Friday, December 28, 2007

Gen. McCaffrey Assesses Iraq War

A friend passed on a PDF, an "After Action" report, a recent memorandum assessing the situation in Iraq, written by the former "drug czar" of the U.S. government, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who also teaches at West Point. (I haven't figured out how to link a PDF that has no website. Stay tuned.) It was fascinating and worth reading in its entirety, so I've copied key parts (almost half), and added only minor comments. Here's the prelude:
December 18, 2007 MEMORANDUM FOR: Colonel Michael Meese, Professor and Head Dept of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy CC: Colonel Cindy Jebb,
Professor and Deputy Head Dept of Social Sciences, United States Military
Academy SUBJECT: After Action Report: VISIT IRAQ AND KUWAIT 5-11 DECEMBER 2007
...I added the "From". Just so you can see who it's from, as well as who it's to.
FROM: General Barry R McCaffrey USA (Ret), Adjunct Professor of International Affairs, Department of Social Sciences, USMA, West Point, NY.

The struggle for stability in the Iraqi Civil War has entered a new phase with
dramatically reduced levels of civilian sectarian violence, political
assassinations, abductions, and small arms/ indirect fire and IED attacks on US
and Iraqi Police and Army Forces.
...which appears true, judging from press accounts I've followed.
General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have provided brilliant
collective leadership to US Forces and have ably engaged the Iraqi political and
military leadership.
...I guess he likes these guys. Keep in mind McCaffrey teaches "International Affairs" and moves in big circles. Figuratively and literally, occasionally.
Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been defeated at a tactical and operational level in Baghdad and Anbar Province and is trying to re-constitute in the north and along the Syrian frontier.
...This is a running theme. True or not, get used to it when reading the "report".
The Iraqi people have turned on AQI because it overreached trying to impose an
alien and harsh practice of Islam inconsistent with the more moderate practices
of the Sunni minority. (16% of the population.)
...the more "moderate" practices is a debatable point.
The foreign jihadist elements in AQI (with their enormous hatred of what they
view as the apostate Shia) have alienated the nationalism of the broader Iraqi
I'm trying to figure out what "alienated the nationalism" means, but let's push on:
Foreign intervention across the Syrian frontier has dropped substantially. Most
border-crossers are suicide bombers who are dead within four days while carrying
out largely ineffective attacks on the civilian population and the Iraqi Police.
...The red highlighting is always mine. Ellipses, too.
The senior leaders of AQI have become walking dead men because of the enormous
number of civilian intelligence tips coming directly to US Forces. US and Brit
Special Operations Forces are deadly against AQI leadership. Essentially AQI has
been driven out of Baghdad and is now trying to reconstitute their
...I liked that "walking dead men" part. Remember, this is a memo to a colleague, but it seems clear McCaffrey expected it to become disseminated widely. Wait till the end.
The previously grossly ineffective and corrupt Iraqi Police have been forcefully
retrained and re-equipped. The majority of their formerly sectarian police
leadership has been replaced. The police are now a mixed bag --- but many local
units are now effectively providing security and intelligence penetration of
their neighborhoods.
...Sounds a little optimistic, especially in light of later comments about "mafias", but I'll give him some benefit of the doubt.
The ISF still lacks credibility as a coherent counter-insurgency and deterrent
force. ... It lacks any semblance of an Air Force... [or] a functioning
military medical system... [or] artillery... [or] any serious armor
capability.... In my judgment the Army needs 9000+ wheel and track armored
vehicles for their 13 combat divisions
...I think the point here (supported by his later comments) is that the U.S. needs to buy these guys a bigger and better military.
There is no functional central Iraqi Government. Incompetence, corruption,
factional paranoia, and political gridlock have paralyzed the state. The
constitution promotes bureaucratic stagnation and factional strife.
budgetary process cannot provide responsive financial support to the military
and the police---nor local government for health, education, governance,
reconstruction, and transportation.
...I particularly liked this, since it could almost describe the U.S. Government.
