As I watch the news each day and hear the escalating rhetoric against Iran, it's hard not to get a sense of déjà vu. Let's be honest, it's the runup to the Iraq War all over again. The only thing we haven't heard yet is a high-ranking U.S. government official ominously warning us that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Reasonable people can differ about whether or not the reasons for the Iraq War were valid, although at this stage it's difficult to argue that the Bush administration was totally honest in its assessment of both the available intelligence and what the analysts in the intelligence community were saying at the time. While some may try to claim that the criticism is unfounded because 20/20 vision is hindsight, they should go back and take a look at the well-researched and riveting Frontline special, Bush's War.
And yet here we go again, it would seem. As the world's leaders gathered this week in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, much of the focus was on Iran (not to mention the entertainment supplied by Moammar Kadafi's bizarre, rambling speech) and in particular, the alleged bombshell revelation early Friday about Iran's construction of a second "secret" nuclear enrichment facility at Qom:
A senior Obama administration official, who declined to be identified, told reporters in Pittsburgh September 25 that the covert underground Iranian facility, located near the city of Qom, has been known to intelligence agencies “for several years,” and described it as “a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility,” but one that is not yet operational.
The United States, the United Kingdom and France have been sharing intelligence on the facility and gathering “irrefutable” evidence as they built up a case to show the IAEA that its intended use was for uranium enrichment..
I'm not sure how the construction of nuclear facility which is reportedly not active and which the U.S. has known about for years, equals a bombshell revelation and renewed sense of urgency on the part of the administration. In addition, our science-impaired media and political elite tend to lump all enrichment activities into the bad category when in fact, uranium enrichment can be used for peaceful purposes. it's not just a question of quantity, but also of concentration.
Nonetheless, there it was, all over internet, the portrayal of Iran as an urgent threat to world security, because of its newly-disclosed enrichment plant, as expressed by U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday:
This facility sharpens our sense of urgency and underscores Iran's absolute need to engage seriously with us on October 1 and take immediate steps to demonstrate the exclusively peaceful nature of their nuclear program.
Why the sudden rush, if the U.S. knew about it going all the way back to the Bush administration?
As a side note, I find it interesting that, completely absent from any discussion of the supposed urgent threat posed by Iran, is the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons. Isn't it irresponsible of the media to parrot the talking point that Iran is creating an arms race in the Middle East when Israel arguably initiated that race long ago? That statement is not a value judgment as to whether Israel is or isn't justified in having a nuclear arsenal, but rather a simple statement of fact; they do have nuclear weapons.
Most nuclear powers, including the U.S., argue that maintaining a nuclear arsenal is justified for its inherent value as a deterrent to attacks from hostile nations or people, and Israel is no exception. Given that, shouldn't the potential threat posed by Iran be viewed through the lens that one of it's stated enemies and likely targets in the region, Israel, has nuclear capability?
It's also worth noting that many of the people who were right about Saddam Hussein's lack of an active nuclear weapons program and who argued for more time for inspections, are currently concerned that the threat posed by Iran is being politicized and hyped. At the same time, many of the think tank pundits (John Bolton, Micheal Ledeen, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, etc.) who were so wrong about Iraq in the runup to war, have been almost shameless in their warmongering towards Iran.
Don't get me wrong; I am not arguing that Iran should be able to acquire nuclear weapons. What I am arguing is that I don't want to see the United States and our allies make the same mistakes we made in the runup to the Iraq War and its immediate aftermath. Instead, I think it would behoove the U.S. and its allies not to rush through the diplomatic options, particularly given there is absolutely no concrete evidence that Iran is anywhere near having the capability to create a nuclear weapon.
In addition, while many people chide the Obama administration for not being tough enough on Iran, very few of those same people can offer up a concrete plan for what we should actually do, other than to say we must do something. Sure, they bring up the fallback position of sanctions, but history shows us that sanctions often don't work, and some are saying that that may very well be the case with Iran this time around.
Given that the U.S. barely has adequate numbers of troops for Afghanistan and Iraq, it's interesting that those arguing that we should use military force in Iran tend to be noticeably silent about a) the short- and long-term security consequences of such action; b) the possibility that such action might play right into the hands of the extremists who use references to American hegemony in the Middle East as an effective terrorist recruiting tool; c) what the likely response of Iran would be, military or otherwise and e) who exactly is going to fight this third war should it escalate to that point? Keep in mind that one of the unintended consequences of the Iraq War was a strengthening of Iran's position in the region because prior to that, Saddam's Iraq had kept them in check.
So, what should be done about Iran? Unfortunately, I don't have a simple fix, but I wouldn't be so quick to write off diplomacy or working with moderate Muslim nations to encourage Iran to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back into the country. I also don't think sanctions should be totally ruled out, but hopefully there will be an honest assessment about whether they will have the desired effect or whether they will simply end up providing political cover for members of Congress who think they'll benefit from taking a tougher, albeit largely symbolic, stand against Iran.
As for military action, I think it would be a huge mistake for the U.S. to rush this without first answering all of the above questions in an honest and objective manner, while allowing for a national debate on the issue, particularly given the possibility that any military action could possibly escalate into a full-blown war despite the necessary resources to adequately fight the two we are engaged in now.Powered by Sidelines