Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lies, damn lies, and Iran

As a rule, one should always view with a hefty dose of skepticism claims about the imminent threat of some enemy-of-the-month Middle Eastern country developing weapons of mass destruction.

Case in point:

“The Sky is Falling” "Iran holds enough uranium for bomb" declares the Financial Times, claiming that Iran now has a stockpile of enriched uranium sufficient to build a nuclear bomb. Beneath the sensationalist headline, however, one finds that the story is referring to Iran’s declared nuclear material -- that is, the material inspected and monitored by the IAEA -- which, to qualify as weapons grade, would need to be re-enriched. To do that, Iran would likely need to pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and, as The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss writes, kick out the IAEA employees currently inspecting its nuclear facilities. In other words, Iran would need to alert the whole world to its intentions. And conflating Iran's declared nuclear material with weapons-grade plutonium is a little like comparing a Ford Fiesta to a Ferrari -- they both have four wheels and an engine, but that's about where the similarities stop.

Writes Dreyfuss:
What Iran has is one ton or so of low-enriched uranium. You can't build a bomb with that. To do so, Iran would first have to re-enrich all of it to weapons-grade uranium, which it isn't doing. Right now that uranium is under lock and key, watched over by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In order to enrich it, Iran would have to do so right in front of the inspectors, who'd tell us all about it, or kick the inspectors out and do it secretly. Either way, (a) we'd know about it, and (b) it would still take Iran a long time, many months, if not a year or two, and that's assuming that they do it right and that the machines don't break down.
Where Dreyfuss errs, however, is in absolving the Obama administration of any wrongdoing for consistently contradicting the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, calling “alarmist” a piece in the Los Angeles Times that merely documents the repeated times high-ranking Obama officials, including the president himself, have done just. Dreyfuss claims the story’s lede -- that the new administration was dismissing the findings of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that declared Iran had halted any weapons program it once had -- is “utterly bogus.”

“The evidence the newspaper cites has nothing, repeat nothing, to do with any new NIE or intelligence conclusion,” he writes.

Of course, that was the point of the Times piece: that although there was no new evidence to back the belief, “there was a growing consensus” within the Obama administration that the 2007 NIE “provided a misleading picture” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Dreyfuss also discounts the significance of Obama’s many statements that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, arguing that there is a meaningful difference between stating Iran is “developing” nuclear weapons and “pursuing” them. Yet that explanation fails to convince, as developing and pursuing are synonymous in the context of Iran's nuclear program (especially as Obama's references to Iran's "pursuit" of nukes have never been couched in terms of merely attaining the "capability" of creating them).

Whether Iran is “pursuing” or “developing” nuclear weapons doesn’t really matter -- both statements are contrary to the findings of the IAEA and the ’07 NIE.

Furthermore, for those who assume his current talk is simply pre-negotiation posturing or an attempt to preempt Republican criticism that he is “weak” on defense, consider that Obama was declaring during the Democratic primaries in April 2007 that Iran was “in the process of developing” nukes, adding (incorrectly) that “I don’t think that’s disputed by any experts."

Dreyfuss then interprets CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement during his confirmation hearing that “there is no question” Iran is seeking nuclear weapons as meaningless:
Problem is, Panetta hasn't seen any -- repeat, any -- classified information yet. Now, I attended those hearings, and Panetta was speaking before he became CIA director, and he was speaking about what he's read in the papers, not what he learned from reading secret reports. He's entitled to his opinion, but that's all it is. It certainly has nothing to do with any new conclusion reached by the intelligence community.
Ok, so Panetta hasn’t seen any classified intelligence -- is it then supposed to be reassuring that he apparently trusts the accounts he reads about Iran's nuclear program in Time magazine and his local paper over the declassified and widely publicized findings of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies?

It's also worth noting that Panetta's remark came in direct response to a leading question from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) concerning whether he felt the 2007 NIE  was erroneous in declaring that Iran had ended its weapons program in 2003.

Meanwhile, if one still doubts the fact that officials in the Obama administration have repeatedly contradicted the intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, consider Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark during her confirmation hearing -- a remark included in her presumably well-vetted prepared statement:
As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians; that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program....
That’s about as pretty unequivocal statement as one can get. It almost seems like part of a pattern of distortion...