Mr. Maliki has no political power base and commands no violent militias who have
direct allegiance to him personally --- making him a non-player in the Iraqi
political struggle...
...Yeah, that's what we need. A national leader commanding violent militias. Where's John Gotti when we need him? You can see why the State Department prevented the U.S. military from killing off Muqtada Al Sadr a few years ago. This was a guy they could respect --- he commanded a violent militia.
However, there is growing evidence of the successful re-constitution of local
and provincial government. Elections for provincial government are vitally
important to creating any possible form of functioning Iraqi state.
...Yadayada. Elections of what? You'll see in this report that the essence of our "success" in Iraq is A.) The U.S. military functions as the defacto government, to hell with Maliki, thank you very much, and B.) the balkanization of the country into a hodge-podge of independent tribes. (Actually, "balkanization" is too strong a term, except for the Kurds. I mean, is Falluja big enough to be a Balkan?)
There are 4 million plus dislocated Iraqis --- possibly one in six citizens.
Ie, one in six have simply gotten the hell out of Dodge. Or dodged hell.
Many of the intelligentsia and professional class have fled to Syria, Jordan, or
abroad. 60,000+ have been murdered or died in the post-invasion violence.
WAY too low a figure. My estimates put it more like 300,000 in the 5 years since the war started. Remember, most deaths aren't even officially reported.
Medical care is primitive. Security and justice for the individual is weak. Many
lack clean water or adequate food and a roof over their family. Anger and hatred
for the cruelties of the ongoing Civil War overwhelm the desire for
...This is what bodes ill for the survival of Iraq. "Security and justice for the individual are weak". There's a gross understatement. Of course, what does McCaffrey mean by "justice"? He works in a "social sciences" department at West Point, after all. Probably some variant of "social justice". You know, welfare, etc. Yes... Note that his examples of "justice" aren't real individual rights, like life, liberty, property rights, etc, but "medical care", "clean water", food, and "a roof". Give me a break. This guy is a wannabe Norman Rockwell wailing about Roosevelt's "four freedoms".
There is widespread disbelief that the Iraqi government can bring the country
... well, over here, too.
The people (and in particular the women) are sick of the chaotic violence and
want an end to the unpredictable violence and the dislocation of the population.
..."in particular the women"?? Maybe this guy is a closet candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. The violence works to our benefit, I suppose. Let's create chaotic violence and immeasurable suffering whereever our foreign policy takes us and who knows how how high we can go? Wait... that is official State Department policy.
The economy is slowly reviving--- although there is massive 50% or more
or under-employment.
...Hell, it's 40% in Saudi Arabia. In that part of the world, that's "full employment".
The electrical system is slowly coming back--- but it is being overwhelmed by
huge increases in demand as air conditioners, TV's, and light industry load the
system. The production and distribution of gasoline is increasing but is
incapable of keeping up with a gigantic increase in private vehicle and truck
...After 5 years, the electrical system is "slowly coming back". There's success for you. But remember, you get to take the credit. You paid for it. The entire Iraqi electrical grid, that is. Keeping in mind that the Iraqi constitution is a socialist / fascist / theocratic democracy, somehow, I don't see their economy ever "keeping up" on its own once we leave.
The Iraqi currency to everyone's astonishment is very stable and more valued
than the weak US dollar.
...Which is just plain weird. Strangely, I was talking to a guy the other week who was thinking of betting a load of his own money on the Iraqi dinar, when it "goes public" in the near future. (It currently isn't traded on the currency exchanges.) Part of the U.S. Government plan to fund their growing Iraqi economy, no doubt. He was just an average guy I was talking to, so you can bet there's a lot of other people out there thinking of the same thing. When cab drivers start giving investment advice, it's time to get out of the market.
The agricultural system is under-resourced and poorly managed---it potentially
could feed the population and again become a source of export currency earnings.
...Somehow I wouldn't bet on it. Under-resourced, poorly managed and under an inept government? I'd rather bet on a Soviet 5-year plan.

