October 01, 2009

Fools for Empire (II)

Part I: Introduction: Two Scenes from My Nightmares

The Inescapable Pervasiveness of the Ruling Class Paradigm

At the conclusion of the previous essay, I indicated that I would offer some observations about the ad hominem fallacy. More specifically, I will indicate what the fallacy is and how it operates, and why it is not implicated by my arguments concerning the non-threatening nature of Iran's nuclear program. I'll address those questions in the near future in a separate essay. Now, however, it is necessary to address certain more significant, foundational issues. If you have not read yet Part I, I strongly recommend you do so before proceeding; in that article, I offer some identifications about the actual nature and purpose of "intelligence" that are necessary to what follows.

Because most of the public, as well as almost all political leaders and political commentators, rely on the alleged accuracy of intelligence assessments (with the exceptions discussed below), we must initially set out with care precisely what the facts are underlying this most recent episode of Iran demonization. This proves to be a very simple matter, for those facts are few in number and entirely unexciting in nature (unexciting, that is, if one wishes to inflame the war-lust of the American establishment).

Chris Floyd provides this concise summary:
Iran was building a new nuclear enrichment facility, as it is allowed to do by international treaty. The United States and several other Western countries knew about the facility for years. The facility, which is still months away from completion, is not designed to enrich uranium to weapons grade. Iran is not required to inform the IAEA about any new enrichment plant until six months before the plant goes into operation. There is some quibbling about a codicil that was meant to require Iran to give extra early notice; but this was never ratified by the Iranian legislature, so Iran is in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty which it signed and ratified years ago. (As opposed to such already nuclear armed American allies as India and Israel.) The facility was not secret, it can't build bombs, it is not even finished, and it has no nuclear material in it.
Floyd then offers this terse comment: "Er, that's it." Indeed, that is the entirety of the facts behind all the warmongering. As I said, entirely unexciting. Dull and bland, one might say.

Note one critical aspect of Floyd's summary. Do you see any mention of intelligence reports or of assessments by intelligence agencies? No, you don't. Floyd's summary derives from a report by Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com. Read that report, as well. The same is true of Ditz's article: not a single mention of intelligence reports or assessments. Ditz's own links go to media reports and other public records to which all of us have access.

All of the facts concerning Iran's activities lie in plain sight in the public domain. Here's an additional fact: the same is true of the overwhelming majority of information that is allegedly so vital to intelligence work. That is not my contention; it is the observation of Ray McGovern, who worked for the CIA as an analyst. Over two years ago, I wrote an article titled: "You, Too, Can and Should Be an 'Intelligence Analyst.'" My opening paragraph explained that the title was intended to be gravely serious:
My title is not intended to be at all humorous. It is meant to convey a critically important truth, one that most Americans, almost all politicians, and the overwhelming majority of political commentators (bloggers and otherwise) still do not understand to this day.
I then excerpted an article by McGovern. Here is the critical passage:
The craft of CIA analysis was designed to be an all-source operation, meaning that we analysts were responsible - and held accountable - for assimilating information from all sources and coming to judgments on what it all meant. We used data of various kinds, from the most sophisticated technical collection platforms, to spies, to - not least - open media.

Here I must reveal a trade secret and risk puncturing the mystique of intelligence analysis. Generally speaking, 80 percent of the information one needs to form judgments on key intelligence targets or issues is available in open media. It helps to have been trained - as my contemporaries and I had the good fortune to be trained - by past masters of the discipline of media analysis, which began in a structured way in targeting Japanese and German media in the 1940s. But, truth be told, anyone with a high school education can do it. It is not rocket science.
Just as the actual nature and purposes of intelligence work are understood by almost no one, so, too, this aspect of the source of most of the information relied upon by intelligence personnel is almost completely overlooked.

I underscored this unappreciated fact in "Played for Fools Yet Again," where I discussed the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran:
It deserves emphasis that this latest NIE tells us nothing -- let me repeat that, nothing -- that was not entirely obvious to a reasonably intelligent layperson who followed mainstream media reports about Iran for the last several years. As just one example, see my post, "Iran: The Growing Threat that Isn't," from close to a year ago.
You can thus see that, just as I maintained, you indeed can be an intelligence analyst. I will go further than that: if you are at all concerned with political issues and foreign policy, you must be one. But most people will still claim that the government generally and the intelligence agencies in particular have access to "secret" and "special" information, which means that they, and only they, are capable of making the most critical decisions.