Obama, Jan. 11:
Iran is going to be one of our biggest challenges and as I said during the campaign we have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race.
Obama, Jan. 27:
Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.
Panetta, Feb. 5:
From all the information that I've seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.
Obama, Feb. 9:
I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world; that their attacks or -- or their -- their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they've used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon -- that all of those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace.


  1. Another oops-

    London - Iran offered to stop aiding attacks on Western forces in Iraq if the West dropped opposition to its nuclear program, a top British official says....
    "The Iranians wanted to be able to strike a deal whereby they stopped killing our forces in Iraq in return for them being allowed to carry on with their nuclear program," Sir John said in a BBC TV documentary on Saturday.

    He paraphrased the terms of the proposed deal as: "We stop killing you in Iraq, stop undermining the political process there, you allow us to carry on with our nuclear program without let or hindrance."

  2. dualdiagnosis:

    Typing "oops" and copy/pasting an article irrelevant to the issue of whether the IAEA and the US intelligence community believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons do not an argument make. Good luck next time.

  3. Why are you apologizing for the Iranians? The uranium they enriched that we just found out about was in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions dated 2006-2008. What indications do you have that they are willing to abide by any limitations?

  4. I appreciate the dialogue, but not the suggestion that I'm somehow "apologizing" for the Iranians. I have no love for theocrats, and I think the development of nuclear weapons by any state is a vicious and evil exploitation of the resources of its subjects. But I also think that US politicians shouldn't be able to get away with repeatedly contradicting the findings of their own intelligence agencies, which of course have every reason to play up the threats posed by states like Iran. I see current fear-mongering about Iran as little more than an attempt to strengthen the power of the government at home -- the threat of the next Hitler always being a good excuse for centralizing and expanding state power -- while providing justification for maintaing the obscenely bloated military-industrial complex.

    As for Iran's nuclear program, your ignorance is baffling. The enriched uranium you claim "we just found out about" has been declared by Iran and inspected and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- that's why you know about it. The article you linked to in the last comment thread merely speculated that Iran could re-enrich that material to a level necessary to make weapons, provided it kicked out the IAEA inspectors and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    Also, despite what the UN Security Council might wish, Iran has an "absolute right" under the NPT to enrich uranium, so far as the IAEA certifies that it isn't diverting that material to a weapons program -- which the IAEA did in its last report. With the US and other nuclear powers continuing to hold on to their nuclear stockpiles -- and in the case of the US, actively developing new "tactical" nukes -- there's a strong case to be made that it is the Western countries that are violating their obligations under the NPT.

    And to answer your question concerning what indications there are that Iran will abide "by any limitations" on its nuclear program: how about the fact that Iran has actually signed the NPT and allowed IAEA inspectors into its nuclear facilities, something nuclear proliferators (and U.S. allies) Israel and India have not? The 2007 NIE on Iran, meanwhile, which claims Iran once had a nuclear weapons program but ended it in 2003 in light of "international pressure", concedes "Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the [nuclear] issue than we judged previously."

    Removing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan -- and pressuring Israel to dismantle its 200-odd nuclear weapons, a number of which you can be sure are pointed at Tehran at this moment -- would also go a long way toward removing the incentives for Iran and other countries to develop nukes.

  5. Shorter Charles-

    We are only worried about Iran so we can create a police state, Iran has only innocent intentions with this uranium processing, IF Iran did pursue nuclear weapons it's our fault.

    Why shouldn't they have nuclear weapons, we do, don't we?

  6. dualdiagnosis,

    Perseveration in pursuit of fatuity is no virtue! Your characterizations of Charles' remarks fail to meet the "shorter" standard. What you have accomplished is a tiresome reiteration of your previous misinterpretations. The addition of smug reductionism does not help.

  7. This guy sounds like he has your talking points!-
    "Had you not been bad-tempered and blocked the way, the Iranian nation would not have been present in space, and would not have become a nuclear power," Fars news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying at the inauguration ceremony of a natural gas deposit in the Bushehr province.