Friday, December 14, 2007

Nuke and NonPro Highlights from Recent Republican Prez Debates

Not much to report on the nuke and nonpro front from the two recent Republican presidential debates, which largely focused instead on domestic issues. The first debate was held last Sunday at the University of Miami in Florida (transcript here), while the second debate was held on Wednesday in Iowa (transcript here).

In Florida, contrasting sharply with the numerous references to “winning” the Iraq war made by numerous candidates, the one mention of Iran came from Fred Thompson:

THOMPSON: … If we leave Iraq with our tail between our legs, we are going to enhance their ability to recruit young people who, they too, can help bring down parts of America and maybe America itself. We will leave an opening for Iran, as it, I still believe, continues to pursue a nuclear capability.

This comes nearly a week after the declassified findings of the Iran NIE was publically released, which found that Tehran ended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.

The debate in Iowa was a little more substantive.

On the question of what the candidates could realistically accomplish if their first year as president, Hunter stressed the need for strengthening the military in the context of North Korea and Iran:

REP. HUNTER: First, you got to strengthen the U.S. military. You know, we have to look at the horizon past Iraq and Afghanistan and see the emergence of a North Korea with nuclear capability, Iran proceeding on that path despite what the NIE says, and also the emergence of communist China as a new superpower stepping in the shoes of the Soviet Union.

Paul had a different take:

REP. PAUL: Well, there's a limit of what you can do in one year, and at home it's more difficult. You would have to work with the Congress, but a commander in chief could end the war. We could bring our troops home. That would be a major event; it would be very valuable. We could be diplomatically -- we could become diplomatically credible once again around the world. Right now, today, we're not. Even our allies resent what we do.

We wouldn't have no more preemptive war. We would threaten nobody. We would not threaten Iran. Now it is proven once again Iraq didn't have the nuclear weapon, had nothing to do with 9/11. The Iranians have no nuclear weapon, according to our CIA. There's no need for us to threaten the Iranians. We could immediately turn the Navy around and bring them home, and I think this would be a major step toward peace.

The debate later briefly turned to Thompson’s earlier comments regarding the Iran NIE.

MS. WASHBURN: … Senator Thompson, you've expressed doubts that the recent report on Iran's nuclear capabilities is accurate. As president, how would you decide when to disagree with available intelligence, and then what would you do?

MR. THOMPSON: Well, that's probably the most important question that's been asked today.

We have a real problem with our intelligence community. It, along with certain parts of our military, were neglected for a long, long time in this country, and we're paying the price for it now. The fact is that nobody has any real confidence in the result that they're getting. The result you're talking about was directly contradicted by their strong beliefs just two years ago. So you've got to rebuild from the bottom up.

I think that, in the meantime, we have to rely on other people. The British are helpful to us. The Israelis sometimes are helpful to us. … In many respects, they have advancements that we don't have in terms of our intelligence capabilities. But the president cannot let … a piece of paper by a bureaucrat determine -- solely determine what his actions must be.

In other words, don’t let facts get in the way of ideology. That Thompson describes the NIE – the most authoritative intelligence assessment that expresses coordinated judgments from 16 intelligence agencies – as “a piece of paper by a bureaucrat” is striking. The lack of confidence in the intelligence community, Thompson seems to suggest, is not due to its failures involving the Iraq war and now its about-face on Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, but rather its inconsistency. Instead of changing their assessments in accordance to what the intelligence is telling them, intelligence analysts should stick to their previously held “strong beliefs,” lest the intelligence community be “rebuilt.”

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