Throughout most of the Cold War any challenge to the proposition that "the Russians are coming and they're 30 feet tall" was met with derision and outrage by the Right. As a veteran of both the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, I saw repeated rejection of any intelligence estimate that questioned that mantra or placed Soviet military capabilities or intent to use them in any realistic light. The most notorious, but not the only, instance was the appointment of a "Team B" to challenge the view of intelligence experts that the Soviet economy was a mess and its military not much better.
Of course, as we now know, the intelligence community, especially the CIA, was right and the Right was wrong.
Now comes Professor Dershowitz, in a rant that is not only hysterical but almost catatonic, presuming to know more about what is, or is not, going on in Iran than the sum total of sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies combining hundreds of thousands of the nation's most expert intelligence collectors and analysts who annually consume forty or fifty billion American tax dollars.
One did not hear much from Professor Dershowitz when those same intelligence agencies held to the position that Iran was on track to develop nuclear weapons, or at least when President Bush made that claim while suppressing any questions to the contrary. So, by collecting new intelligence and placing it under more intense scrutiny, and, one hears, by threatening to release this report if the White House continued to suppress it, these same intelligence experts suddenly become incompetents and "nincompoops" pursuing, according to Professor Dershowitz, some nefarious agenda of their own. It is never clear what that agenda is supposed to be.
Sounds like the Cold War all over again. Intelligence is good when it tells you what you want to hear. Otherwise, it is dangerously flawed if not sinister.
Experience and common sense tells me that these sixteen agencies with hundreds of thousands of employees pursuing a secret agenda doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
The real question is this: What is Professor Dershowitz's agenda here? Many bloggers automatically assumed is has to do with Israel. But Professor Dershowitz does not say so and, having known and respected him for many years, I presume if he is angry because the intelligence report undermines his broader purpose, he would have the courage to simply say so.
Until he does, one must shake one's head in sadness at a fine mind longing for the Cold War, or for a new villain to justify a wrong-headed empirial militancy in the Middle East, or who knows what.
What has undermined public support for the war in Iraq is the suspicion that other agendas, not least oil among them, were at work but not being disclosed by our leaders. It is a sure guarantee that the American people will turn against any foreign enterprise when they come to suspect that they are not being told the truth.
Perhaps now is the time for everyone to put their cards on the table.