To put it plainly, this is a refusal to grow up and be an adult. In most significant part, this refusal proceeds directly from the deference to authority and to perceived authority figures that is beaten into almost every single child (physically and/or emotionally) from the time he or she is a small infant. (I will soon be addressing this dynamic, particularly as it affects most people's approach to foreign policy and other issues of statecraft, in a separate essay. In the meantime and if the subject interests you, I recommend you read some of my tribalism series, which will be continued soon, and this essay as well, together with the additional articles linked there, which include many other articles based on the work of Alice Miller.)

Barbara Tuchman, in her classic work, The March of Folly, precisely identified this mechanism in a formulation I have often quoted:
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."


The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
To connect Tuchman's argument to my ongoing discussion of the great significance of Alice Miller's work, I will rephrase Tuchman's statement, "This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand...," as follows:
Mommy and Daddy [and usually, especially Daddy] have special, secret knowledge that I can't possibly have or understand, since I'm just a kid. So when it comes to most things, and particularly when really big questions are involved, I have to do what they say. Mommy and Daddy know best. I have to obey them.
Here's some news: you aren't a kid any longer. And Mommy and Daddy, and the intelligence agencies (with extraordinarily rare exceptions, and even they don't matter in the end), don't have "special, secret knowledge" that you can't access. You're an adult, and you can make these judgments as well as anyone else. If you are conscientious and honest, you can make far better judgments. So be an adult, and do it.

If any of you reading this feels insulted by my formulation, you might ask yourself why that is. I've stated facts; if the facts insult you, the error is not mine. I now state the issue in this form because, as attested to by the many essays I've written on these subjects, I've been making certain of these arguments for years. But the wall of resistance to these simple truths erected and diligently maintained by most people is massive and seemingly impregnable. If I anger a few people enough, perhaps they'll begin to question the lies they've unquestioningly accepted for so long.

On the basis of extensive reading on the subject, I have long maintained that, except for rare instances when they somehow stumble on the truth, intelligence agencies are almost always wrong in their judgments. I discussed this issue in detail in, "Played for Fools Yet Again." In that article, I offered a brief excerpt from a valuable piece by Chalmers Johnson, his review of the book Legacy of Ashes, about (to use my earlier description) "the decades of failure by the CIA (to say nothing of its covert criminal activities)." For my purposes here, some additional excerpts will be of value:
The American people may not know it but they have some severe problems with one of their official governmental entities, the Central Intelligence Agency. Because of the almost total secrecy surrounding its activities and the lack of cost accounting on how it spends the money covertly appropriated for it within the defense budget, it is impossible for citizens to know what the CIA's approximately 17,000 employees do with, or for, their share of the yearly $44 billion-$48 billion or more spent on "intelligence." This inability to account for anything at the CIA is, however, only one problem with the Agency and hardly the most serious one either.


The historical record is unequivocal. The United States is ham-handed and brutal in conceiving and executing clandestine operations, and it is simply no good at espionage; its operatives never have enough linguistic and cultural knowledge of target countries to recruit spies effectively. The CIA also appears to be one of the most easily penetrated espionage organizations on the planet. From the beginning, it repeatedly lost its assets to double agents.


Over the years, in order to compensate for these serious inadequacies, the CIA turned increasingly to signals intelligence and other technological means of spying like U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and satellites. In 1952, the top leaders of the CIA created the National Security Agency -- an eavesdropping and cryptological unit -- to overcome the Agency's abject failure to place any spies in North Korea during the Korean War. The Agency debacle at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba led a frustrated Pentagon to create its own Defense Intelligence Agency as a check on the military amateurism of the CIA's clandestine service officers.

Still, technological means, whether satellite spying or electronic eavesdropping, will seldom reveal intentions -- and that is the raison d'être of intelligence estimates. As Haviland Smith, who ran operations against the USSR in the 1960s and 1970s, lamented, "The only thing missing is -- we don't have anything on Soviet intentions. And I don't know how you get that. And that's the charter of the clandestine service [emphasis in original, pp. 360-61])."

The actual intelligence collected was just as problematic. On the most important annual intelligence estimate throughout the Cold War -- that of the Soviet order of battle -- the CIA invariably overstated its size and menace. Then, to add insult to injury, under George H. W. Bush's tenure as DCI (1976-77), the agency tore itself apart over ill-informed right-wing claims that it was actually underestimating Soviet military forces. The result was the appointment of "Team B" during the Ford presidency, led by Polish exiles and neoconservative fanatics. It was tasked to "correct" the work of the Office of National Estimates.

