NIE Reactions Considered Weird

I mock him a lot, but I have an grudging respect for Robert Kagan. He’s smarter, more theoretically grounded and less knee-jerk in his policy prescriptions than other neoconservatives, most notably his frequent collaborator Bill Kristol. And that grudging respect becomes less grudging when he writes things like this:

Regardless of what one thinks about the National Intelligence Estimate’s conclusion that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 — and there is much to question in the report — its practical effects are indisputable. The Bush administration cannot take military action against Iran during its remaining time in office, or credibly threaten to do so, unless it is in response to an extremely provocative Iranian action. A military strike against suspected Iranian nuclear facilities was always fraught with risk. For the Bush administration, that option is gone.
Neither, however, will the administration make further progress in winning international support for tighter sanctions on Iran. Fear of American military action was always the primary reason Europeans pressured Tehran. Fear of an imminent Iranian bomb was secondary. Bringing Europeans together in support of serious sanctions was difficult before the NIE. Now it is impossible.
With its policy tools broken, the Bush administration can sit around isolated for the next year. Or it can seize the initiative, and do the next administration a favor, by opening direct talks with Tehran.

A neoconservative capable of following Keynes’ law is a very rare thing indeed. But if the right’s reaction is uncharacteristically reasonable, the left’s, or at least the foreign left’s, is uncharacteristically crazy:

Steve Clemons says Israeli Labor Party MK Ephraim Sneh told him he doesn’t believe the new Iran NIE, sees the release of this report as an abdication of American responsibilities, and concluded by saying “When I get back, I will call together our intelligence establishment, and I will do all I can to begin seriously preparing the ‘Israel option.'” Sneh’s not a hugely influential politician at this juncture, but he’s also not someone with a particularly hawkish record. Meanwhile, based on this Haaretz article, Ehud Olmert seems to be trying to respond in a reasonably responsible and restrained manner, but Labor ministers like Ehud Barak and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer are trying to call the credibility of the NIE into question.

I thought that the formation of Kadima would have caused the moderate wing of Labor to break off, but apparently not in relation to Iran. Yet another reason why Meretz-Yachad, which controls a whopping 4% of the Knesset, really needs to lead a government coalition.

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