  1. Since producing information that will clearly adversely impact national security is outright treasonous behavior, and hundreds of people are involved in the production of an NIE, there's simply no way that the NIE could be made to reflect anything other than the literal best estimate of the reality in Iran.

  2. Even if the intelligence community were to think that Bush's bellicose policies were idiotic (and I'm sure that there's as much variation in opinion within the IC as there is in the public at large), intelligence types are very much national security hawks. They would never present false information, even if they disagreed with the the way the administration were going to use that information.

I've often disagreed with Podhoretz's stridency on foreign policy but I've always thought he was an rational actor. But this makes him seem so wedded to his version of reality that his credibility--not to mention his sanity--has to come into question.

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