Best to err on the side of diplomacy (Brattleboro Reformer, Editorial)

The hissing sound you hear coming out of the White House this week is the sound of the air being let out of its big shiny "Let's Bomb Iran Now" balloon.

On Monday, a U.S. intelligence report was released to the press. The report, written during the summer, concluded that Iran's nuclear weapons development program has been halted since 2003, due to international pressure.

While the National Intelligence Estimate cautioned that Iran could, if it chose to, develop a nuclear bomb by 2010 or 2015, it was the belief of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies which compiled the data that it may take at least another decade before Iran could produce enough enriched uranium to do so.

In other words, Iran does not -- in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney -- have "a fairly robust nuclear program."

You know things are pretty sad when Vladimir Putin is more believable than President Bush. But not long ago, the Russian president said there was no evidence that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons, and that "running around like a madman with a blade in one's hand is not the best way to solve such problems."

So, diplomacy seems to have worked. International pressure and a willingness to negotiate with Iran prompted an apparent halt to nuclear weapons development. With the weapons program at a standstill and Iran still years away from developing either a nuclear warhead or a means of delivering it, you might think the rationale for U.S. military action against Iran has vanished.

However, at an impromptu press conference on Tuesday, President Bush tried to spin the conclusions of the NIE to suit the administration's purposes. "Look, Iran was dangerous," he said. "Iran is dangerous. And Iran will continue to be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

So, it doesn't matter to the Bush administration that Iran shut down its weapons program. Just possessing the knowledge to build these weapons means that Iran poses a danger to the United States which must be dealt with soon.

It will be amusing over the next few weeks to watch and listen to the noisy claque of neo-cons who have been shouting for war as they begin to realize there is no longer any plausible reason to attack Iran.

Then again, just because Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons doesn't necessarily mean it won't get attacked by the United States. Just ask the Iraqis.

The good news for the world is that the faith-based intelligence which produced the now-false rationales for invading Iraq have not been duplicated this time with Iran. Despite pressure from Cheney, this edition of the NIE appears to be an honest assessment.

Equally good news is that the Pentagon prevailed upon Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell to make the NIE on Iran public.

Why? Because many senior military officers reportedly do not support a war with Iran. Unlike the Bush administration, the military knows it is stretched to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan and is ill-prepared to be fighting a third country.

So, we hope the conclusions of the NIE are a sign that cooler heads might be starting to prevail. An attack on Iran by the United States would be a disaster even worse than the mess created by the Bush administration in Iraq. Better to let diplomacy take its course than to launch yet another unnecessary war.