I have been writing for years that the neocons are always wrong about everything and this new NIE basically stating that the Iran threat has been vastly overstated drives that home once more. It would be funny if it weren't so dangerous.
The crux of their argument, going all the way back to their membership in the Scoop Jackson cult is that a vastly weakened America is in grave danger of being taken over by a totalitarian tyrant and that the intelligence agencies are underestimating the threat.
Fareed Zakaria addressed this phenomenon a few years ago in a column in Newsweek:
For decades some conservatives, including many who now wield great influence, have had a tendency to vastly exaggerate the threat posed by tyrannical regimes.
It all started with the now famous "Team B" exercise. During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B--which included Paul Wolfowitz--produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated.
In retrospect, Team B's conclusions were wildly off the mark. Describing the Soviet Union, in 1976, as having “a large and expanding Gross National Product,” it predicted that it would modernize and expand its military at an awesome pace. For example, it predicted that the Backfire bomber "probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984." In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.
The reality was that even the CIA’s own estimates--savaged as too low by Team B--were, in retrospect, gross exaggerations. In 1989, the CIA published an internal review of its threat assessments from 1974 to 1986 and came to the conclusion that every year it had "substantially overestimated" the Soviet threat along all dimensions. For example, in 1975 the CIA forecast that within 10 years the Soviet Union would replace 90 percent of its long-range bombers and missiles. In fact, by 1985, the Soviet Union had been able to replace less than 60 percent of them.
This wasn't the first time politicians exaggerated a threat, of course; the famous "missile gap" in the 1960 race turned out to be more than a tad overstated. but there have been few factions in world history who have been so consistently wrong about every hysterical alarm they've raised.
This one was particularly interesting in light of what came later:
In 1981, after the publication of Clare Sterling's book, "The Terror Network," which argued that global terrorists were actually pawns of the Soviets, leading hard-liners asked the CIA to look into the relationship between Soviets and terrorist organizations. The agency concluded that although there was evidence that the Soviets had assisted groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization with weapons and training, there was no evidence that the Soviets encouraged or approved these groups' terrorist acts. However, hard-liners like Secretary of State Alexander Haig, CIA Chief William Casey and Policy Planning Director Wolfowitz rejected the draft as a naive, exculpatory brief and had the draft retooled to assert that the Soviets were heavily involved in supporting "revolutionary violence worldwide."
Neocon worldview holds that Stalinist-style totalitarianism is behind every threat on the planet and that these Stalinist regimes are so formidable that the US has no choice but to eradicate them by force. They seem to have a psychological tic that prevents them seeing the world in any other terms. If you look at their writings from before 9/11, Islamic terrorism as we now know it to be organized wasn't even on their radar. They were obsessed with the usual panoply of communist and ex-communist countries and with what they terms "rogue states" like Iraq and Iran. A confederation of violent stateless religious fundamentalists didn't interest them in the least, which is why they completely ignored people running around with their hair on fire in the White House when they finally achieved real influence under the Bush administration. And it's why they immediately pushed for an Iraq invasion when the "opportunity" presented itself on 9/11. They didn't even consider how such a move might exacerbate the threat of terrorism because they believe the only worthy threat is that presented by a tyrannical nation state.
All of this is easily explained by their history (although I must admit that a right wing Trotskyist vision of permanent revolution takes on a mind bending hallucinatory twist in light of Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine." It's kind of the ultimate Straussian joke.)
After the invasion of Iraq, when they were once again proved to be wrong about everything, they immediately began pounding the war drums for a campaign against Iran. You'll recall that the pithy little slogan making the rounds was "Anyone can go to Bagdad, real men go to Tehran." Norman Podhoretz, the neocon godfather, made ever more hyperbolic statements about the need to invade and was quite convinced that it was going to happen. This hilarious vignette from TNR's Johan Hariri's expedition into the NRO heart of darkness shows just how sure he was:
Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at totally different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who traveled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America’s power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling gray ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been “an amazing success.” He waves his fist and declaims, “There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria. ….This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It couldn’t have gone better.” He wants more wars, and fast. He is “certain” Bush will bomb Iran, and “thank God” for that.
Buckley is an urbane old reactionary, drunk on doubts. He founded National Review in 1955—when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction—and he has always been skeptical of appeals to ‘the people,’ preferring the eternal top-down certainties of Catholicism. He united with Podhoretz in mutual hatred of Godless Communism, but, slouching into his eighties, he possesses a worldview that is ill-suited for the fight to bring democracy to the Muslim world. He was a ghostly presence on the cruise at first, appearing only briefly to shake a few hands. But now he has emerged, and his is fighting.
“Aren’t you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?” Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him that Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. “No,” Podhoretz replies. “As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War One, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran.” He says he is “heartbroken” by this “rise of defeatism on the right.” He adds, apropos of nothing, “There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we are winning.”
The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn’t he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley “a coward.” His wife nods and says, “Buckley’s an old man,” tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.
(Read the rest of Wolcott's take on how Buckley got himself into that mess for some real chuckles.)
It's a very useful rule of thumb in foreign affairs to simply assume that the neocons are wrong no matter what, because they are always wrong about everything. That is not to say that all conservatives are wrong about everything, and neocons merge with the more traditional hard line hawk faction just often enough that it gets confusing. But if Norman Podhoretz says something, you can pretty much take it to the bank that he's going to be proven an ass. He's well into his 80's and he hasn't been right yet, so I think the evidence is pretty clear that his powers of observation and analysis are unreliable to say the least.
Yesterday , I wrote that the Iran hawks would immediately call into question the motives and conclusions of the intelligence agencies. Well, here they come, via Think Progress:
Rather than modify his views on Iran, Podhoretz — who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 — aired a nasty conspiracy theory yesterday, attacking the authors of the NIE and accusing the intelligence community of deliberately “leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush:”
I must confess to suspecting that the intelligence community, having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view (including as is evident from the 2005 NIE, within the intelligence community itself) that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons. […]
But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations.
And his minions follow.
This was entirely predictable because this is what they have been doing for the past 40 years. When confronted with facts that don't support their embedded worldview that Stalinist regimes are trying to kill us all in our beds, they just say the evidence disproving it is tainted. This has happened over and over again. Why would this be any different?
The real question is why anyone ever takes them seriously about anything.
Update: Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution alerted me to this great nugget about Casey:
“The day after Reagan's inauguration, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, believing that Moscow had tried to assassinate him in Europe where he served as Supreme Allied Commander, linked the Soviet Union to all acts of international terrorism,” wrote Melvin Goodman, then-chief of the CIA’s office for Soviet analysis. “There was no evidence to support such a charge but Casey had read … Claire Sterling's The Terror Network and, like Haig, was convinced that a Soviet conspiracy was behind global terrorism.” [Foreign Policy, Summer 1997]
CIA analysts had a secret reason for doubting Sterling’s theories, however. “Specialists at CIA dismissed the book, knowing that much of it was based on CIA ‘black propaganda,’ anticommunist allegations planted in the European press,” Goodman wrote. “But Casey contemptuously told CIA analysts that he had learned more from Sterling than from all of them.”
That's undoubtedly why so many people think the yellow cake forgeries are the same thing. These people believe what they want to believe.