Why did President Bush ultimately forego military operations? And how close did the Bush administration come to following the advice of Sen. McCain and his friends at The Weekly Standard? We may never know. Gerecht scorned the Bush administration’s supposed timidity as an outgrowth of Iraq. Others point to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from November 2007, which concluded that “Tehran [had] halted its nuclear weapons program” in the fall 2003. Although the NIE went on to say “that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” that judgment didn’t make headlines. By cutting the legs out from under the leading case for war—that an Iranian nuclear weapon was imminent, and that it would soon thereafter be used against Israel or the United States—the NIE likely helped slow the march to war.
If the threats of war were no more than an elaborate bluff designed to frighten the Iranians to capitulate, then they clearly failed. But the wisdom that Levite and others displayed behind the scenes reveal an understanding of the enormous costs and dubious benefits that would derive from yet another war in the Middle East. Let’s hope that there is more to this story, and that it points in a similarly sensible direction: that despite all the bluster, U.S. and Israeli officials know that while an Iranian nuclear bomb would be bad, war with Iran would be worse.