Yesterday’s New York Times editorial on the emerging nuclear deal between the West and Iran is completely delusional. I will try to tackle the editorial’s arguments in the order of ridiculousness, from most to least:
Critics of any deal — including those in Congress, such as Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican of Illinois, and Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey; and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — demand complete dismantlement of Iran’s program given the country’s history of lying about its efforts to produce nuclear fuel and pursue other weapons-related activities.
But their desired outcome simply cannot be achieved. President George W. Bush wasn’t able to secure that goal in 2003 when Iran had only a few dozen centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium for nuclear fuel. Now, 12 years later, Iran has an estimated 19,000 centrifuges, not to mention scores of other facilities, including some that have been hardened to withstand a military attack.
Hold on. This is saying that a miscreant gets to determine the level of his punishment. We can’t get Iran down to zero centrifuges because Iran refuses to dismantle them. This is just saying we don’t have the political will to demand such a result. We haven’t been able to secure that result is because we haven’t tried. Certainly if we say we’re going allow 6,000 or 6,500 centrifuges we’re not going to get zero. But given Iran’s “history of lying” we also don’t know how many undeclared centrifuges it might have either. To give Iran veto power over how many centrifuges it gets to keep operating, considering its “history of lying,” means that we’ll be enabling it to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb.
If it comes together, any agreement would have to establish verifiable limits on the nuclear program and ensure that Iran cannot quickly produce enough weapons-usable material for a bomb. A pact would not end Iran’s nuclear program outright, which it says it needs for power generation and medical purposes, or erase the nuclear know-how Iran and its scientists have acquired over the nearly 60 years since an agreement between President Eisenhower and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi for the United States to provide Iran with nuclear technology.
The devil here is in the word “verifiable.” Given Iran’s “history of lying” there will be a portion of Iran’s nuclear program that is verifiable there will another portion – size unknown – that will be unverifiable. This is exactly what Yukiya Amano the Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency said at the end of January.
And while we can’t erase nuclear know-how, if Iran is forced to dismantle its nuclear program its program will be set back. Know-how is not the same thing as capacity. Enrichment is an expensive activity. Rebuilding the capacity to enrich would take significant time and money. If sanctions are fully restored and Iran insists on restoring its enrichment capacity despite the international disapproval and the costs involved, it will be choosing nuclear guns over butter. And it will take time too.
One final point from the editorial that I will address is this:
Bombing Iran might delay the nuclear program for a couple of years but it wouldn’t eradicate it, and the blowback — provoking Iran to speed up production of a nuclear weapon, fueling regional tensions — would be severe.
Again, know-how doesn’t equal capacity. Setting back the program a few years would be significant in and of itself. But that it would require Iran to re-invest significant resources into rebuilding its program would be an effective means of extending Iran’s breakout time. But there’s another assestion here that needs to be challenged. The Times rules out an attack on Iran’s nuclear program because it’s concerned with “fueling regional tensions.” But Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon without effective pressure from the United States and, more generally, the West, is fueling regional tensions.
Michael Pregent observed in the current issue of The Tower Magazine:
In effect, then, Iran now has veto power over Iraqi government policies.
Iran is also cementing its influence over the Iraqi military. Through its Quds Force advisers, it is now in a position to direct the mobilization of Shia militias and their eventual integration into Iraq’s security forces, thus shaping the country’s military and intelligence operations.
Having witnessed this jarring turn of events, it is important to point out that this is not simply an Iraqi issue. It is a regional issue. The Iranian government believes that the U.S. wants a nuclear deal so badly that it will tacitly approve Iran’s activities throughout the Middle East—including in Syria and Yemen—by downplaying Iranian influence or ignoring it altogether. At the same time, Iraqi politicians cite the slow pace of America’s “strategic patience” as a reason to welcome Iranian support. But support comes with a price, and it is a price that will be paid not only by Iraq, but also the U.S. itself.
Iran sees the American desire for a nuclear deal as offering it immunity to pursue its control over its Arab neighbors and even Yemen, which isn’t even a neighbor.
The view The New York Times has that the current negotiations and reduced pressure will somehow convince Iran to play nicely and not develop nuclear weapons would be amusing if the stakes were not so high, especially in light of today’s editorial worrying about North Korea’s plans to expand its nuclear arsenal. (Negotiations with North Korea during the Clinton administration that were supposedly concluded successfully did not prevent North Korea from developing and testing a nuclear weapon. Wendy Sherman currently the chief American negotiator with Iran was on the team that negotiated with North Korea.)
Today’s editorial concludes:
The Obama administration and its partners (China, the North’s major supplier of food and fuel; South Korea; Japan; and Russia) have failed to find a way to address the problem or engage the North in sustained negotiations to curb its nuclear weapon and missile production. They cannot merely keep talking about having talks. Mr. Wit’s and Mr. Albright’s research shows the growing danger if they cannot bring North Korea back to the bargaining table.
Arguing that talks “about having talks” won’t prevent rogue states from developing nuclear weapons misses the point. Talks alone won’t prevent them from doing so. Pressure is needed even more than talks. If the administration has its way I’m guessing that we can see a New York Times editorial in ten years or so lamenting how talks about talks won’t prevent Iran from expanding its nuclear arsenal. They won’t learn.
Charles Krauthammer in his column today had a rebuttal to the administration and those, like The New York Times, defending the administration’s negotiations:
Well, say the administration apologists, what’s your alternative? Do you want war?
It’s Obama’s usual, subtle false-choice maneuver: It’s either appeasement or war.
It’s not. True, there are no good choices, but Obama’s prospective deal is the worst possible. Not only does Iran get a clear path to the bomb but it gets sanctions lifted, all pressure removed and international legitimacy.
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