In spite of ourselves (Times Argus, Editorial)

President Bush can't take yes for an answer. The latest National Intelligence Estimate, released earlier this week, represented a summary of the findings of all 16 of the nation's intelligence agencies that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This finding contradicted the intelligence estimate of 2005, which had said Iran was moving ahead with its weapons program.

So, hooray. The Iranians aren't building nuclear weapons, after all. Isn't that a good thing? Iran apparently succumbed to international pressure four years ago in halting its program. Doesn't that count as success?

Apparently not to the Bush administration. That's because the findings remove one of the main foundations for the belligerent, bullying foreign policy that has governed U.S. relations with Iran. Despite the good news, Bush said the report actually supported his view that the U.S. must continue to hound Iran.

It is a tenet of Bush foreign policy that the U.S. must not reward bad behavior. Apparently, we also must not reward good behavior. In fact, as far as Iran goes, there must be no rewarding at all, only threats.

The new intelligence estimate dealt a severe blow to Bush's already meager credibility with allies who are also concerned about nuclear proliferation. Just a few weeks ago, Bush blustered that if we didn't curb Iran's nuclear appetite, we might find ourselves in the middle of World War III. We now learn that the intelligence agencies were already reaching the conclusion that the threat from Iran was not so serious. Bush knew this, but he chose to continue his hyperbolic rhetoric. The foreign policy offices of our allies must view him as a laughing stock.

There is reason to be concerned about Iran's nuclear activities, just as there is reason to be concerned about nuclear proliferation all around the globe. Iran continues to enrich uranium, which prompted Bush to say that we must continue to pressure Iran because one day its leaders might wish to build a bomb. A lot of people might one day wish to build a bomb. It would seem that the job of policymakers today is to weave a web of international relationships that will persuade others that building a bomb will do them more harm than good.

There is also reason to wonder about the latest intelligence estimate. The intelligence community famously botched its work concerning weapons in Iraq. It now says that its report two years ago on Iran's weapons program was also wrong. How are we to believe the newest report is correct?

Those reporting on the question suggest that the intelligence agencies put in place processes to weigh intelligence, free of political influence and tested by "red teams" of devil's advocates. We can't be sure if they have it right, but it would seem that the agencies have tried to learn from their mistakes. Not so Bush and Vice President Cheney, who seem to have learned little after the intelligence failures that primed the pumps for the Iraq war.

It will apparently require a new president to acknowledge reality and to build on the progress we have made in spite of ourselves with Iran.