Bloggers debate the significance of Iran's disclosure that it has reached an advanced stage of uranium enrichment. They also scrutinize a WashingtonPost cover story about prewar claims regarding Saddam's bioweapons "trailers" and bid a wistful arrivederci to the last Sicilian godfather.
Mutually assured mullahs: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Tuesday that his country has successfully employed 164 centrifuges to begin "industrial production" of enriched uranium, a major stride toward the presumptive goal of manufacturing nuclear weapons. IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei has been dispatched to Tehran to try and persuade the regime to resume nonproliferation negotiations, while bloggers perform their own worst-case scenario spadework.
"No sweat" seems to be the verdict of lefty Middle East analyst Juan Cole at Informed Comment: "Iran is a good ten years away from having a bomb, and since its leaders, including Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, say they do not want an atomic bomb because it is Islamically immoral, you have to wonder if they will ever have a bomb," he writes
But Daniel McKivergan at the neoconservative Weekly Standard's Worldwide Standard wonders about that two-digit ETA, which the New YorkTimes has also been promulgating: "I hope Iran is 'about 10 years away from building' nuclear bombs as the editors claim, but how do they know with such certainty? They don't say where they got that number. In fact, their favorite weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has pegged the number at 'five years' and the Los Angeles Times has reported that the number may be 'within three years.' " And cosmopolitan conservative Alexandra van Maltzan at All Things Beautiful has no time for staring down the clock on this one: "It has become increasingly obvious that when (not if) Thug-In-Chief Ahmadinejad fails to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment program, a strike will indeed become necessary, and assessing the consequences of such an action becomes imperative."
As to short-term options that don't include "surgical" strikes on Persian facilities, what's left? Smart sanctions, argues Victor Comras at The Counterterrorism Blog: "We may not initially be able to stop Iran from exporting its oil, but we can severely hamper the way it does business with its oil revenues… Working with our European allies, Japan and other countries, such targeted trade sanctions, even in the absence of a Security Council Resolution, can have a substantial impact."
Trailer bark: Joby Warrick of the Washington Post [Disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.] ran a Page One story Wednesday indicating that a team of private-sector scientists hired by the Pentagon in 2003 to inspect Iraqi trailers suspected of being mobile weapons labs came up empty and told the administration as much. Another case of prewar intelligence "manipulation" or an accurate minority report shunted in good faith?
Righty Ed Morrissey at the Captain's Quarters suggests the red-alert statistics at the time justified the WMD brief the White House went with: "The Pentagon didn't send one team of experts to review the trailers; they sent three, presumably to get a diverse analysis of the evidence, especially since the pre-war intel on WMD had come up remarkably short. That sounds like a prudent strategy to me, having competing teams research the same equipment and evidence to develop independent analyses to present to the Pentagon. They did so, and two of the three teams provided conclusions that fit the pre-war intel, while one did not."
"Nice try," Kevin Drum replies to Morrissey at the liberal Washington Monthly's The Political Animal. "[T]his episode fits the usual MO of the Bush administration perfectly: a flat statement of fact about intelligence matters that's made with great fanfare even though they know there's significant dissent within the intelligence community."
Brandon Q at TheSuperSpade is also on the "Bush lied" side, if for no other reason than one of evidence against interest from the team's own enablers: "The report was conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency (which would have a clear bias in my opinion) which means that rather than the typical assertion that this whole debauchery is based on Bush receiving bad intelligence, Bush's own civilian-led Pentagon had it right, but he ignored their findings."
Read more about the Post article.
The last don: Bernardo Provenzano, an old country Mafia boss who had been on the lamb for more than 40 years, was captured in—no, really—Corleone, Sicily, Tuesday. Coverage of the event often trumped the photo-finish election results in Italian newspapers.
Thrilling, historic, and all that, but there's just one thing Londoner "Akr" at The Rainbow Connection can't quite fuggedabout: "The man has three nicknames: 'The Tractor', a long-established moniker apparently awarded for his brute and murderous strength. Then there's 'The Accountant', pointing up his astute business brain in defiance of those dismissing him as merely a thuggish killer. And finally, the jarringly-cosy 'Uncle Bernie'. There's one for the Christmas card lists."
Blame the starch for Provenzano's collar, says Robert at Robert's Stochastic thoughts: "The way in which he was caught is just too wonderful. It seems that, being a traditional Italian man, he just won't do his own laundry… The polic followed a package of perfectly ironed shirts to the hide out."
Read more about Provenzano's arrest.