Now we come to the sunshine-up-your-butt section of the memo.
[U.S.] combat forces have become the most effective counter-insurgency (and
forensic police investigative service) in history. LTG Ray Odierno the MNC-I
Commander and his senior commanders have gotten out of their fixed bases and
operate at platoon level in concert with small elements of the Iraqi Army and
...Which sounds great. I have no sarcasm to add. The U.S. military is the best military on the planet, bar none, and I approve of the "Patton"-like involvement of senior brass getting off their keesters to see what's going on in the field, but...
Their aggressive tactics combined with simply brilliant use of the newly
energized Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT's -- Superb State Department
leadership and participation) for economic development have dramatically changed
the tone of the war.
...Ie, massive welfare, paid for by you-know-who. McCaffrey, if you remember his drug-fighting days, is something of a statist at heart. And with his schooling in International Relations, you will soon see that he *loves* the State Department.
US Forces have now unilaterally constituted some 60,000+ armed "Iraqi Concerned
Local Citizen Groups" to the consternation of the Maliki Government. These CLC
Groups have added immeasurably to the security of the local populations -- as
well as giving a paycheck to unemployed males to support their families.
...In other words (like I said previously) the U.S. military is the defacto government over there.
The US battalion and brigade commanders have grown up in combat with near
continuous operations in the past 20 years in the Balkans, Desert Storm,
Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of the Army combat forces are now beginning their 4th round of year+ combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Many of the Marine units are now on their 5th tour of seven month combat
deployments. The troops and their leaders are simply fearless---despite 34,000
US killed and wounded
...Gives you some idea of the cost. We're sitting right now at over 3800 dead (not counting civilians and private contractors and soldiers in Afghanistan), so that leaves over 30,000 wounded. Explains all those veterans I keep seeing on plane flights who are missing legs, arms, etc. But whatever else I say here, I do respect the hell out of them.
The US company and battalion commanders now operate as the de facto low-level
government of the Iraqi state
-- schools, health, roads, police, education,
...As I said, the "democratically elected government of Iraq" is a joke. What's working in Iraq is the extent to which we act like an occupation army, like in Japan after WWII. But Bush's 21st century international welfare program and the "democratically elected" Iraqi constitution ain't doing it.
The Iraqis tend to defer to US company and battalion commanders based on their
respect for their counterparts' energy, integrity, and the assurance of some
level of security.
No surprise they defer to an occupying force, even one that our government pretends isn't occupying.
These US combat units have enormous discretion to use CRP Funds to jump start
local urban and rural economic and social reconstruction. They are rapidly
mentoring and empowering local Iraqi civilian and police leadership.
..."jump start", ie, the military "peace corp" in action, doling out our bucks. Now, why again did the Japanese occupation work so well? We gave them law and order, we mandated their constitution, we kept the peace, and the people picked themselves up and built a world-class economy -- without any welfare.
Direct intelligence cooperation has sky-rocketed. The civilian population
provides, by name, identification of criminal leadership. They point out IED's.
They directly interactwith US forces at low level in much of the country. (There
are still 3000+ attacks on US Forces each month -- this is still a Civil War.)
...ties into that earlier comment about how everyone over there is sick to death of getting killed, but undermines his previous assessment of the "dramatically reduced levels of violence". Remember, it's a relative thing.
The Sunnis Arabs have stopped seeing the US as the enemy and are now cooperating
to eliminate AQI -- and to position themselves for the next phase of the Civil
War when the US Forces withdraw.
...that "next phase" part is rich. When we withdraw, this place is going to collapse into utter chaos unless these people learn to stand on their own two left feet. How do they do that with a completely dysfunctional socialist government that protects no rights?
...Mr. Sadr lost great credibility when his forces violently intervened in the
Holy City of Najaf --- and were videoed on national TV and throughout the Arab
world carrying out criminal acts against the pilgrims and protectors of the Shia
...just a setup for his punch line:
Sadr himself is an enigma. He is not a puppet of the Iranians and may lack their
real support. His command and control of his own forces appears weak. He
personally lacks the theological gravitas of a true Shia Islamic scholar like
the venerable Sistani.
"Venerable"? I guess McCaffrey finds him so.
He may be personally fearful of being killed or captured by ISF special
operations forces if he is visibly leading inside Iraq -- hence his frequent
absences to Iran at the sufferance of that government.
...This is the first I've heard Sadr is no puppet of the Iranians, though somewhat believable from many accounts that picture him as nothing but an opportunistic thug --- except for his "frequent absences to Iran". But McCaffrey is contradicting himself and clearly rationalizing his assessment of this "non-puppet". I mean, "hence his absences to Iran". Give me a break.
There is no clear emerging nation-wide Shia leadership for their 60% of the
Iraqi population. It is difficult to separate either Shia or Sunni political
factions from Mafia criminal elements -- with a primary focus on looting the
government financial system and oil wealth of the nation.
...But, as he said, the economy is looking up. Remember, it's a relative thing. If you are seeing by the light of a campfire, a single lightbulb looks good.
In many cases neighborhoods are dominated by gangs of armed thugs who loosely
legitimize their arbitrary violence by implying allegiance to a higher level
...I think Al Qaeda does this, too -- they're higher militia is God. Now recall that "next phase" part, where we leave and the Iraqi's stand on their own:
The Iraqi justice system --- courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police
investigators, jails for pre-trial confinement, prisons for sentences, integrity
of public institutions --- does not yet exist.
...You can see how the "next phase" will work itself out when we depart. *If* we depart, that is. More on that shortly.
Vengeance is the only operative law of the land. The situation is starting
to change. The Iraqi Police will be in charge of most neighborhoods by the
end of next year.
...I'm looking forward to the neighborhood watch program. Find me a real estate agent. But maybe a better bet is to the north:
The Kurds are a successful separate autonomous state---with a functioning and
rapidly growing economy, a strong military (both existing Pesh Merga Forces and
nominally Iraqi-Kurdish Army divisions), a free press, relative security,
significant foreign investment, and a growing tourist industry which serves as a
neutral and safe meeting place for separated and terrified Sunni and Shia Arab
families from the south. There are Five Star hotels, airline connections to
Europe, a functioning telephone system, strong trade relations with Syria,
enormous mutually beneficial trade relations with Turkey, religious tolerance, a
functional justice system, and an apparently enduring cease-fire between the
traditional Kurdish warring factions.
...if you can believe it. Haven't been to Club Kurd myself, but I'll take his word that there is a ray of hope here. That is, until
...The war-after-next will be the war of the Iraqi Arabs against the Kurds ---
when Mosul as well as Kirkuk and its giant oil basin (and an even greater
Kurdish claimed buffer zone to the south) is finally and inevitably absorbed
(IAW the existing Constitution) by the nascent Kurdish state. other words, all the cutthroats and thieves to the south want what the Kurd's got.
The only real solution to this dread inevitability is patient US diplomacy to
continually defer the fateful Kurdish decision ad infinitum.
Patient US diplomacy is likely to work here as well as it does anywhere else we apply it. That is, almost not at all.

