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The truth about Iran appeared to shatter the last shreds of credibility of the White House's bomb-Iran brigade and especially that of Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been stumping haughtily for war. It was a political earthquake, reverberating through the presidential campaign. Within hours, Hillary Clinton was under renewed attack by her Democratic opponents for voting for a bellicose anti-Iran resolution in the Senate this year. But the unintended damage was to the credibility of the Republican presidential candidates, all of whom had noisily rattled sabers about Iran. Once again the black-and-white neoconservative view of the Middle East region had been proved wrong. At first the antique neocon Norman Podhoretz actually insisted, "The intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations." Soon, even Podhoretz was in retreat.
But it wasn't just the intelligence community that had been trying to prevent the war hawks in the Administration from bombing Iran. The Secretaries of State and Defense and the leaders of the uniformed military had decided that diplomacy was the best way to deal with an admittedly hostile and dangerous foe in Tehran. Almost exactly a year ago, after the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, the President met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the "Tank," the Pentagon's secure facility. Bush asked the Chiefs about attacking Iran. He was told that a bombing campaign could do severe damage to Iran's military and nuclear facilities, but the Chiefs said they were opposed to such a strike because of the probable "blowback." The Iranians, Bush was told, could make life very difficult for the U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. They could shut off the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, thereby creating a global economic crisis. And they could use the threat of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks on the American homeland
At about the same time, a new NIE on Iran was meandering through the intelligence community. A senior U.S. intelligence official told me last week that the report was prepared to say with a "moderate" degree of certainty that Iran had stopped its nuclear-weapons program, but the information wasn't very conclusive. That finding would have put the U.S. in the same camp as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deeply concerned about the Iranian efforts to enrich uranium but skeptical about the regime's efforts to fashion that uranium into a bomb.