PAYING THE PRICE….One of the most depressing stories of the weekend was William Broad and David Sanger’s piece in the New York Times about a laptop computer captured last year that shows that Iran is actively trying to figure out how to design and build a nuclear warhead. It’s depressing because a nuclear-armed Iran isn’t exactly a comforting notion to begin with, and doubly depressing because after the Iraq fiasco the Bush administration is having trouble convincing our allies that the laptop isn’t a fake:

“I can fabricate that data,” a senior European diplomat said of the documents. “It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.”

….The Bush administration, seeming to understand the depth of its credibility problem, is only talking about the laptop computer and its contents in secret briefings, more than a dozen so far.

….As a measure of the skepticism the Bush administration faces, officials said the American ambassador to the international atomic agency, Gregory L. Schulte, was urging other countries to consult with his French counterpart. “On Iraq we disagreed, and on Iran we completely agree,” a senior State Department official said. “That gets attention.”

….Without revealing the source of the computer, American intelligence officials insisted that it had not come from any Iranian resistance groups.

This is what it’s come to. A European diplomat talks openly about the possibility that the entire thing is a U.S. fraud. The Bush administration is forced to lean on France to establish its own credibility. And the Chalabi fiasco in Iraq combined with the dubious track record of Iranian resistance groups makes the provenance of the laptop about as iffy as Dan Rather’s National Guard memos.

As recently as five years ago, none of this would have even occurred to anyone. Today it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

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