Okay, now we get to some really scary stuff. What does the U.S. do next, he asks?
The Iraqis are the key variable. The center of our military effort must be the creation of well-equipped, trained, and adequately supported Iraqi Police and Army Forces with an operational Air Force and Navy.
Variables funded by yours truly. Of course if that's ALL we did, and deep-sixed the peace corp mission, I'd have a shred of sympathy. But wait -- then there's that awful, dysfunctionally useless democratic socialist theocractic government these Iraqi forces will be securing. Which, after we leave, will collapse, and god knows what will take over.
We have rapidly decreasing political leverage on the Iraqi factional leadership.
Ie, none at all. Our only leverage is the power of a 500 pound bomb.
It is evident that the American people have no continued political commitment to
solving the Iraqi Civil War.
Through massive welfare handouts by our government and the devaluation of our currency, among the many side effects. The cost of the Iraq war, by the way, is now $450 billion and counting. (Google "iraq war cost". Plenty of sites.) Probably understated, too. I like this comment from
The US budget for Iraq in FY 2006 comes to $3,749/Iraqi. This is more than
double their per person GDP. It's like spending $91,000 per person in the US.
Why not just bribe the whole country?
The same thought had occurred to me a few years ago. But back to LTG McCaffrey:
The US Armed Forces cannot for much longer impose an internal skeleton of
governance and security on 27 million warring people.
...Christ, it's a lot worse than I thought. The entire 27 million are warring, not counting the 1 in 6 who left Dodge. Whether you war or skip town, it has something to do with that "independence" thing. You've got to be it to have it.
The US must achieve our real political objectives to withdraw most US combat
forces in the coming 36 months, leaving in place:
1st: A stable Iraqi government.
2nd: A strong and responsive Iraqi security force.
3rd: A functioning economy.
4th: Some form of accountable, law-based government.
5th: A government with active diplomatic and security ties to its six neighboring states.
No argument on 1 and 2, apart from having to pay for it. Number 3 would be nice, but It's Not My Problem. Let them eat cake. By baking their own. Number 4 would also be nice, if I get to say what kind of government, but that doesn't seem to be an option presented me.
Number 5 is, pure and simple, a joke, so let's move on to this next interesting section of the unofficial report:

An active counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq could probably
succeed in the coming decade with twenty-five US Brigade Combat Teams.
(Afghanistan probably needs two more US combat brigades for a total of four in
the coming 15 year campaign to create an operational state --- given more robust
NATO Forces and ROE). We can probably sustain a force in Iraq indefinitely
(given adequate funding) of some 10+ brigades. However, the US Army is starting
to unravel.

You got that? He's talking about the next decade, in Iraq, and 15 years in Afghanistan. How's that working for us? Even LTG McCaffrey says our Army is "unraveling".
Our recruiting campaign is bringing into the Army thousands of new soldiers
(perhaps 10% of the annual input) who should not be in uniform.
records, drug use, moral waivers, non-high school graduates, pregnant from Basic
Training and therefore non-deployable, lowest mental category, etc.)
Now you know why some of our soldiers are charged with murders of Iraqis, etc. On the other side of the quality equation,
We are losing our combat experienced mid-career NCOs and Captains at an
excessive rate.
(ROTC DMG's, West Pointers, Officers with engineering and
business degrees, etc.) Their morale is high, they are proud of their service,
they have enormous personal courage---however, they see a nation of 300 million
people with only an under resourced Armed Forces at war. The US Army at 400,000 troops is too small to carry out the current military strategy.
No mystery here. No question Bush is keeping the Army too small if you're fighting 15 years of wars all over the place.
The National Guard and Reserves are too small, are inadequately resourced, their
equipment is broken or deployed, they are beginning their second involuntary
combat deployments, and they did not sign up to be a regular war-fighting force.
They have done a superb job in combat but are now in peril of not being ready
for serious homeland security missions or deployment to a major shooting war
such as Korea.
Generally, I agree. Why they hell are we using Guard and Reserves so much? Cause Bush could never have got the support to double the size of the Army to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, once he defeated them.
The modernization of our high technology US Air Force and Navy is imperiled by
inadequate Congressional support
. Support has focused primarily on the ground
war and homeland security with $400 Billion+. We are digging a strategic hole
for the US as we mono-focus on counter-insurgency capabilities --- while China
inevitably emerges in the coming 15 years as a global military power.
Mono-focusing personally, I can tell you that a *lot* of military R&D has gone by the way-side to fund more prosaic things like protecting troops from IEDs. Which is good, if you're in a war, but we're jeopardizing our military for other threats at the same time. That's what you get with a 15-year (or 100-year) war that costs a half-trillion (or more) dollars. Everything gets drained and sacrificed. Hell, half the Army's equipment has been worn out or already outright given to build the Iraqi "security force" as we speak.

Okay, I know this short note seems endless, but now my buddy addresses the touch-feely stuff. It gets really weird. If you can stomach it, read the whole thing:
The leadership of Secretary Bob Gates in DOD has produced a dramatic transformation of our national security effort which under the Rumsfeld leadership was characterized by: a failing under-resourced counter-insurgency strategy; illegal DOD orders on the abuse of human rights; disrespect for the media and the Congress and the other departments of government; massive self-denial on wartime intelligence; and an internal civilian-imposed integrity problem in the Armed Forces--- that punished candor, de-centralized operations, and commanders initiative.
Rumsfeld can surely be criticized, but McCaffrey's love affair with Gates, who to every account I've ever read, is the consummate brown-nosing yes-man without an ounce of talent, is bizarre.
Admiral Mullen as CJCS and Admiral Fallon as CENTCOM Commander bring hardnosed realism and integrity of decision-making to an open and collaborative process which re-emerged as Mr. Rumsfeld left office. (Mr. Rumsfeld was an American patriot, of great personal talent, energy, experience, bureaucratic cleverness, and charisma---who operated with personal arrogance, intimidation and disrespect for the military, lack of forthright candor, avoidance of personal
responsibility, and fundamental bad judgment.)
Revenge is sweet, I guess. Poor Rummy.
Secretary Gates has turned the situation around with little drama in a
remarkable display of wisdom, integrity, and effective senior leadership of a
very complex and powerful organization. General Petraeus now has the complete
latitude and trust in his own Departmental senior civilian leadership to have
successfully changed the command climate in the combat force in Iraq. His
commanders now are empowered to act in concert with strategic guidance. They can
frankly level with the media and external visitors. I heard this from many
senior leaders -- from three star General to Captain Company commanders.
Birds sing, rainbows come out, moral fissures close... Healing them in the Armed Forces means essentially, to him, sucking up big-time to the guys in office right now, and trashing the hell out of the guys out of office who they don't like. You can see how McCaffrey got to three stars and why his "private" memo is circulating widely. Fishing for that new job, I suspect. With hand grenades.
It is too late to decide on the Iraqi exit strategy with the current Administration.
Well, that didn't take long. He's an equal opportunity kiss-ass. This administration, that administration, any administration, they're all fine with him. Just give him a chance.
However, the Secretary of Defense and CENTCOM can set the next Administration up for success by getting down to 12 + Brigade Combat teams before January of 2009---and by massively resourcing the creation of an adequate Iraqi Security Force.
...A man who knows what to do! With enough money he'll massively resource the creation, enable the Second Coming (of what I'm not sure), and achieve who knows what other heavenly outcomes. All he needs is that job offer.
We also need to make the case to Congress that significant US financial
resources are needed to get the Iraqi economy going. ($3 billion per year for
five years.) The nationbuilding process is the key to a successful US Military
withdrawal---and will save enormous money and grief in the long run to avoid a
failed Iraqi state.
Give me a break. $3B a year? Not in my lifetime. From that "Zfacts" webpage (which I neither endorse nor attest to the accuracy thereof):
...The Pentagon's estimate of their monthly "burn rate" is about $6.8 B/month
now, but it excludes funds for military equipment etc.
Sounds like we're running more like $100B/year, which I've read from other sources.

