Barack Obama, Meet Team B

President Obama
received a lesson in international gamesmanship last week, when his
secret offer to trade the deployment of a controversial missile defense
system in Eastern Europe for Russian assistance in getting Iran to back
down from its nuclear program was publicly rebuffed. The lesson? You
don't get something for nothing, especially when the something you're
looking for is, itself, nothing.

If the members of the Obama administration would bother to take a
stroll down memory lane, they might recall that once upon a time there
was a document called the anti-ballistic missile treaty, signed in 1972
between the United States and the former Soviet Union, which recognized
that anti-missile defense shields were inherently destabilizing, and as
such should not be deployed. The ABM treaty represented the
foundational agreement for a series of strategic arms limitation and
arms reduction agreements that followed. President Obama was 10 years
old when that treaty was signed. He was 40 years old when President
George W. Bush withdrew from it, in December 2001, and set in motion a
series of events which saw arms control between the U.S. and Russia
completely unravel. The proposed U.S. missile defense shield, to be
deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, had the Russians talking
about scrapping the INF treaty (which eliminated two classes of
nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that threatened Europe) and deploying
highly accurate SS-21 "Iskander" missiles within striking range of the
proposed Polish interceptor site.

Russia did not create the missile defense system crisis. The United
States did, and, as such, cannot expect to suddenly receive diplomatic
credit when it puts this controversial program on the foreign policy
gaming table as if it were a legitimate chip to be bargained away.

Russia has always, correctly, claimed that any missile defense
system deployed in Eastern Europe can only be directed at Russia. While
both the Bush and Obama administrations denied that was the case,
Poland has all but admitted its concerns are not about missiles coming
from Tehran, but rather missiles coming from Moscow. The American
"sweetener" for a potential Polish loss of a missile shield is to offer
Poland advanced Patriot surface-to-air missiles, whose intended target
is clearly not a Persian missile which cannot reach Polish soil, but
rather Russian missiles and aircraft which can.

There are three basic facts that the Obama administration needs to
address, but as of yet has not: First, missile defense systems are
inherently destabilizing and only contribute to the acquisition of
offensive counters designed to defeat those defenses. Second, the rapid
expansion of NATO in the past decade has in fact threatened Russia. And
third, the Iranian missile "threat" to Europe has always been illusory.

The proposed U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe has been
a highly flawed concept from its very inception. Although it used
unproven technology, it was sold as a means of protecting Europe from a
threat that did not exist (Iranian missiles), while creating the
conditions for exposing Europe to a real threat that the missile
defense shield was incapable of defeating (Russian missiles). The fact
that Obama would put the missile defense shield up for trade as part of
a "Grand Bargain" with Russia on Iran only underscores how little value
the system has to begin with. It is a big zero, both from a military
and diplomacy perspective. Obama, in making it part of his bargain,
was trying to give it value it lacked, and the Russians weren't buying.

The Iranian situation is far too real, but not in terms of the
dangers posed by anything Iran itself is doing. The United States has
not helped matters by hyping the threat posed by nonexistent Iranian
missiles targeting Europe and capable of carrying nonexistent nuclear
warheads. Russia has expressed a desire to work with the United States
to better control Iran's program of uranium enrichment, which Iran and
the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
state has been clearly demonstrated as part of a peaceful nuclear
energy program. For Russia to buy into Obama's "deal," it would have to
buy into a threat from Iran's missile and nuclear programs, a threat
Russia does not believe to exist.

Obama would do well to call in his national security team and have
it lay out the intelligence information used to assert the Iranian
threat. There must be such a foundational document, since Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and the president himself
all have repeatedly referred to the "threat" posed by Iran's "nuclear
weapons" ambitions. It is important to distinguish between what we know
and what we think we know. For instance, we know that Iran does not
have any highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to produce a nuclear
weapon. Just ask Admiral Dennis Blair, the Director of National
Intelligence. This is what he told the U.S. Senate Armed Services
Committee this week in testimony on Iran. And yet many in the U.S.
intelligence community continue to state unequivocally that Iran is on
the verge of possessing a nuclear weapon.

