He notes that in the case of Iran, focus has been "almost exclusively on how do we get them out of the nuclear business, and secondarily, how do we get them out of the terrorism business," says Mr. Riedel. "The harder thing to evaluate is ... do we have sufficient empathy for how the Iranians see the problem, instead of how we see the problem?"
Increasingly strident rhetoric toward war with Iran reached a crescendo earlier this year, especially from Israel, which claims an Iranian nuclear weapon would be an "existential threat."
Iran frequently trumpets its military power and conducts extensive exercises in its bid to deter any US or Israeli strike. And in Washington and Tel Aviv, "no option is off the table" is the typical code phrase for military action. The US has led the movement to impose stringent sanctions against Iran's economy.
Yet, notes Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group in Washington, the NIE assessment that Iran halted its structured clandestine nuclear program in 2003 shows caution in the US intelligence community when it comes to drawing conclusions.
But that restraint could be trumped by other factors. "The problem [today] is that more political lessons have been forgotten than intelligence lessons learned," says Mr. Vaez. "In a mirror image of Iraq, Iran is guilty in Washington's corridors of power until proven innocent."