The ONLY Absolutely Correct Piece of Intelligence on Iran

Date January 1, 2008

The recent announcement by the National Intelligence Estimate re: the Iranian’s plans (or lack thereof) to build nuclear weapons became, well, predictably partisan and laughable. The left called Bush a liar (or at best incompetent) and demanded his impeachment — again. The right backed Bush’s insistence that Iran might someday build a nuclear bomb, since it once had a program. A few reasonable voices pointed out that the Iranians stopped their program in 2003, perhaps due to the international pressure they were feeling at the time (proving the efficacy of such efforts). Apparently, 2 of the more than dozen US intelligence agencies abstained from endorsing the report, thus undermining the certainty that the information was probably true.

Then there were more amusing stories about how the timing and bluntness of the report were payback against Bush from the intelligence agencies for the humiliation they suffered for their faulty assertions that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. These I enjoyed the most.

But what do we really know from all of these reports? What can we be sure of? Shall we take a straw poll? Do they have nukes? They don’t? They have them in hiding and are trying to fake us out? They’re wanting to build nuclear power plants for domestic needs despite their oil richesse because they are deeply concerned about global warming? Hmm. I agree.

Learning from Iraq to Understand Iran
What struck me as profound and unnerving once we discovered that Iraq had no WMDs was the ‘true’ rationale behind Saddam Hussein stonewalling for so long against UN inspections: he was bluffing because he thought it would protect him from imminent invasion from the US and/or his neighbors. Wait, wasn’t his possession of WMDs our rationale for invading? What was he thinking? What was he smoking? Or was he just paranoid?

How is it that this line of thinking, what was really going on in his head, never once surfaced in the press or elsewhere as a possible explanation for his behavior? How could we have so deeply misread him? What can we learn from this costly incomprehension on our part?

The same thing that I would conclude from the recent intelligence report on Iran.
[Keep reading, it’ll come…]

A documentary on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara toured movie theaters a few years. It was called “Fog of War” and that’s how I feel now about Iran: in a fog. (I hope you do too, or you are seriously deluding yourself.) There are many fascinating threads to this documentary, but one in particular causes me great concern when I look at the world today. McNamara’s discusses his ‘Lessons of War’ and one of them is “Empathize with your Enemy.” Careful, all you hard-hearted, neoconservative war hawks, ’empathize’ does not mean ‘sympathize’. For that matter, all you warm and fuzzy, peace-loving, prius driving liberals should also be sure to look it up in the dictionary. Empathize means to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and understand the world from their point of view. Walk in their skin, hear their demons, breath in their culture and national myths, see the rest of the world with their eyes.

We utterly failed at this with Saddam — and for the love of God, we are trapped too many years and too many thousands of deaths from the end of that mistake. We can’t win and we can’t leave, all we can do is to continue to pay the piper with human blood for not seeing the world and our enemies for who they were, for not understanding what drove them to act as they did. Shall we try it again with the Iranians? Dick Cheney appears ready.

The one key conclusion that we can draw with absolute certainty from the recent NIE report is that we don’t understand a damn thing about how the Arab-Muslim world thinks. We see the world as it makes sense to us, we interpret others actions as if we were committing them, we play our game of chess thru the prism of our national interests.

I believe everyone on both sides of the political spectrum should take note, because we won’t be able to either create peace or out-maneuver and effectively exploit without this empathy. We will simply be doomed act in ways that will backfire in our face because we had too little understanding of how the other side would respond. This isn’t about being nice, it’s about acting intelligently and wisely. We haven’t done that in years. How much longer do you think we’ll be able to continue and keep the upper hand?


Shayne Hughes


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