What, then, is the real truth about Iran's nuclear program and its potential? And what was the nature of the military program that Iran supposedly stopped back in 2003?
The NIE also said that Iran is using a "cost-benefit" analysis in deciding whether to proceed with a nuclear weapons program.
This, however, is a direct challenge to the madman theory. That theory holds that if Iran builds a bomb, Ahmadinejad will use it against Israel or us, or give it to terrorists to use against Israel or us, to start the Armageddon that will bring back the 12th Imam.
But if Iran's regime is rational, which is how it has behaved, if not how it talks, we have an altogether different adversary we can deal with. For while possession of an atom bomb may give Iran a deterrent, it would also set in train a series of almost certain events that would do less to enhance the security of Iran than to imperil it permanently.
For, if Iran acquires an atomic weapon, Israel will put its nuclear arsenal of hundreds of warheads on a hair trigger. The United States would re-target nuclear weapons on Iran. Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would almost certainly acquire nuclear weapons or a nuclear capacity. How would any of that make Shia Iran safer in a Sunni world?
Finally, if Iran did suspend or terminate its nuclear weapons program in 2003, this suggests that the arrival of the U.S. army in Baghdad, and the capture of Saddam, concentrated the minds of the mullahs wonderfully. This suggests that those who say Iran, like Libya, had on offer a grand bargain -- to give up nuclear ambitions and end its aid to Hamas and Hezbollah, in return for an end to sanctions and the U.S. drive for regime change, and the normalization of relations -- may have been right.
Thus, what the NIE implies is that George Bush may have missed the opportunity to put himself in the history books alongside Nixon, who opened up China, and Reagan, who ended the Cold War with Russia.