Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fred Thompson: Iran Still A Threat

Fred's latest commentary at his campaign website is smart, on point, and also provides us with a little historical reminder. Here's 4 key paragraphs that are right smack in the middle of Fred's column.

Let us be clear about who we are dealing with. Iran has long-wanted to be the powerbroker in the Persian Gulf. Other states in the region know this and fear this. Iranian President Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs who run Iran have pledged to “wipe Israel off the map.” We also cannot forget that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and that their support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups, is all about achieving these ends. Iran has been modernizing its military for years, acquiring ballistic missile technology from around the world, and pursuing its nuclear program to facilitate its growing dominance and power. Would a country that is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas really spend billions of dollars just to acquire civilian nuclear power plants for electricity generation?

As a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I can tell you that the intelligence business is extremely difficult. Complicating this challenge is our long-standing inability to secure credible intelligence about Iran, North Korea and other “hard targets”. The international community had inspectors in Iraq for years prior to 2003, and U.S. intelligence still got it wrong. ln 2005, the bipartisan Robb-Silberman Commission report underscored that “across the board, the Intelligence Community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world’s most dangerous actors.” My experience as the recent Chairman of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board confirmed this assessment.

Let’s also remember that NIEs are snapshots. As recently as 2005 the intelligence community said that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons…..despite its international obligations and international pressure.” The new NIE says Iran “halted” its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 in response to “increasing international scrutiny and pressure.” Both are “high confidence” conclusions; however, both can’t be right.

Even if the current estimate is accurate, too many people are too focused now on the assessment that Iran has “halted” its nuclear program. This is good news if indeed it has, but “halted” is much different than “abandoned.” We were told by the Clinton Administration in 1994 that the North Koreans had halted their nuclear program, and look what happened there. And other questions should concern us as well: is this an Iranian “disinformation” program; has their military program has gone too “deep” for us to detect it; or maybe they “halted” their program simply because they lacked the key ingredient—enriched uranium—that their increasingly successful civilian program is now producing.

It is good news, but Fred is right..."halted" is different from "abandoned". We can't simply throw up our hands and say "Oops, sorry, our mistake...we thought you were still trying to acquire nukes. Have a nice day, President Ahmadinejad. We'll be on our way." Remember, this is the same government that has provided IEDs that have killed American soldiers.

So, score one for global safety and security if Iran's nuclear weapons program has been halted. However, I have a feeling this game is far from over, because Ahmadinejad still has ambitions of Iranian dominance over the Middle East.

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