If you believed the politicians, one could be forgiven for thinking the end is nigh, the day fast approaching that the opposition-suppressing mullahs of Tehran can ignite a nuclear holocaust even their own president couldn’t deny, with Tel Aviv, Manhattan and Peoria, Illinois, tops on the target list. Inexplicably treated as a respected voice on foreign affairs on this past Sunday’s Meet the Press (brought to you by defense contractor Boeing), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took time away from divorcing whoever his latest wife is to proclaim that “the Iranians have been lying consistently” about their nuclear program. “It’s very clear the Iranians want to get nuclear weapons, [and] it’s pretty clear the Iranians — this current dictatorship will use them.”
And it’s not just the usual hawks on the right that are dusting off the arguments about a hostile Middle Eastern nation seeking weapons of mass destruction. Playing the role of Objective Foreign Affairs Reporter to Gingrich’s Elder Statesman, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell provided the unbiased analytical voice on why we all should be very afraid. “The Speaker is correct,” said Mitchell, a series of words that would have prompted immediate self-doubt in any grounded, rational thinker. Iran “is the biggest single threat, I think, that we face,” she said, which if true speaks more to the relative security of the United States than its vulnerability, I think.
The Obama administration, took, has joined in on the fearmongering fun. “The Iranians have responsibilities to the international community to walk away from their . . . ballistic nuclear weapons program,” White House spokesmen Robert Gibbs lectured in September, stressing the need for Iran to hand away its right to enrich uranium on its soil during the very negotiations Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — an accomplished fearmonger in her own right — has herself declared won’t succeed. (At this point she is only raising the specter of imposing “crippling” sanctions on Iran rather than the possibility of its total obliteration, so perhaps that’s a baby step in the right direction.)
Obama, meanwhile, has at several turns asserted that Iran is “pursuing a nuclear weapon“, convening a dramatic press conference in September to unveil the “secret” Qom nuclear facility that Iran itself had revealed days before to the IAEA, which has since inspected it. Fulfilling its traditional role as the printing press for the powerful, major media outlets dutifully ran with the story, informing the public that This Was It, the proof as-if-we-needed-it that Iran was up to no good, with ABC News’ Jake Tapper penning helpful articles like this one, “Why Not Just Bomb the Qom Facility?”, which tellingly never ponders the unthinkable in serious Washington circles: the effect bombing radioactive facilities might have on the innocent Iranians you claim to care so much about. Such articles do drum up support for military action among the public, though, insofar as they suggest preemptive war — and air strikes, boys and girls, are acts of war — is just another ho-hum policy option for dealing with the supposed threat posed by Iran.
Congress, in typical me-too fashion, has also gotten into the act, with the House overwhelmingly passing a measure to impose sanctions on Iran’s gas imports, progressives and conservatives alike voting in lockstep to increase the hardship for the average Iranian over their government’s exercise of its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the U.S. with its massive nuke stockpiles and plans to develop more is arguably itself in violation of.
There’s a funny thing about those claims U.S. politicians and journalists seek to pass off as beyond dispute: the folks that make up the U.S. intelligence community — the very people whose livelihood depends on their finding a never-ending series of foreign hobgoblins — say Iran abandoned any nuclear weapons program it may have had nearly 7 years ago, issuing a high-profile National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2007 declaring just that, which both Obama and Clinton at the time praised as a welcome rebuke to the Bush administration. And the IAEA, whose inspectors are the ones actually on the ground in Iran examining its nuclear facilities, continues to verify that no enriched uranium is being diverted to a military program, with agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei declaring there to be “no credible evidence” of a covert weapons effort afoot.
But don’t take their word on the lack of a scary imminent Iranian thereat: even the Obama administration privately concedes it.
According to a report (pdf) just leaked from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a non-partisan arm of Congress, the White House’s own “talking points made public September 25, 2009, stated that the [intelligence] community still assesses that ‘Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.’’ Indeed, “On several occasions, the U.S. intelligence community has reaffirmed the 2007 NIE’s assessment that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program but is keeping its options open,” the report states. “For example, Leon Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, did so in May 2009. More recent press accounts have also reported that the community does not believe that Tehran has restarted its weapons program.”
The CRS’ findings, which one should remember were available to every one of the lawmakers who blindly voted to impose yet further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, continues:
Other factors also suggest that Iran may not have an active nuclear weapons program. First, the IAEA has resolved several of the outstanding issues described in the August 2007 Iran-IAEA work plan and has apparently not found additional evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Indeed, the agency has not discovered significant undeclared Iranian nuclear activities for several years (although, as noted above, the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities has decreased). Second, Tehran, beginning in 2003, has been willing to disclose previously undeclared nuclear activities to the IAEA (though, as previously discussed, Iran has not been fully cooperating with the agency). Third, Iran made significant changes to the administration of its nuclear program in fall 2003—changes that produced greater openness with the IAEA and may have indicated a decision to stop a nuclear weapons program.
Fourth . . . Iranian officials have stated numerous times that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons, partly for religious regions—indeed, Khamenei has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, according to Iranian officials. A change in this stance could damage Iranian religious leaders’ credibility. Moreover, Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies argued in May 2008 that “given the pervasive religiosity of the regime, it is unlikely that Iran’s supreme leader would be secretly endorsing military activity in explicit contradiction of his own religious edict.”
Iran also has legitimate reasons for not wanting to rely on outsiders for fueling its nuclear reactors, having been screwed over by foreign suppliers in the past, the report notes. And Iran’s claim that past attempts to conceal its nuclear procurement efforts were intended to evade Western efforts to deny it technology it had a legal right to under the NPT, not to develop nukes, is one “that appears to be supported by a 1997 CIA report.” In sum, the CRS report is a calm and measured analysis of Iran’s nuclear program which finds little justification for the bedwetting and warmongering that passes for serious debate on the Sunday morning talk shows. Don’t hold your breath waiting for David Gregory to interview the author, though, as actual expertise in the field on which one wishes to opine is an almost certain disqualification.