It’s a throwback to the Bush style of campaigning, for election or for war. If you repeat a lie enough times, the public will eventually believe you. The ticking time bomb rhetoric that an Iranian nuclear bomb is around the corner is something we see again and again, and it’s usually followed up with an argument for “tightening the screws” with sanctions, or even military aggression. What’s alarming is how prevalent this view is in Congress, where we most need people to have a better grasp of the facts.
So we counter the misinformation with the truth. Today Foreign Policy magazine posted a piece from Joe Cirincione and Elise Connor of the Ploughshares Fund (disclosure: Ploughshares funds some of our work), debunking the narrative pushed by many politicians and pundits that Iran is less than a year, months, days, minutes even, away from building a nuclear bomb.
The alarmists have been counterproductive, and it’s partly that false sense of urgency that drove last week’s near-unanimous vote for more sanctions. We should be using the time we have for rigorous, direct and cool-headed negotiations with Iran, something that – with the US’s myopic focus on sanctions — hasn’t yet happened. So the next time you hear someone say that an Iranian nuke is imminent or inevitable, whether is a friend or it’s your member of Congress, let them know the facts.
Below is an excerpt of the Cirincione piece, and I highly recommend reading it in full after the jump.
Today, U.S. President Barack Obama signs into law the next round of unilateral sanctions taking aim at Iran’s energy sector. With this bill, Washington is seeking to stem what many view as Tehran’s imminent nuclear future. But how imminent is that future, exactly?
Some would say it is very imminent. On June 27, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that it would take Iran approximately two years to build a nuclear bomb if it made the decision to do so. The Wall Street Journal seized on his statement, warning hysterically on June 29 that “Iran stands barely two years from an atomic bomb that could target Israel, Europe and beyond.”
Pundits, too, have consistently claimed that Iran is just around the corner from acquiring nukes. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, urgently warned in July 2004, “Iran will go nuclear during the next presidential term.” In January 2006, he claimed, “Iran is probably just months away.” A few months later, in September, when no bomb appeared, he wrote, “The decision is no more than a year away.” William Kristol, Niall Ferguson, and John Bolton, among others, have made similar claims — and been similarly proved wrong by the passage of time.
In fact, it is much harder to build a deliverable weapon than most pundits assume. Panetta’s estimate leans toward the worst-case scenario, in which the weapons-building process proceeds perfectly smoothly. But the best expert assessments indicate that it would actually take Iran about three to five years to develop a nuclear bomb. Here’s how that process would probably unfold — and the reasons why it’s not likely to happen in the timeline the doomsayers would have you believe.