War plans cancelled? Hold on.

Time to pick apart conventional wisdom about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran.  Conventional wisdom is that any aggressive designs the Bush administration might have had about Iran have been decisively squelched, no matter the president's protestations that "What's to say (Iran) couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program?"

The president would have us believe he was informed last summer that new information about Iran had been dug up, but he wasn't told what that information was until last week.  (The assembled media at his news conference yesterday did an OK job of holding his feet to the fire, but no one had the temerity to ask, "Didn't you ask what the new information was last summer?")

Clearly though, he knew what was going on, which is why even as he beat the war drums against Iran in October, he adjusted it to the new intelligence — hence, his assertion that the specter of World War III loomed merely because Iran possessed the knowledge of how to make a nuclear weapon.  It was a rhetorical pirouette of Clintonesque skill — this president may be a verbal maladroit, but he's no dummy.

And looking back now to the propaganda push that accompanied the Iraq "surge" report in September, it's obvious now that this push was engineered with the findings of the NIE already in mind.   The nuclear argument was a losing proposition given how the claims of WMDs in Iraq turned out, and the NIE only confirmed it.  That's why the "surge" report was used as an opportunity to turn the focus away from nukes and toward the allegations that Iran is stirring up trouble for U.S. troops in Iraq.  It's a much more saleable argument from the war hawks' point of view.

I expect after the hubbub over the NIE dies down and we get past the holidays, we'll see a spate of spurious new allegations in the new year that Iran is doing all sorts of dastardly deeds to the troops in Iraq.  Then all it'll take is one border incident to get a new war launched regardless of the NIE's findings.