Fresh from the Los Angeles Times comes a headline that probably wasn’t meant to suggest U.S. intelligence officials are morons, but nonetheless manages to imply exactly that: “U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb“.
Really? To be sure, there’s a bit more nuance in the subhead:
The latest U.S. intelligence report indicates Iran is pursuing nuclear research that could enable it to build a nuclear weapon, but that it has not sought to do so.
If you start reading the article, you will discover that the “latest intelligence report” is not quite up on the latest developments. That “latest” report is the classified National Intelligence Estimate “circulated to policymakers early last year,” reportedly reprising the view in the 2007 NIE on Iran that “Tehran halted efforts to develop and build a nuclear warhead in 2003.”
If you continue reading the article, you will discover that to believe in this erstwhile halt, you have to ignore Iran’s panoply of uranium enrichment activities and confine your curiosity solely to the question of whether Iran is right now actively manufacturing a nuclear warhead. Which some experts apparently believe it could do by, say, next Valentine’s Day. There are more estimates and arguments presented, along the lines of “for now, U.S, military and intelligence officials say they don’t believe Iran’s leadership has made the decision to build a bomb.”
The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is quoted as saying:
I think they are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision. … But there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time.
That’s a baffling statement, if you stop to think about it, since things the Iranians have “not yet done” are presumably things they have never done; not things they “have not done for some time.” Whatever. Clapper and his cohorts are reportedly keeping an eye out for whether Iran is doing these things not yet done, or at least not done for some time. (That might be more reassuring, were this not the same James Clapper who testified to congress that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular” and has “eschewed violence.”)
But why cavil? Let us assume that this article provides an accurate picture of what our intelligence community really believes, and that what they believe is true: Iran’s rulers are not trying to build a nuclear bomb.
In that case, however, you pretty much have to assume that Iran’s rulers are just plain nuts.
If it’s an Israeli attack that for some messianic reason Tehran wants to invite, there’s no need for all the expensive nuclear folderol; surely Iran could ignite a conflict more cheaply with conventional weapons — which is what they’re going to be stuck with in any event, if they are not actually trying to build nuclear bombs. So what are they after? The jolly good fun of playing chicken with western democracies that do have nukes? Medical research? Nuclear-powered generation of electricity? (Never mind that Iran sits on the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and second-largest patch of natural gas.)
Rather than follow the prescribed course for civilian nuclear programs, Iran’s rulers have chosen to stonewall IAEA inspectors, build secret nuclear facilities, smuggle nuclear equipment and material, and brag up their affection for mushroom clouds. With their chosen manner of pursuing their erstwhile non-bomb nuclear program, they have arranged to create so much worry that they are now enriching uranium under a cascade of sanctions from the U.S., the European Union, and the United Nations. Put together, these sanctions are targeting Iran’s banks, merchant shipping fleet, gasoline imports, an array of their major companies, and a roster of their prominent thugs. The SWIFT banking cooperative is about to unplug Iran’s banking system from the global financial network, and the U.S. Congress is considering legislation to sanction Iran’s national oil company and tanker fleet.
In the face of all that, having just ushered an unrequited group of IAEA inspectors back out of the country, again, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declaimed this week that “no obstacles can stop Iran’s nuclear work.” He added that it is all for purely peaceful purposes, of course.
Why, of course. But if this is how Iran’s rulers choose to pursue such amenities as scientific research and electrical power, then we’d better recognize that they are completely off their rockers. These guys make the late Kim Jong-Il look sane. It would be madness to trust any deal they might offer, and folly to leave them in possession of any nuclear facilities at all — no matter what peaceful purposes these crackpots propose for the radioactive contents thereof. They’re obviously so loopy they might just start making bombs by accident. The only answer is, they have to go.