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"16 Days" is the new "16 Words"

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The Bush administration is trying to ratchet up the public perception of a “crisis” in Iran in order to divert attention from the president’s other problems and to create a wedge issue to divide Democrats before the upcoming congressional elections.

As with Iraq and Social Security, the administration is now outright lying about how urgent a crisis we face in Iran, and the question is whether we respond to this particular allegation and how.


Yesterday (Wednesday April 12), Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters in Moscow that Iran would only need 16 days to produce a nuclear weapon.

What Rademaker said is patently false. One defense specialist told me, "Yes, any American could become 70 years old in JUST ONE DAY - assuming of course that you're already 69 years and 364 days old."

The US intelligence community’s best and most-recent estimate is that Iran could possibly build a nuclear weapon in ten years, not 16 days.

Last year (2005), the US intelligence community did a top to bottom review (a National Intelligence Estimate) of Iran’s nuclear program. According to public reports, that review concluded that the previous estimate of Iran’s nuclear ability, which said that Iran could build a nuke in five years, was incorrect. The new study concluded that it would take Iran A MINIMUM of ten years (until 2015) to build a nuclear weapon, and even then only if everything went right. (Democrats need to request a copy of that NIE to see what it actually says.)

(Note: The Washington Post incorrectly stated in its editorial today that the minimum estimate in the most recent study is five years – that is untrue, according to the Post’s own reporting on this issue. The Post appears to be confusing the now-discredited five year timeline with the current best estimate of ten years.)


The Bush administration is doing with Iran exactly what they did with Iraq – selectively leaking incorrect intelligence to create the appearance of a crisis where there is none. The question remains whether we should ignore these falsehoods or attack them head on.

One could argue that by attacking the lie that Iran could have nukes in 16 days we play into the administration’s hands by, first, helping them make Iran the issue of the day, and second, by helping them spread the message that “some experts” think Iran could have a nuke in 16 days. While both are valid points, I believe we face a far greater danger by NOT responding to this allegation – the Republican noise-machine will most certainly repeat the “16 days” mantra until it becomes an accepted part of the debate (“some experts say…”).

Rather than ignore the lie, we should attack it head on and turn the issue around on Bush.


1. Here we go again: The Bush administration is again lying about WMD.

The latest greatest determination of when Iran could acquire nukes is last year’s National Intelligence Estimate, period. There is no debate. A lone official at the State Department cannot reverse on a whim the findings of a massive review conducted by all the US intelligence agencies just last year. The Bush administration has taken a page out of their Iraq playbook. Selectively leak incorrect intelligence to convince the American people of an impending crisis.

We should capitalize on the current media interest in Bush having authorized the Libby leak (in which Libby leaked already-discredited intelligence about Iraq), and their interest in Bush having declared that we discovered “biological labs in Iraq” when in fact our intelligence had already determined that we found nothing. And let’s not forget the now-infamous “16 Words” in the State of the Union. “16 Days” is yet another example of the administration trying to trick the American public by selectively leaking intelligence assessments that they know to be of questionable truth.

2. If we believe the Administration that the “16 days” is true, then:

a. This is a bigger Bush intelligence failure than Iraq.

Just last year the entire Bush intelligence infrastructure determined that Iran was at a minimum of ten years away from building nukes. Now they realize they were wrong and Iran is only 16 days away? If that is true, then we have a catastrophic crisis of intelligence in this administration, a crisis that Bush failed to fix even after September 11 AND the Iraq WMD debacle. Why wasn’t it fixed? What is Bush waiting for? A mushroom cloud?

b. What has Bush been doing these past 5 years?

If Iran is 16 days away from building a nuclear weapon, and we’re only finding out now, five years into Bush’s term, then Bush has a lot of explaining to do as to why he waited five years to address this enormous crisis.

c. Where is the Republican Congress?

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… How many times does Bush have to get the facts wrong on a major threat to our national security before the Republican Congress provides sufficient oversight of this administration.
(And for the record, I didn't come up with the "16 words is the new 16 days." Though I'm not sure who did, it was one of those things you hear people saying.)

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