"After the Cold War was over," writes Weiner, "the agency put Team B's findings to the test. Every one of them was wrong." [p. 352] But the problem was not simply one of the CIA succumbing to political pressure. It was also structural: "[F]or thirteen years, from Nixon's era to the dying days of the Cold War, every estimate of Soviet strategic nuclear forces overstated [emphasis in original] the rate at which Moscow was modernizing its weaponry." [p. 297]

From 1967 to 1973, I served as an outside consultant to the Office of National Estimates, one of about a dozen specialists brought in to try to overcome the myopia and bureaucratism involved in the writing of these national intelligence estimates. I recall agonized debates over how the mechanical highlighting of worst-case analyses of Soviet weapons was helping to promote the arms race. Some senior intelligence analysts tried to resist the pressures of the Air Force and the military-industrial complex. Nonetheless, the late John Huizenga, an erudite intelligence analyst who headed the Office of National Estimates from 1971 until the wholesale purge of the Agency by DCI James Schlesinger in 1973, bluntly said to the CIA's historians:
"In retrospect.... I really do not believe that an intelligence organization in this government is able to deliver an honest analytical product without facing the risk of political contention. . . . I think that intelligence has had relatively little impact on the policies that we've made over the years. Relatively none. . . . Ideally, what had been supposed was that . . . serious intelligence analysis could.... assist the policy side to reexamine premises, render policymaking more sophisticated, closer to the reality of the world. Those were the large ambitions which I think were never realized."

The CIA has failed badly, and it would be an important step toward a restoration of the checks and balances within our political system simply to abolish it. Some observers argue that this would be an inadequate remedy because what the government now ostentatiously calls the "intelligence community" -- complete with its own website -- is composed of 16 discrete and competitive intelligence organizations ready to step into the CIA's shoes. This, however, is a misunderstanding. Most of the members of the so-called intelligence community are bureaucratic appendages of well-established departments or belong to extremely technical units whose functions have nothing at all to do with either espionage or cloak-and-dagger adventures.

The sixteen entities include the intelligence organizations of each military service -- the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Defense Intelligence Agency -- and reflect inter-service rivalries more than national needs or interests; the departments of Energy, Homeland Security, State, Treasury, and Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as the FBI and the National Security Agency; and the units devoted to satellites and reconnaissance (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office). The only one of these units that could conceivably compete with the CIA is the one that I recommend to replace it -- namely, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Interestingly enough, it had by far the best record of any U.S. intelligence entity in analyzing Iraq under Saddam Hussein and estimating what was likely to happen if we pursued the Bush administration's misconceived scheme of invading his country. Its work was, of course, largely ignored by the Bush-Cheney White House.


Weiner does not cover every single aspect of the record of the CIA, but his book is one of the best possible places for a serious citizen to begin to understand the depths to which our government has sunk. It also brings home the lesson that an incompetent or unscrupulous intelligence agency can be as great a threat to national security as not having one at all.
Permit me to emphasize several of Johnson's points. First is this one: "But the problem was not simply one of the CIA succumbing to political pressure. It was also structural." In other words, while it is undeniably true that the CIA (and other intelligence agencies) will distort judgments in accordance with political demands, the problems are deeper and far more intractable; they arise from the organizations themselves.

Note too Johnson's comment about the military services' intelligence organizations: that they "reflect inter-service rivalries more than national needs or interests." This same problem is reflected in many (if not most, or even all) large organizations made up of linked, interconnecting subsidiary bureaucracies. Turf wars, factional battles and all the rest often supersede all efforts to arrive at judgments that accurately reflect the relevant facts.

As for Johnson's evaluation of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research: this also underscores certain truths I earlier identified. That Bureau may have been correct in the case Johnson cites -- but that didn't matter. Its assessments failed to comport with a policy that had already been decided upon, so they were ignored. Moreover, even those particular assessments were ones that could also have been reached by intelligent, reasonably informed laypeople, as indeed they were. And the most critical point is the one identified by Tuchman:
The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs.
You are as qualified to make major decisions of policy as alleged "experts" in possession of non-existent "secret, special information." In one respect of critical relevance, you are more qualified -- for it is you, along with all other "ordinary" Americans, who will have to pay for those decisions, in blood and treasure.