Now we get to some more major-league sucking up:
Clearly we must continue the current sensible approach by Secretary of State
Rice to open dialog with Syria, Turkey, and the Iranians --- and to focus Arab
attention with Saudi leadership on a US diplomatic offensive to mitigate the
confrontation between Israel and the Arab states. We must also build a coalition
to mitigate the dangers of a nuclear armed Iran.
Yeah, how's that working for us? You can see the consequences of promoting generals who rise through the ranks via advanced degrees in left-wing dominated schools of international relations. Well, maybe I'm being too hard on him. I don't know that it was his international relations schooling that got him the stars. But it apparently got him an influential job at West Point.
The dysfunctional central government of Iraq, the warring Shia/Sunni/Kurdish
factions, and the unworkable Iraqi constitution will only be put right by the
Iraqis in their own time --- and in their own way.
Relativism in action. I'm surprised he didn't quote the "Prime Directive" from the "Star Trek" series. In his own way.
It is entirely credible that a functioning Iraqi state will slowly emerge
from the bottom up -- with a small US military and diplomatic presence holding
together in loose fashion the central government. The US must also hold at bay
Iraq's neighbors from the desperate mischief they might cause that could lead to
all out Civil War with regional involvement.
Well, it's also entirely credible the U.S. will emerge bottom-up from the next nuclear war caused by this sort of mischief. I'd rather not count on something as incredible as McCaffrey's apparent reliance on "hope" as our main instrument of foreign policy.

Monday, December 3, 2007

US Government Certified as Insane

In a bizarre front-page story, the NYTimes reports today that every single agency of the U.S. government has suddenly decided that Iran is *not* developing nuclear weapons, and hasn't even been trying since 2003. Even more amazingly, they do it with "high confidence". Take a look at the attached summary of the National Intelligence Estimate that was linked on the NYTimes. Lot's of boilerplate in the preface to make Noam Chomsky happy about the meaning of the word "is", as well as the meaning of "high confidence", but one key conclusion:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to
international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit
approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic,
and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of
intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for
Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in
other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to
extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to
specify what such a combination might be.

Which suggests to me this is all a gigantic excuse for the administration to avoid attacking Iran and continue "negotiations". Unless it's all an excuse to fool Iran into thinking we *won't* attack (there are currently reports of buildups of our ships and reserves of fuel near Iran), but truthfully, I won't put a plugged nickel into that theory.

U.S. Says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Published: December 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

But the new estimate declares with “high confidence” that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”

The estimate does not say when American intelligence agencies learned that the weapons program had been halted, but a statement issued by Donald Kerr, the principal director of national intelligence, said the document was being made public “since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed.”

Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the estimate states Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.” The administration called new attention to the threat posed by Iran earlier this year when President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.

Yet at the same time officials were airing these dire warnings about the Iranian threat, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency were secretly concluding that Iran’s nuclear weapons work halted years ago and that international pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran was working.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, portrayed the assessment as “directly challenging some of this administration’s alarming rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran.” He said he hoped the administration “appropriately adjusts its rhetoric and policy,” and called for a “a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”
But the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, quickly issued a statement describing the N.I.E. as containing positive news rather than reflecting intelligence mistakes.

“It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” Mr. Hadley said. “It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen. But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem.”

“The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically — without the use of force — as the administration has been trying to do,” Mr. Hadley said.

The new report comes out just over five years after a deeply flawed N.I.E. concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program — an estimate that led to congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, although most of the report’s conclusions turned out to be wrong.

Intelligence officials said that the specter of the botched 2002 N.I.E. hung over their deliberations over the Iran assessment, leading them to treat the document with particular caution.

“We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” said one senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.