Debunking Iran's Nuclear Program: Another 'Intelligence Failure' -- On the Part of the Press?
Iraqi WMD redux: The release of the NIE throwing cold water on oft-repeated claims of a rampant Iranian nuclear weapons program has chastened public officials and policymakers who have promoted this line for years. But many in the media have made these same claims, often extravagantly.
By Greg Mitchell
NEW YORK (December 04, 2007) -- Press reports so far have suggested that the belated release of the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday throwing cold water on oft-repeated claims of a rampant Iranian nuclear weapons program has deeply embarrassed, or at least chastened, public officials and policymakers who have promoted this line for years. Gaining little attention so far: Many in the media have made these same claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.
Surely you remember Sen. John McCain's inspired Beach Boys' parody, a YouTube favorite, "Bomb-bomb-bomb, Bomb-bomb Iran"? That was the least of it. You could dance to it and it had a good beat. Not so for so much of the press and punditry surrounding the bomb. Who can forget Norman Podhoretz's call for an immediate attack on Iran, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal last May, as he argued that "the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force -- any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938."
As I've warned in this space for years, too many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure -- and White House propaganda effort -- and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.
For the rest of today and this week, media critics will be offering up all sorts of reminders of the near-fatal claims by many in the press relating to Iranian nukes. Sure to get attention are the scare stories in the summer of 2005 after "proof" of an Iranian nuke program somehow surfaced on a certain laptop, proudly unveiled by offiicials and bought by many in the media then as firm evidence (and now debunked, like much of the "proof" of Iraqi WMD provided by defectors a few years back).
Wth much effort, I've already found this beauty from David Brooks of The New York Times from Jan. 22, 2006, when he declared that "despite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time - before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point. This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We'll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning."
As recently as this past June, Thomas Friedman of The Times wrote: "Iran is about to go nuclear."
Even more recently, on October 23, 2007, Richard Cohen (like Brooks and Friedman, a big backer of the attack on Iraq) of The Washington Post, wrote: "Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world."
More in this vein is sure to come: I found those three quotes without even breaking a sweat. At least Friedman, Brooks and Cohen back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren.
Another Post columnist, Jim Hoagland, exactly one month ago summarized his year-long travels and study surrounding this issue, declaring "unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons....That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion." He added the warning that "time is running out on the diplomatic track."
One week before that, reporting on his trip to Moscow, Hoagland noted Putin's doubts that Tehran will be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon -- but called that failure "implausible."
We'd be remiss if we left out William Kristol, the hawk's hawk on Iran, who for the July 14, 2006 issue of The Weekly Standard called for a "military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."
As often the case, Salon.com's popular blogger, Glenn Greenwald, may have gotten there first. A longtime critic of The Washington Post editorial page and its editor, Fred Hiatt, he has already happily reprinted a few choice passages from the past.
Here is the latest, from a Sept. 26, 2007 editorial in the Post, which flatly denounced Iran's "race for a bomb":
"As France's new foreign minister has recognized, the danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it.
"The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy -- that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce Mr. Ahmadinejad's superiors to suspend their race for a bomb. ...
Even if Tehran provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment -- and thus its progress toward a bomb -- will continue. That doesn't trouble Mr. ElBaradei, who hasn't hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking U.S. military action ...
"European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don't make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West."
Greenwald also resurrects Post editorial quotes in this vein going back to 2005, along with this choice snippet from a September online interview with Kenneth Pollack, whose complete wrongheadedness on Iraqi WMD somehow has not kept him from remaining a darling of the press as an expert on Iran's nukes and other Middle East issues:
"Q. How compelling is the evidence that Iranians are developing a nuclear weapons program?
"POLLACK: Obviously, the evidence is circumstantial, but it is quite strong."
I'll provide other examples of pundit malfeasance as they surface.
Care to comment or read more press criticism? Go to E&P Editor Greg Mitchell's new blog at
Greg Mitchell (email@example.com) is editor of E&P. His book on Iraq and the media, "So Wrong for So Long," will published in March by Union Square Press. He blogs at: http://gregmitchellwriter.blogspot.com/