Even in the truth-starved arena of politics, there is a line between spin and downright hubris. The Bush administration and its neoconservative allies went far beyond that line in their response to the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran, which was made available to the public Dec. 3.
The report, which represents the views of 16 leading government intelligence agencies, found that Iran stopped developing nuclear weapons in 2003. It was a stunning revelation that raises obvious questions about the Bush administration's doomsday rhetoric and hard-line policies towards the Islamic Republic.
Let the denial begin.
"It would be irresponsible for any American policymaker to conclude that the Iranian threat had diminished," warned an editorial on the National Review's Web site.
President Bush agreed.
"I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace," he said in a press conference on Dec. 5. "My opinion hasn't changed."
From downplaying the findings and questioning the legitimacy of the NIE to changing the subject to Iran's alleged support of the Iraqi insurgency, neoconservatives are furiously swimming upstream in an attempt to argue that their bellicose attitude toward Iran remains necessary. They should all win Academy Awards for their performances.
This report may well mark the death of the modern neoconservative movement, now that it is clear Iran, just like Saddam Hussein-era Iraq, is not remotely the threat that the American people have been told.
Although thought of as a Republican ideology, the movement began as a split within the left. Virulently anti-communist, pro-Israel and supportive of American military power, early neoconservatives, including writers Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, were former leftists disillusioned with the Democratic Party's shift toward a more dovish foreign policy.
They saw a hero in the Soviet-busting Ronald Reagan, distrusted George H.W. Bush's realism and loathed Bill Clinton. However, they really began their dominance in foreign policy through the administration of George W. Bush after Sept. 11.
From the beginning, the war in Iraq was a neoconservative dream expedited by terrorism against the US. Bush's lofty democracy-spreading rhetoric, the use of unilateral force and the concept of far-reaching military hegemony are all deeply rooted in neoconservative thinking-a departure from the minimalist and modest foreign policy of traditional conservative thought. Further, neoconservatives had been pushing for an overthrow of Saddam Hussein since the 1990s.
Their wish was granted, and the years since the invasion have been a testament to what happens when an unrealistic-even idealistic-philosophy of power is applied to a complex reality. The war and occupation have been a disaster and compromised America's security by emboldening terrorists worldwide. Every neoconservative contention was proven false, from the spreading of democracy in oil-rich countries friendly to U.S. interests-across the Middle East to the possibility of a speedy troop withdrawal.
And just when it looked like neoconservative thinking was dead and the Iraq fiasco was a historical anomaly, the war drums began to pound once more-John Bonham style-for military action in Iran.
"I urged Bush to take action against the Iranian nuclear facilities and explained why I thought there was no alternative," said Podhoretz, an advisor to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, after meeting with Bush in the spring.
"If they don't play by the rules, we've got to use our force, and to me that would include taking military action to stop them from doing what they're doing," echoed the Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman in June.
If the first days after the release of the NIE report are any indication, neoconservatives are not planning to back away from these claims, despite all the evidence to discredit them. But now it is clear military action is no longer warranted, because Iran poses no imminent danger, so it is unclear who they think is still listening.
The report should signal the death of the preeminence of neoconservative foreign policy, at least for now. Along with the chaos in occupied Iraq, it should cement the influence realist thinking has in the next president's foreign policy team.
Let the history books look back at the neoconservatives as the group that briefly ruled foreign policy thinking, screwed it all up, then tried and failed to bust the door down again.