Iran

Intelligence experts: Iran years from bomb. Politicians and pundits: Let’s sanction and attack.

Once again, a US intelligence agency has offered a measured assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability, in direct contradiction to the fear mongers who want us to think Iran will launch a nuclear weapon any day now:

Despite Iran’s progress since 2007 toward producing enriched uranium, the State Department’s intelligence analysts continue to think that Tehran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013, according to a newly disclosed congressional document.

The updated assessment, by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, emphasizes that the analysis is based on Iran’s technical capability and is not a judgment about “when Iran might make any political decision” to produce highly enriched uranium.

The intelligence community agrees that a political decision has not yet been made. According to the assessment, State Department analysts think such a decision is unlikely to be made “for at least as long as international scrutiny and pressure persist.”

I would like to hear how members of Congress can, in the face of this evidence, defend the September deadline for Iran to come to the negotiating table. It’s clear there is little danger of Iran’s nuclear program spiraling out of control in such a short period of time, especially considering the necessity for the regime to focus on domestic turmoil. Diplomacy is far more likely to succeed if we allow time for some internal resolution in Iran. If Congress truly wants diplomacy to succeed (and one could argue that many of them do not), they can’t place unreasonable deadlines—especially a mere three months after the election and with little security rationale for doing so.

Rep. Howard Berman, lead author of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act in the House, has said he is prepared to mark up the bill and have a vote if Iran doesn’t meet this counterproductive deadline. Stopping gas imports into Iran, as this bill aims to do, will hurt the very people Congress supposedly wants to help, and certainly won’t have any success in changing the regime’s behavior or ending its nuclear program.

As if this weren’t a bad enough idea, some are already jumping to the idea that military action is a viable option. One would hope that this kind of nonsense would be limited to the delusional ranting of John Bolton, but today Chuck Wald, who cosigned a bipartisan report on Iran with Obama adviser Dennis Ross, wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal, advocating at a minimum threatening military action:

There has been a lack of serious public discussion of the military tools available to us. Any mention of them is either met with accusations of warmongering or hushed with concerns over sharing sensitive information. It is important to discuss, within legal limits, such a serious issue as openly as possible. Discussion strengthens our democracy and dispels misinformation.

The military can play an important role in solving this complex problem without firing a single shot. Publicly signaling serious preparation for a military strike might obviate the need for one if deployments force Tehran to recognize the costs of its nuclear defiance. Mr. Obama might consider, for example, the deployment of additional carrier battle groups and minesweepers to the waters off Iran, and the conduct of military exercises with allies.

If such pressure fails to impress Iranian leadership, the U.S. Navy could move to blockade Iranian ports. A blockade—which is an act of war—would effectively cut off Iran’s gasoline imports, which constitute about one-third of its consumption. Especially in the aftermath of post-election protests, the Iranian leadership must worry about the economic dislocations and political impact of such action.

Should these measures not compel Tehran to reverse course on its nuclear program, and only after all other diplomatic avenues and economic pressures have been exhausted, the U.S. military is capable of launching a devastating attack on Iranian nuclear and military facilities.

Wald acknowledges, then quickly dismisses, the potential risk of such action:

Of course, there are huge risks to military action: U.S. and allied casualties; rallying Iranians around an unstable and oppressive regime; Iranian reprisals be they direct or by proxy against us and our allies; and Iranian-instigated unrest in the Persian Gulf states, first and foremost in Iraq.

Furthermore, while a successful bombing campaign would set back Iranian nuclear development, Iran would undoubtedly retain its nuclear knowhow. An attack would also necessitate years of continued vigilance, both to retain the ability to strike previously undiscovered sites and to ensure that Iran does not revive its nuclear program.

But the risks of military action must be weighed against those of doing nothing.

This kind of pressure is only going to increase leading up to September, including a nationwide campaign to advocate sanctions. Now is a critical time to raise our voices in opposition.