In another immensely valuable formulation (one I have also previously quoted), Gabriel Kolko (in The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World) summarizes these arguments this way:
[C]ollective illusions have characterized the leaders of most nations since time immemorial. They have substituted their desires, ambitions, and interests for accurate estimates of what may occur from their actions. At best, intelligence organizations gather data of tactical rather than strategic utility. An infrastructure of ambitious people exists to reinforce the leaders' preconceptions, in part because they too are socialized to believe what often proves to be illusion. But bearers of bad tidings are, by and large, unwelcome and prevented from reaching the higher ranks of most political orders. It is extremely difficult for nations to behave rationally, which means accepting the limits of their power, and what is called intelligence has to confront the institutional biases and inhibitions of each social system. Thus deductive, symbolic reactions become much more likely, notwithstanding the immense risks of their being wrong. The US war in Iraq and the geopolitical folly of its larger strategy in the Persian Gulf is but one recent example of it.

It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
I do not maintain that these issues are obvious; I have remarked before that it took me several years of intensive reading and thinking to grasp them as I do now. But the truth of this overall argument is no more "secret" than the allegedly "secret" information upon which the Daddy State relies when it decides to hurl us into the abyss. But the Daddy State desperately wants you to believe that it possesses "special, secret information" which you can never access. In this way, the Daddy State maintains and expands its power, as it commands obedience from subjects who are forever condemned to ignorance on the most momentous questions.

It therefore distresses me considerably when I see that the ruling class paradigm is given voice and further transmitted even by those who also do very valuable work in combatting the crimes of the State. I regret that I came across two such examples where I hoped never to encounter them: at Antiwar.com. Both of the writers involved, Jason Ditz and Justin Raimondo, ceaselessly work against the depredations of the corporatist-militarist state, and I greatly value much of their work. I have cited their articles in the past, and I'm sure I will do so again, and not infrequently. While I'm sorry that I must offer some critical words on this occasion, I do so both because of the overriding importance of these issues, and because this is an unfortunately perfect demonstration of how easy it is to slip into the frame of reference and form of argumentation that the ruling class requires to maintain its deathly grip on all of us, as it ceaselessly threatens the rest of the world.

Keep in mind the Jason Ditz article referenced at the beginning of this article and referenced by Chris Floyd. As I pointed out, Ditz's piece makes no mention at all of intelligence agencies or their assessments. That particular report on the Iran "crisis" relied on sources that are part of the public record, available to all of us. But note this passage in a more recent piece by Ditz:
Today Slashdot, a popular news and current affairs discussion site, has run a discussion entitled “Iran’s nuclear ambitions” which underscores the tenor of the topic. Slashdot’s readership tends to be pretty politically independent and have above average education, so one would think they’d be more skeptical about the case for war than the average voter.

And there is a pretty even split between pro-war and anti-war positions on the discussion. Lots of grousing about empire. Lots of mentioning Israel. But there is one thing you won’t see, and that’s any serious questioning of whether or not Iran is creating nuclear weapons.

Despite the US intelligence community saying they aren’t,
despite the IAEA saying they have seen no proof that they are, pretty much everyone takes Iran’s “nuclear ambitions” for granted, and are just split over whether or not its worth going to war over.

It’s not hard to imagine why this is. Both the Bush Administration and Obama Administration have cheerfully ignored their own intelligence communities and trumpeted this myth of the threat posed by Iran. If you’re the average person who doesn’t spend all day paying attention to this stuff you’d probably figure if one was lying about it so overtly the other party would call them on it. Not so.
To the same effect is the following from a recent Raimondo column, where the problem begins with the title, "Our Intelligence, and Theirs." In discussing Ron Rosenbaum's anger at "the discredited 2007 NIE on Iran," Raimondo writes:
Bring in the “congressional intelligence committees”! Heads must roll! Someone call 911 – because those shifty-eyed spooks who gave us the NIE [.pdf] knew, knew about this “secret facility” and still they insisted the Iranians had given up their nuclear weapons program in 2003. Has Tehran infiltrated and taken over the CIA?

