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Creating Strategic Ambiguity Over Obama's Iran Policy

Did anyone think that the people who managed to slant US analysis so badly that it was sure there were WMDs in Iraq would give up easily on agitatin

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Did anyone think that the people who managed to slant US analysis so badly that it was sure there were WMDs in Iraq would give up easily on agitating for their next war of choice, Iran? In their last months with free run of the corridors of power, the necons and Cheneyites are doing their best to torpedo Obama's diplomatic route for Iran, something Democratic hawks and AIPACers are only too happy to aid them in.

For over a year now, their aim has been to create "strategic ambiguity" - deliberately muddying the waters about Israeli and American intentions so as to pressure Iran in its negotiations with the West by ensuring it fears an attack if it doesn't play ball. D.C. hawks have gotten on board to such an extent that it is already an accepted fact among the Very Serious Person set that Obama's idea of negotiation without preconditions will get exactly one shot, will fail, and then the bombs will begin to fall.

There's more of the same in Haaretz this Thursday, reporting a planted story that Obama will extend the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Israel, which has plenty of nukes itself. The story is sourced to a single someone "close to the new administration". Whether that source is someone like Dennis Ross, Susan Rice or Tony Lake - all of whom have been cozy with the "real men go to Tehran" faction recently - or actually outside Obama's nascent administration looking in, even perhaps a part of the Bush team's transition liason, is unclear. Haaretz might even be the target of deliberate disinformation or making the story up out of whole cloth in a way that can't be proven. But one of those Real Men, Jim Geraghty, is beside himself with glee that the idea was first put out there by another Manly Man, Charles Krauthammer, back in April.

When he proposed it, liberals declared this idea was evidence that Krauthammer is insane. When Hillary Clinton echoed the proposal, Keith Olbermann said it was "far further to the right than John McCain. This may be far further to the right than the Bush administration policy about the Middle East, which you didn't think was physically possible." Rachel Maddow said it was "hard to imagine a conception of American interests broad enough to make this a prudent promise to make to the world, particularly to this volatile part of the world."

Hear that, netroots? From Krauthammer's column to Obama administration policy. Glad you put all that effort into beating McCain, huh?

The proposal is, of course, insane and idiotic, as Haaretz notes even some in the Bush administration admit.

A senior Bush administration source said that the proposal for an American nuclear umbrella for Israel was ridiculous and lacked credibility. "Who will convince the citizen in Kansas that the U.S. needs to get mixed up in a nuclear war because Haifa was bombed? And what is the point of an American response, after Israel's cities are destroyed in an Iranian nuclear strike?"

But that's hardly the point. Strategic ambiguity is, and all that is required there is that the Iranian leadership be unsure whether the US or Israel will launch a preventative attack to short-circuit any debate. In making that strategic ambiguity even remotely credible, one of the major stumbling blocks is the last US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. It said Iran hadn't had a nuclear program since 2003, which makes all the talk about nuclear umbrellas and pre-emptive attacks redundant.

There's been a lot of ignoring of the NIE going on, even by Obama, but eventually it's got to be dealt with and another one of the usual suspects, Edward Jay Epstein, tried exactly that in an International Herald Tribune op-ed Wednesday. Why we should be listening to someone who led the charge on pushing Mohammed Atta's fictitious meeting with Iraqi intel and doesn't think Perestroika was real is anyone's guess, but there he is pushing a very slanted interpretation of the Laptop Of Death and uttering falsehoods like "Iran had no known space program." That'll confuse the hell out of all the arms control wonks debating whether Iran's latest space rocket test was two or three stage, liquid or solid fuelled.

Unfortunately for Epstein and Co.,the intel community is sticking by its NIE:

The nation's just-retired No. 2 intelligence official Tuesday defended a controversial year-old estimate on Iran, saying he stood by its conclusion that Iran suspended a nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

Thomas Fingar, who stepped down Dec. 1 from the post of deputy director of national intelligence and as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said he also believed that Iran has not diverted low-enriched uranium produced at a facility at Natanz, 160 miles south of Tehran, to weapons use.

"I still stand by the judgments in that estimate," Mr. Fingar told a small group of reporters, referring to the November 2007 report. "We've had other teams look at this. Everyone who has, has affirmed the judgments we made."

Oh dear. It remains to be seen how long the Serious People and Obama will be able to deny the NIE by ignoring it, but for now the hawkish strategy is clear: center ambiguity around the Clinton camp and use it to pressure both Iran and Obama. At the best, they change Obama's stated policy to one of their own and get the bonus of crowing about U-turns. At worst, as Gareth Porter pointed out, the Iranians refuse to trust any Obama initiative that has a Clintonite in it. Twofer!

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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