Reports that John Negroponte has “resigned” as Director of National Intelligence and will move to Deputy Secretary of State have apparently been confirmed. This is the best news out of the Bush administration in months. Back in September of last year, I posted Intel chief oversees bureaucratic Type II error in which I concluded:
Negroponte is a career diplomat put in charge of a huge bureaucracy with which he has no experience. He also appears to have no competence in the area of concern: nuclear weapons. In short, he is the perfect manager from the perspective of the intel bureaucracy he nominally oversees: he won’t question intelligence estimates and will only parrot them to his superiors and to the press. Meanwhile, in the real world, Iran is brazenly moving forward with uranium enrichment. When the time comes, will Bush be able to disavow the “official” estimate and take action?
I have always viewed dealing with Iran as the ultimate object of the Bush Doctrine. Iran is the world’s number one terrorist state and, by far, the most dangerous nuclear proliferator. I agree with Walter Russell Mead that an Iran with nukes would make the Bush Doctrine “look hollow”. Over the past few months, there have been a number of indications that President Bush has abandoned the Doctrine than bears his name. Obviously, one of those was to have his administration, in the person of Negroponte, state that Iran is nowhere close to developing nuclear weapons. A second, and more alarming, indication was the replacement of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld by Robert Gates. My concern about Gates stems largely from this section in a report titled Iran: Time for a New Approach from a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations he co-chaired with Zbigniew Brzezinski in 2004:
Given the potential threat that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could pose, the full range of alternatives — including military options — for confronting Tehran must be examined. Yet the use of military force would be extremely problematic, given the dispersal of Iran’s program at sites throughout the country and their proximity to urban centers. Since Washington would be blamed for any unilateral Israeli military strike, the United States should make it quite clear to Israel that U.S. interests would be adversely affected by such a move. In addition, any military effort to eliminate Iranian weapons capabilities would run the significant risk of reinforcing Tehran’s desire to acquire a nuclear deterrent and of provoking nationalist passions in defense of that very course. It would most likely also generate hostile Iranian initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Emphasis mine]
With Gates in the administration, everyone surrounding Bush now appears to be counseling that the only option in dealing with Iran is diplomatic because the military option isn’t feasible and, besides, we’ve got at least five years before the Iranians have nukes. (This reminds me of a line in Tom Lehrer’s satiric song, Who’s next?: “China got the bomb, but have no fears/ They can’t wipe us out for at least five years.” What is this strange bureaucratic fascination with “five years”?)
Removing Negroponte (I don’t believe for a moment that he voluntarily resigned) offers a glimmer of hope that a more reasonable evaluation of Iranian nuclear capabilities will be developed under the new Intel Chief. If new U.S. estimates matched Israel’s, there would be a renewed sense of urgency in dealing forcefully with Iran. Alas, Negroponte’s managerial incompetence was his most obvious deficiency and the best explanation for his “departure” – not the botched intelligence estimate.
So, maybe there’s no hope after all. Things have come to a sorry pass when the best news about the Bush administration is that a career functionary is the recipient of a (slightly oblique) lateral arabesque. Meanwhile, the Israeli’s are increasingly talking about launching a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure because they believe the U.S. isn’t going to do anything. While possible, such a strike would minimally require U.S. acquiescence, and a key man advising Bush will be telling him to “make it quite clear to Israel that U.S. interests would be adversely affected by such a move.”