Well, uh, no. It’s just that, unlike Rosenbaum, the spooks operate in a world where logic rules and what’s required before reaching a conclusion is something we call “evidence.” This is a matter Rosenbaum and the “bomb-bomb-bomb Iran” crowd couldn’t care less about: Iran is evil, the Qom facility is (or was) secret, so what else do we need to know in order to start World War III? Surely not something so pedestrian and wimpy as solid evidence. After all, it’s only lives – many thousands of lives lost to murderous sanctions, as well as the inevitable war to follow – that are at stake.

The mere fact that the CIA issued their NIE – averring “with high confidence” that the Iranians had ceased their previously undisclosed nuclear weapons program “in the fall of 2003″ – with full knowledge of this sinister, secret facility should tell Rosenbaum something: not that our CIA is a front for the Iranian Republican Guard, but that he knows less than they do about what is really going on in Qom. After all, they’ve had years to conduct surveillance and analysis. Is it possible they know more about Qom than Rosenbaum does?
Both Ditz and Raimondo enthusiastically embrace the "intelligence agencies" and "the spooks" as truth-tellers, solely guided by the facts, wherever they may lead. One of Raimondo's formulations is especially astonishing: "the spooks operate in a world where logic rules and what’s required before reaching a conclusion is something we call 'evidence.'” The spooks will save us! Well, certainly not me, but thanks for the thought.

I am forced to admit that I find this absolutely mindboggling. Swept aside are all the issues identified above (and in numerous earlier essays of mine, and in all the books and articles upon which I have relied). Gone is the decades-long history of almost uninterrupted failure and error (and much worse, including heinous criminality) on the part of intelligence agencies, vanished is any recognition of the inherent unreliability of almost all pronouncements offered by the State -- an unreliability which is never stronger than when it comes to issues of preparation for war, the conduct of war, and cleaning up after war, which activities are almost the sole "product" of the United States at present.

As I indicated in my discussion of the same approach utilized by Digby (in "Played for Fools Yet Again," an article which, by the way, was highlighted at Antiwar.com itself when it was first published), I am not unsympathetic to some of the factors in play here. I obviously share the commitment of Ditz and Raimondo, and of Antiwar.com generally, to resisting the perhaps inevitable drive to military confrontation with Iran, and I am grateful for their unstinting efforts on that front. To maintain such resistance in the face of the corporatist-militarist State and its dedicated establishment media is a very lonely business; encouragement for such resistance is scant to non-existent. In such circumstances, it is very tempting to seek support wherever one may find it.

But when one is led to grant legitimacy and, very disturbingly, a supposed devotion to the truth to intelligence work, the temptation must be avoided. In addition to the insurmountable objection that this concession is contradicted by a massive historical record and by the unavoidable truths of how governments operate, consider just a few of the additional problems that inhere to this approach. Once you've argued that the intelligence agencies are accurate and truthful, what will you say when the intelligence agencies proclaim: "Our earlier assessments are no longer operative. Our best judgment now is that Iran is on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons, and that Iran is likely to use them. A military attack is therefore an absolute necessity"? It is far from difficult to imagine this happening; consult Johnson, Kolko and other writers for examples from history.

Toward the end of his column, Raimondo anticipates this problem and provides his own answer:
Never mind the facts: they can be spun this way and that. Our own intelligence community, with America’s interests in mind, may hold out for quite a while, but, in the end – just like last time – they’ll be inundated by their rivals among our allies, principally (but not limited to) the Israelis, who are quite good at feeding disinformation into the intelligence pipeline without leaving too many fingerprints. That’s one of the disadvantages of being an empire: we are held hostage by our own satraps, who depend on us for their very survival – and are therefore passionately committed to shaping our decisions any way they can.
In other words: when the intelligence community happens to agree with the policy Raimondo himself prefers (as I do, too), it is telling the truth and nothing but the truth. But when the intelligence community offers judgments that support the case for military confrontation, its assessment is determined by political pressure.

This is exactly the argument offered by Larry Johnson (as discussed in Part I), and by Ron Rosenbaum (as Raimondo discusses), with the polarities reversed: Johnson, Rosenbaum and many other advocates of aggressive interventionism contend that when the intelligence agencies state that Iran represents no threat whatsoever, they do so as the result of improper political pressure, but when the intelligence agencies judge that Iran constitutes a genuine threat, and perhaps a very dire one, they're telling the truth and nothing but.