Obama should take each assertion put forward about Iran's nuclear
ambition and then reverse-engineer the underlying factual basis for
making that assertion. If he did so, he would quickly find that he and
his advisers know less about Iran than they think they do. The entire
U.S. case against Iran is built on supposition and speculation. If the
president disassembled the speculative assertions, he would find them
cobbled together from an ideologically motivated methodology designed
more to justify a policy of containing and undermining Iran's theocracy
than understanding its nuclear ambitions.

Obama ought to
reacquaint himself with the 1972 ABM treaty and the case of the CIA
versus "Team B." This chapter of America's failed arms control policy
unfolded from 1975-1976, during the administration of Gerald Ford. Once
upon a time, there was a Soviet Union, and a Cold War between the
Soviet Union and the United States. In an effort to prevent the Cold
War from becoming a "hot war," the two powers launched arms control
initiatives, packaged as part of a larger East-West detente, to better
manage the escalation of an arms race derived from Cold War tensions.
It was critical in this effort to have an accurate understanding of not
only the physical reality of Soviet strategic weapons programs, but
also their intent. The CIA produced a national intelligence estimate
that addressed these issues, National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
11-3/8-74, "Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Conflict Through 1985."

The benign picture painted by the CIA's estimate of Soviet strategic
capability clashed with ideologues in and out of government who were
pushing for U.S. defense programs that could not be justified if the
CIA's estimates were allowed to stand. Rather than confront the facts
of the CIA's estimates, these ideologues instead assaulted the
methodology used to determine them. Political pressure was brought to
bear on President Ford by conservative opponents of detente to prepare
a "Team B" of analysts (outside ideologues) who would challenge the
conclusions put forward in the CIA estimate by "Team A" (the CIA's own
staff). "Team B" didn't produce better facts (indeed, every one of its
assertions was proved to be wrong), but it did produce better fear. Its
claims about Soviet intentions and capabilities, highly inflated and
inaccurate, were political dynamite which could not be ignored,
especially in the politically charged presidential election year of
1976. "Team B" won out over "Team A," and the foundation was set for
not only the dismantling of U.S.-Soviet detente, but also for the
biggest arms race in modern history, culminating in the destruction of
the very agreements designed to constrain such an escalation.

Obama should acquaint himself with the story of "Team B," because
"Team B" exists today, propagating myths about an Iranian "threat" that
are analogous to those employed by the team that sold the fable of the
Soviet "threat." The new president was critical of the Iraq war, and
the sad tale of misinformation and deception that has since been
repackaged as an "intelligence failure." There was no "failure" because
there was no "intelligence." "Team B" doesn't produce intelligence, but
rather ideological assertions used as justification for policy. The
same "Team B"-based methodologies which gave us the Iraq assertions
about WMD programs are in play today in the Iran "intelligence" used by
President Obama and his national security team.

Obama might be surprised that one of the programs being sold by
"Team B" in its assault on truth was a missile defense shield to
counter the team's perception of a Soviet missile threat. The
falsehoods and fabrications sold by "Team B" back in the 1970s set
America on the path toward the withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2001,
and the proposed deployment of the very missile defense shield Obama is
trying to bargain away to get Russia to help confront an Iranian
"threat" manufactured by none other than "Team B."

Secretary of State Clinton impressed many when she spoke of the need
for America to embrace "smart power." The implication of her words was
that the United States, under President Obama, would use all the tools
available, especially diplomacy, in seeking to solve the myriad
problems it faces around the world in the post-Bush era, including the
problem of Iran. But one cannot begin to solve a problem unless one
first accurately defines the problem, for without that definition the
"solution" would in fact solve nothing. Any solution to the problem of
Iran must be derived from an accurate intelligence picture of what is
transpiring inside the country today, one drawn more from fact than
ideologically based fiction. Obama is advised to challenge the totality
of the current U.S. intelligence used to define Iran as a threat, and
purge once and for all the corrupting ideological "Team B" holdovers
who still reside within the structure of the American intelligence
community. Intelligence is never about hearing what you want to hear,
but rather about learning what you need to know.

Obama needs to learn the truth about Iran, and about the proposed
missile defense system in Europe. This truth would be inconvenient, but
it would also liberate him to develop meaningful solutions to serious
problems in a manner which avoids a repeat of his embarrassing "Grand
Bargain" gambit with Russia, trying to trade nothing for nothing in an
effort to certify something for nothing. There are a lot of "zero sums"
in that equation, which pretty much sums up Obama's Iran and Russia
policies to date.