Monday, January 07, 2008
I need you to see through the abstract:

It's a cliche now. In spring 2002, Vice President Cheney travelled to the Middle East to sell the coming Iraq war to regional allies. In mid-2006, Cheney reprised his Expedia itinerary, only this time to sell an Iran war. Now, President Bush is making his first trip to the region, ostensibly concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also to pitch the enduring wisdom of an Iran wa-- er, strategy aimed at containment.

Tons of foreign-policy writers have written that the NIE, which described a shuttered Iranian nuclear program, ended the possibility of an attack on Iran. But the president doesn't see it that way. "The [National Intelligence Estimate] in no way lessens that threat, but in fact clarifies the threat," he told Yedioth Ahronot. The Bush administration: same as it ever was.

But here's the really interesting part:

In an interview yesterday, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa cited recent overtures between Iran and Arab countries and said Arab nations are exercising a prerogative to set their own course on Iran. "As long as they have no nuclear program . . . why should we isolate Iran? Why punish Iran, now?" he asked.

Good question. Maybe Amr Moussa is speaking from a parochial Egyptian perspective, and doesn't feel the same panic than the Gulf Cooperation Council states do. But according to Marc Lynch, the Gulf thinks war would be worse than an uptick in Iranian regional power, and increasingly prefers rapproachment. Bush's strongest argument for a policy of confrontation with Iran is that the Iranians are a destabilizing force in the region. If the region doesn't think so, pffft. All that's left in an anti-Iran coalition is the U.S. and Israel, and that's not a place the U.S. wants to be.

Here's another interesting bit. The Arabs are having trouble making sense of the NIE's publication. "No Arab regime understands why the United States would publish an intelligence estimate," an anonymous Arab official told The Washington Post. Rightly so. Authoritarian countries have a hard time understanding fractious or dissonant voices inside officialdom. Bush, however, is very familiar: he issues edicts, he prizes secrecy, he values loyalty, and he governs singularly. He's said he wants to make Egypt more like the U.S., and under that pretext, he's made the U.S. more like Egypt. To release an intelligence report so contradicting the clear intentions of the administration, and particularly this administration, makes it difficult for a client to know what exactly the boss wants.

--Spencer Ackerman