Arguments in the form, "When you agree with me, you're telling the truth, and when you don't, you're lying," are singularly unconvincing. Moreover, this approach with regard to the intelligence community ignores the much more fundamental problems I've already identified. There is a further difficulty. Antiwar.com generally is properly deeply skeptical of government in general, and particularly skeptical of government when it comes to questions of foreign policy. Such skepticism is more than justified given the tendency inherent in any State to do anything to maintain and increase its own power, including lying on a monumental scale, and it is never more true than when the ruling class determines that war is necessary to its drive toward still greater power and wealth. (See "The American Way of Doing Business" for some notable examples of the U.S. government engaging in staggering lies in the service of death and destruction.) Yet somehow, through a mysterious, never identified alchemical process, it just happens that the intelligence agencies are fully accurate and solely devoted to the truth at this particular moment and on this particular question. They may almost never have been correct before and may never be correct again, but somehow they're right this time. How does that happen exactly? We're never told.

(I can think of one intriguing argument which might support such a contention, and it would run something like this: The corporatist-militarist State, such as the United States at present, is forever looking for new wars and new military ventures. Given this fact, and given the further fact that almost all members of the national political establishment are beholden to the military-industrial-congressional complex to one degree or another, all pressures would tend to lead to a result which would proclaim Iran to be a serious threat. That the intelligence agencies do not reach that conclusion, and that they do not despite the almost certain and unimaginable pressures brought to bear to dictate a very different conclusion, tend to increase the likelihood that they are telling the truth in this case.

As I say, I find that intriguing. However, I haven't seen anyone actually make that argument, certainly not in those explicit terms. And I would even find that argument somewhat persuasive, but for one insoluble problem: it's not susceptible to proof.)

For all these reasons, I wrote the following at the conclusion of "Played for Fools Yet Again":
With very rare exceptions, the intelligence agencies always get it wrong. That they got it wrong with Iraq, and possibly with Iran (either earlier, or now, or both) is not news: that is what they do.


In the most critical sense, I don't care about this latest assessment, just as I did not care about the earlier ones, about Iran or on any other subject at all -- for in addition to the rather important fact that such assessments are invariably wrong, I recognize that policy decisions are made on different grounds altogether. Moreover, in terms of U.S. foreign policy, I don't care if Iran does get nuclear weapons. As I have noted before, I do not view it as a remotely good thing that any nation has nuclear weapons, including the U.S. -- and I remind you once again that it is only the U.S. that has used them, when it did not have any legitimate reason for doing so and when it lied about every aspect of its actions and their consequences. But in terms of an Iran with nuclear weapons five or ten years in the future: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" But the bipartisan commitment to American world hegemony has not altered in the slightest degree. The criminal catastrophe of Iraq is irrelevant to our ruling class, and it has not caused them to alter any of their most crucial goals.


Now, with the news of the latest NIE about Iran, many people breathe sighs of relief, believing the danger has lessened. It has not, except perhaps for a tragically brief moment. Their relief, even in the smallest degree, reveals their inability and/or refusal to understand the lethal forces in play, and their inability and/or refusal to comprehend that those dangers continue on their murderous and bloody path.
This is why I maintain that you must always argue the policy, and that you must never argue about the intelligence. To the extent you argue the intelligence, you are doing the ruling class's bidding. They can change the intelligence quickly enough when they think doing so is necessary, as they have done in the past and as they will again. If you grant the legitimacy and accuracy of intelligence assessments on even one occasion, and if you utilize those assessments in making your own arguments, you're making your own work that much harder, and your future arguments will be far less convincing than they would be otherwise.

In all of the reading I've done about this latest Iran "crisis," I have seen only a very few writers address the overriding policy question: What should the United States do if and when Iran does have nuclear weapons? I often get the sense that many writers, even those who have debunked the recent warmongering in detail, dread this question as no other. My own answer is clear, and I have stated it repeatedly: in terms of military action, and with regard to sanctions ("crippling," as so fervently desired by the increasingly loathsome Obama administration, or otherwise), nothing. As I have also often said, this does not mean that the United States should do nothing overall. It should begin by granting full diplomatic recognition to Iran, and immediately make possible full and open trade with that nation (genuinely open trade, not trade as dictated by and for the benefit of those multinational corporations so enmeshed in government and which so successfully dictate policy on this and every other question, both foreign and domestic).

In the same way, I don't care about intelligence assessments concerning Iran or any other subject under the sun. They're almost always wrong, and they don't matter a damn in terms of the policy argument. The policy is what matters; ultimately, it is all that matters.

I have still more to say about this latest episode, and the lessons it contains. Until next time.