What happened
A newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran halted its effort to build a nuclear bomb in 2003. The report came as a surprise, and contradicted recent White House rhetoric calling Iran’s nuclear program a serious security threat. (USNews.com) President Bush said Iran could easily transfer know-how from a nuclear energy project to a secret arms program. “I still feel strongly that Iran’s a danger,” Bush said. (The New York Times, free registration)

What the commentators said
“Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate,” said Steven Lee Myers in The New York Times (free registration). This bombshell will “certainly weaken international support for tougher sanctions against Iran,” and it raises the question of whether the “bleaguered” U.S. intelligence agencies got things wrong in the past because of “poor tradecraft or political pressure.”

This certainly undercuts President Bush’s “alarming rhetoric,” said Peter Baker and Robin Wright in The Washington Post (free registration). It’s especially damaging to Bush’s Iran policy—which was shaping up to be the focus of his last year in office—because he got this news before he “warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III.” This could take “preemptive military action” off the table.

It’s hard to believe the Iranians have thrown up their hands, said Michael Ledeen in National Review Online. They’re masters of deception. “We’ve been fooled about the nuclear programs of countries from the Soviet Union to India and Pakistan. Maybe we’ve been fooled again.”

The proper way to read this report is as the latest of many attempts by the intelligence community to sabotage Bush’s foreign policy, said The New York Sun in an editorial. These “bureaucrats” were against the Iraqi National Congress, against holding elections in Iraq, and now “they are against a tough line on Iran.”

And what if it’s true? said Victor Davis Hanson, also in National Review Online. Are Democrats going to suggest that “Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes?” The more plausible explanation would be that Iran—like Libya—got the message when we steamrolled Saddam Hussein “that it was not wise for regimes to conceal WMD programs, given the unpredictable, but lethal American military reaction.”