from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Playing Down the Iranian Threat

February 17, 2012

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The February 16 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, General Ron Burgess, looks like an effort to play down the threat from Iran. I analyze their testimony in a short article in the Weekly Standard.

Here is an excerpt:

Gen. Burgess, for example, stated this: “Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, at least temporarily and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region if it is attacked. Iran could also attempt to employ terrorists surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.” How is it possible to say that Iran is “unlikely” to “intentionally provoke” a conflict with the United States if it is willing to undertake an act of terrorism in our capital?

The tougher assessments almost always came from the witnesses only when they were pushed and pulled by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. What other conclusion is possible when, as noted, some of our own key intelligence officials appear less balanced and concerned in characterizing the Iranian nuclear program than the IAEA?

It’s a matter of emphasis, of course: One can stress the fact that we can’t read the supreme leader’s mind and that Iran can always slow down its nuclear program, as it apparently did in 2003, or one can stress that Iran would not be doing what it is doing unless it had nuclear weapons as the obvious goal. One can try to be factual, in the way the November IAEA report is, or use words that diminish the threat we face. The mystery that emerges from the hearing is not what Iran is up to but what the witnesses were doing.

The article can be found here.