Iran, Proliferation and the National Intelligence Estimate
The recent publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) by sixteen American intelligence agencies has caused shockwaves in Washington and foreign capitals across the globe.
The conclusion by the NIE that they have strong confidence that Iran stopped its nuclear programme in the autumn of 2003, on the surface seems to undercut the Bush administration’s policy from its knees. However as with most things, looks can be deceptive and first impressions inaccurate. Far from undercutting US policy, the NIE assessment provides the necessary cover for a new phase of US Iranian relations, one that moves the relationship from the covert shadows and into the open. Indeed, the NIE raises several issues around US-Iranian relation, nuclear proliferation and the nature of intelligence that have still not been covered adequately in the western media.
Firstly, there is a myth that US-Iranian relations have been at best horrendous and at worst two steps away from an armed conflict. Yet this is an inaccurate portrayal, notwithstanding the colourful rhetoric that emanates periodically from both sides. Whether it was the Iran-Contra arms deals of the 1980’s, the Iranian support for the war in Afghanistan, Iran’s assistance in removing Saddam Hussein or the recent Iranian help in dampening the violence down in Baghdad, Iran and the US have in actuality been on the same side in many recent conflicts. Indeed, far from Iran playing a destabilising role in the Middle East, the US continues to be able to leverage Iran to keep other states in check while also allowing it to justify its huge military presence in the region. The Iranian reaction to the NIE was also revealing, instead of reacting with caution and thus avoiding the trap of a different conclusion emerging from any NIE in the future, Iranians have gleefully embraced the assessment and called for a new rapprochement with Washington. President Ahmadinejad called the document "a positive step forward" and was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying "If one or two other steps are taken, the conditions will be ripe and will lose their complexities and the way will be open for interactions between the two sides." He also said the following "The main body of the problem has been resolved. There are no ambiguities and the ground has been set for cooperation on different issues."
Secondly, the NIE has been presented as an attempt by the intelligence community to regain their credibility after the Iraq WMD fiasco where intelligence was compromised to fit with political objectives. On both sides of the Atlantic intelligence agencies were not just wrong about what was going on in Baghdad in 2003, but were consistently wrong in the years leading up to the war. Indeed, the NIE itself in its publication in 2005 stated that Iran possessed a nuclear weapons programme, which assuming the 2007 NIE is now correct, means that the 2005 NIE’s key conclusion was pure fiction. The conclusions of the 2007 NIE, though a shock to many who were expecting a US strike on Iran, are consistent with the views of the Pentagon who are hostile to any attack as evidenced by leaks in recent weeks, the State Department and even the White House. Indeed, it was President Bush that appointed Robert Gates as US defence secretary knowing that he had written articles in the past advocating a rapprochement with Iran and that he was then serving on the Baker-Hamilton commission who were advocating more direct diplomacy with Iran. Yet despite the fact that intelligence assessments can never be exact and are more of an art rather than a science, they are still viewed as hallowed by many and are frequently used to justify a pre-arranged policy. This makes them very susceptible to being politicised by an establishment who despite the debacle of the Iraq war remain eager to mislead their publics when they believe this becomes necessary.
The last thing the NIE brings to the fore is the continuing hypocrisy that surrounds nuclear non-proliferation. Since the publication of the NIE, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have warned about the dangers of complacency, with British Foreign Secretary David Milliband being especially vociferous in an article in the Financial Times shortly after. Of course in Britain and America’s ideal world the only countries that should have nuclear weapons are themselves. Yet in an ideal world, the US would spend $600 billion on providing adequate health care and social security to its own citizens or alleviating endemic poverty in the third world, rather than spending it on weapon systems and smart bombs. What is galling is to take lessons on nuclear non-proliferation from a country such as the United States that is the only country in history to have dropped two atomic bombs on a civilian population or the United Kingdom who while lecturing the world on nuclear non-proliferation is spending tens of billions on upgrading its own Trident nuclear based submarines. Of course, the US and the UK will act in their national interest, yet then why deny that to the Muslim world? The biggest threat to the peoples of Cairo, Damascus and Amman are not bombs from Tehran but those that emanate from Washington, London and Tel Aviv.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Muslim world lacks a coherent presence in the international arena to address issues such as those that emanate from the NIE. By remaining divided and split into 50 plus states, it becomes easier for outside powers to manipulate the situation and undermine our security, just look at Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. What Muslims need to do is remove their current leaderships, unify their resources and implement the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate) system. Only then can the Muslim world adequately confront all the challenges of the 21st century and compete effectively with the leading nations of the world.
Political advisor to the UK Executive Committee
Hizb ut Tahrir Britain
16 December 2007/ 7 Dhul Hijjah 1428