Victor Davis Hanson

Last week’s U.S. National Intelligence Estimate states, with “high confidence,” that Iran quit trying to get a nuclear bomb in late 2003. That’s exactly the opposite of what the NIE reported just two years ago, when it claimed Iran’s ruling mullahs were still developing nuclear weapons.

The reaction here at home to the new NIE was a good deal clearer than the often mealy-mouthed wording of the report. By an overwhelming margin, according to a Rasmussen poll conducted after the new NIE report’s findings were made public, Americans don’t buy that Iran has quit trying to go nuclear.

They may be wiser than the intelligence minds who put together the new NIE. After all, oil-rich Iran continues to enrich uranium even though it doesn’t need new sources of energy. This enriched uranium can be used as terrorist dirty bombs or diverted to nuclear weapons rather quickly.

So isn’t it a lose/lose situation if Iran still could be working toward being able to develop a bomb while our own intelligence services have now assured the world that that’s not the case?

Yes — but the full answer is more complex, because the world itself has changed since the 2005 NIE even more than the unreliable opinions of our intelligence services have.

Two years ago, the growing furor over the Iraqi war had created the conventional wisdom that Iran had come out the real “winner.” Tehran’s archenemy, Saddam Hussein, had been removed. And Iran was able to tie down the U.S. in Iraq through its Shiite terrorist proxies.

Meanwhile, with the U.S. busy in Iraq and the West split (former allies like France and Germany damned almost everything the U.S. did in the Middle East), Iran’s ruling mullahs got a pass to cause more trouble in Gaza and Lebanon with subsidies to Hezbollah and Hamas.

But that was then.

With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as president of Iran in August 2005, the United States was given a public relations bonanza. We no longer had to warn the world that the largely silent mullahs in Iran were unstable and dangerous. Loud-mouthed Ahmadinejad did all that and more for us.

When he bragged that a mesmerized U.N. audience couldn’t blink when he spoke, or that Israel should disappear from the map, the rest of the world on its own concluded that he was either outright crazy or scary — or both.

There are now pro-American governments in France and Germany. Both are terrified about Iran. That’s understandable since both — unlike us — could soon very well be in range of Iran’s newest North Korean-made missiles.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.