A few points:
1) The new NIE directly contradicts previous reports which asserted with a high degree of confidence that Iran was still pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program. Until the new report was issued the administration, quite properly, was operating on the assumptions embodied in the last report. How is this a scandal? The new report was based on "new information" and reflects the constantly changing known facts. That is not a scandal for either the intelligence services or the administration. New information leads to new conclusions and until those new facts are established you have to operate on what is known.
2) The new NIE report is not as certain as it is being portrayed in the MSM. It notes that the continued existence of a covert nuclear weapons program is "plausible" but not likely. This is classic bureaucratic ass-covering. They're not really sure about their conclusions and are inserting weasel-phrases just in case they are wrong. Add to this the fact that Israeli intelligence is telling us that the Iranian suspension of the program in 2003 was temporary and that it has since been restarted [here]. On top of this, the Iranian regime has been loudly proclaiming to all and sundry their right to have a nuclear weapons program and their intention to use the weapons it develops against Israel. Quite reasonably the President, faced with uncertainty and conflicting evidence, is unwilling to drop all pressures against the Iranian regime.
3) The assertion that the 2003 suspension was the result of diplomatic and economic pressures and world disapproval is quite simply absurd. It ignores the fact that in 2003 the US army was operating on both the eastern and western borders of Iran and had toppled the Saddam regime in part on the assumption that he was pursuing nuclear weapons. I might also add that a primary reason for Iran to seek nuclear capacity was to counter Iraq's program, which they as well as everyone else in the world believed was real. The overthrow of Saddam, the threat of US intervention in Iran, and the realization that Iraq's program was fantasy, all changed the calculus in Iran, as it did in Libya, which also suspended its nuclear program in 2003.
4) Once again Bush has been proven right and his critics wrong. Critics of the administration's policy have repeatedly asserted that prior to 2003 nobody in the Middle East was trying to get nuclear capacity, but that it was the US invasion of Iraq that convinced them of the necessity of starting WMD programs. As a result we were in more danger than before the invasion. If the new intelligence assessment is correct, exactly the opposite took place. Before the US invaded Iraq both Iran and Lybia had active covert weapons programs, but as a result of that invasion they suspended or abandoned their pursuit of nuclear weapons. That counts as a big plus for Bush and his policy and a direct repudiation of his critics.
5) We cannot responsibly ignore the Israeli assertions that, once the Iranian regime became convinced that the US was not going to topple them, they restarted their nuclear weapons program. Bush's bellicose language in recent months may well have been an attempt to convince the Mullahs that such a course of action was still risky.
6) Finally, there are reports that Iran and even Syria have begun to cooperate with the US in damping down the level of violence in Iraq. This would seem to indicate that delicate deals are being cut behind the scenes as all parties realize that continued instability in Iraq threatens all the states in the region.
I can only conclude that Bush has been operating rationally and reasonably in a difficult situation and that his critics, in attempting to mis-construe his actions as irrational and uninformed are doing this nation a great disservice.
John Hood makes the point that the criticisms of Bush make no sense whatever and are simply expressions of irrational partisanship:
If it is true that the clandestine nuclear-weapons program was suspended in Fall 2003, it is very good news. It means that the policies of America and its allies have been correct and successful. These policies include the accumulation and use of military might on Iran's eastern and western borders, yes, but also multi-lateral diplomacy and policies initiated and supported by Democrats and Europeans. There's credit enough to share, and plenty of room still to make partisan points on the specifics and on other issues, but instead there is this idiotic effort to spin a foreign-policy success as a Bush loss. It makes no sense on the merits. It makes sense only as hyper-partisanship.Read it here.
The WaPo recognizes the absurdity of the attacks on Bush. It writes that the NIE report:
sounds like an endorsement of the diplomatic strategy pursued by the Bush administration since 2005, which has been aimed at forcing Iran to choose between the nuclear program and normal economic and security relations with the outside world.Read it here.
Democrats and some Republicans are arguing that now is the time for the Bush administration to begin a broad dialogue with Iran -- and drop a precondition that the regime first suspend uranium enrichment. It's an odd time to recommend such a concession: The latest European Union talks with Iran last week were a disaster, in which a new hard-line envoy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad withdrew the previous, inadequate Iranian compromise proposals. Were the Bush administration to abandon its insistence on a suspension of enrichment, Mr. Ahmadinejad would declare victory over the relative moderates in Iran who have recently criticized his uncompromising stance.