ATTACKING THE NIE….Conservatives, of course, are mounting a ferocious counterattack against Monday’s NIE, which concluded that Iran halted its nuclear bomb program back in 2003. The lines of attack are varied, but mostly they boil down to berating the intelligence community as a bunch of effete, naive, obtuse, politically cowardly desk jockeys who have it in for President Bush and are willing to say and do anything to bring him down a peg.

Whatever. Now, though, the LA Times reports that liberals are joining in:

[Ray] Takeyh, who has long argued for engaging Iran in diplomacy, said the intelligence report was too easy on Tehran by not objecting to the uranium enrichment program, which many Western governments have alleged is meant to build the knowledge base to eventually develop nuclear weapons. The American intelligence agencies, in effect, accepted Iran’s contention that the enrichment is for peaceful purposes, Takeyh said.

….Gary Samore, who was a top arms control official in the Clinton White House, agreed that the National Intelligence Estimate did not adequately emphasize Iran’s continuing efforts to enrich uranium and build missiles.

“The halting of the weaponization program in 2003 is less important from a proliferation standpoint than resumption of the enrichment program in 2006,” said Samore, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

This is genuinely peculiar. I went back and reread the NIE just to make sure, but it addresses all this stuff. Here are some quotes:

  • “Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006….Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz.”

  • “Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.”

  • “We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult”

  • “Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications — some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.”

It’s not the intelligence community’s job to “object” to the Iranian program, it’s their job to evaluate factual evidence. And the entire declassified portion of the NIE was less than a thousand words long. Nothing got more than a few sentences of emphasis.

You can decide for yourself whether you believe the NIE, but its actual conclusions are straightforward: Iran wants a nuclear bomb; it has the scientific capability to produce a nuclear bomb; it’s continuing to enrich uranium; and it might decide to restart its bomb program in the future. But for now, based (apparently) on new intelligence collected earlier this year, the program is halted and there’s evidence that international pressure and sanctions might keep it that way.