It looks like President Bush’s apocalyptic push for World War III with Iran has been postponed. With the stunning release of the National Intelligence Estimate this week reporting that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (if it ever had one, which is up for debate), the “war option” is “off the table” for now, at least according to numerous government officials.

Except Bush. He and his crowd are still trying to talk tough. Old habits die hard. After all, it was their bulldozing over realistic intelligence estimates while cooking “evidence” to fit their agenda — a shift to unilateral, first-strike war policy — that got the United States into the Big Muddy, Iraq.

The administration is still pursuing new sanctions against Iran. However, the NIE report has delivered a body blow to that effort, as responses from the European Union, Russia and China indicate.

Some say the White House had gone a “bridge too far” with its war threats against Iran, on top of the administration’s other foreign policy disasters — most especially Iraq, but also Pakistan, Afghanistan, the refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty, green-lighting the Israeli siege of Lebanon and shunning negotiations on Israel and Palestine.

With its scorning of diplomacy, international law and the United Nations, and its drive to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, this administration has brought the U.S. reputation in the world, especially in the oil-rich Middle East, to at an all time low.

These factors worry a significant section of the ruling class. Signs are everywhere.

Numerous influential figures, including former Bush 41 and 43 officials, have challenged

the ultra-right neoconservative Bush policies. The neoconservative grip on foreign policy is loosening.

For example, warning that the world “is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era,” a bipartisan group including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sam Nunn — no progressives, to say the least — wrote in a January Wall Street Journal op-ed that the U.S. must support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It shows the deep disquiet at the highest levels over this administration’s reckless nuclear policy. Their stance reflects the fact that 70 percent of Americans say nuclear weapons should be eliminated.

The timing of the release of the new intelligence estimate is intriguing. It comes soon after the Annapolis conference, a meeting of OPEC, soaring oil prices and the news that Abu Dhabi now holds a key share of Citigroup. Hmmm. Could it be a section of U.S. capital is worried that instability in the Middle East, worsened by Bush’s policies, is hurting its long-term interests? Some of these folks fear Bush’s saber-rattling against Iran has increased Iran’s influence and threatens the stability of key U.S. allies in the region.

The new intelligence report should have a positive impact on the foreign policy debate in the presidential campaign. That debate should take a less hawkish, more realistic tone, which is good for the country. The Republicans have all lined up to talk tough on Iran. We applaud all the Democratic candidates who emphasize diplomacy and unconditional negotiations with Iran or any other country.

This is an opening to all peace, democratic and progressive forces to push for a national conversation on what a saner U.S. foreign policy would look like, and why a policy that emphasizes negotiations and cooperation in tackling the numerous world problems that affect all of us — war, poverty, climate change, disease — is better than the “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” war on terror we’ve been subjected to for the past seven years. For way too long, U.S. foreign policy has only served corporations and ruling cliques. It should serve the interest of the U.S. people.

Most immediately, our government must be pressed to open diplomatic channels with Iran, and drop its insistence on sanctions, which primarily hurt the Iranian people.

Some say the policy of endless war has met its Waterloo with this new intelligence report. That will only be so if the U.S. people keep up their righteous demand for diplomacy with Iran, and end to the occupation of Iraq, an overall change in foreign policy and a shift in spending priorities from war to people’s needs. The battle over the meaning of this report has begun. It does not mean a let-up in the struggle for peace, and it calls for a decisive defeat of the GOP at the ballot box.