Ross may be right that the NIE causes the issue of Iran policy to recede into the background during the election next year, but it seems to me that it still pretty badly compromises several of the leading Republican candidates. In fact, the one leading Republican candidate whose foreign policy ideas on Iran aren’t completely absurd, and the leading candidate who stands to be vindicated the most by the NIE on the Republican side is (yes, that’s right) Mike Huckabee. Certainly, Ron Paul has taken the most unequivocal (and correct) line that Iran does not pose a threat to the United States, so he may also benefit from this news, but Huckabee is in the best position to take advantage of his relatively more sane Iran position. Like the others, he assumed that Iranian proliferation was happening and posed a threat, so he cannot be credited with some great prescience or insight on the proliferation question itself, but unlike his leading competitors he had a very different view of how to treat Iran. In his CFR speech, Huckabee said of the Iranian regime:
While there can be no rational dealing with Al Qaeda, Iran is a nation state looking for regional power, it plays the normal power politics that we understand and can skillfully pursue, and we have substantive issues to negotiate with them.
Negotiate! No wonder neoconservatives were uninspired by his remarks. He has since been derided for his “naive and unconvincing” foreign policy ideas by those most invested in the idea that Iran is not a rational state actor, but rather an apocalyptic land of crazy people. They appear to have been demonstrably wrong in their judgement, while Huckabee and other more “realist” observers appear to have been right. Compared to John “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” McCain, Mitt Romney, who is apparently on a mission to indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention, and Giuliani, whose campaign is advised by the likes of Norman Podhoretz and who has said that we need to stay “on offense,” Huckabee’s recommended approach to Iran is a picture of sanity. You will object that this may not be saying much, but it’s still the case that the one currently leading Republican candidate who espoused containment of Iran (albeit combined with continued support for the war in Iraq) was Huckabee. He was the one whose foreign policy credentials were supposed to be non-existent and whose ideas were supposed to be unacceptable to “national security conservatives.” Huckabee comes away from this latest news looking more responsible and competent–at least on Iran–than the other leading candidates.
Update: I keep forgetting that Republican voters don’t like responsible and competent foreign policy ideas. 60% of Iowans, according to Pew’s latest, choose one of the four other leading candidates as the best candidate on Iran, and 11% select Huckabee (graphic on page 8). Of the top five, Huckabee is tied for fourth here. The crazy guy leads the pack on Iran, followed by McCain. Sometimes I just really don’t understand this party. It’s even worse in New Hampshire (page 10)–69% select Romney, Giuliani or McCain as the best candidate on Iran, while Huckabee and Paul together get 8%.