Time: Why the Pentagon is happy about the NIE Update: Are we playing the Iranians' paranoia against them?

It’s not very strongly sourced, but it’s an interesting read.

The U.S. military contributes nine of the 16 intelligence agencies whose views are cobbled together in NIEs: the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, Army Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the Administration.

There was no formal response from the Pentagon. It is evident, however, that the U.S. military, already strained by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has no appetite for a third war. That’s true even if a series of strikes against nuclear and other targets inside Iran were carried out by the Air Force and Navy, the two services who have sat, somewhat frustrated, on the sidelines as the Army and Marine Corps has done the heavy lifting in the two wars now under way. Some Pentagon officials welcomed the new NIE as evidence that the intelligence community is not tied to ideology, as some critics argued was true during the buildup to the Iraq war in 2003.

I may be an outlier on this, but I’ve tended to see the administration’s more alarming rhetoric on Iran as both a reflection of one faction’s thinking on the threat and a way to bring the Europeans along on the sanctions regime. I’ve never expected us to launch strikes on Iran, but their fear that we might has been very useful. The Europeans have tended all along to bring nothing but carrots to discussions of Iran’s nuclear program (which is now set in stone in the NIE as having existed and possibly still existing), and the Iranians have tended to treat that strategy with the contempt that it deserves. The US has had to play the bad cop to Europe’s good cop. This NIE, whatever else it does, leaves much room for the Europeans and especially the Russians and the Chinese to downplay or even dispute outright Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The Russians have wasted no time in doing the latter, so we have lost them on any Security Council action. The Chinese will be quieter but probably no less unhelpful. One or the other has probably moved into veto territory on the UNSC with regard to any future sanctions on Iran.

This NIE, whatever else it has done, has given the Iranians considerable breathing room that they’re likely to misuse. We’ve probably punted the Iran problem to the next administration, but that doesn’t mean that the threat is gone completely. Given the quality of past NIEs, it may not be gone at all.

Update: Hat tip to our commenters, here’s an interesting read from the Jerusalem Post.

The new US intelligence assessment which stated that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago was based mainly on notes acquired last summer from discussions between Iranian military officials, senior intelligence and government officials told The New York Times on Thursday.

The notes reportedly detailed conversations in which certain army officials complained about Iranian leaders’ 2003 decision to shut down efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

The notes gave no clue as to why Iran had decided to stop weapons development.

The information contained in the notes was supported by other intelligence, including conversations between Iranian officials which had been intercepted in recent months, the paper reported.

The sources quoted by the paper added that the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies had looked into the possibility that the information obtained may have been part of an Iranian disinformation campaign, but eventually rejected that possibility.

We’re disclosing an interesting turn of events here, namely, that we have tapped communications at very high levels of the Iranian government. But we’re not disclosing whose communications have been compromised, or how they have been compromised. This opens the possibility that we have turned some very high level Iranian officials. Police state governments like Iran’s tend to engage in purges at the hint of betrayal. In this disclosure, we’re delivering a shout that betrayal may have happened within the mullahcracy’s crown jewel, its nuclear program.

This may bring out a few long knives in Iran, and whip up a spirit of paranoid mistrust among its senior leaders.

Which makes me smile.