The Case for Military Action Against Iran

Norman Podhoretz has a thoughtful, original and detailed piece at Commentary Magazine online: Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands. Here’s an excerpt from the middle. Regardlesss of where you stand on the Iranian nuclear situation, do read it all:

As we have seen, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, had “discovered” in 2003 that the Iranians were constructing facilities to enrich uranium. Still, as late as April 2007 the same ElBaradei was pooh-poohing the claims made by Ahmadinejad that Iran already had 3,000 centrifuges in operation. A month later, we learn from Richelson, ElBaradei changed his mind after a few spot inspections. “We believe,” ElBaradei now said, that the Iranians “pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich. From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge.”

We also learn from Richelson that another expert, Matthew Bunn of Harvard’s Center for Science and International Affairs, interpreted the new information the IAEA came up with in April 2007 as meaning that “whether they’re six months or a year away, one can debate. But it’s not ten years.” This chilling estimate of how little time we had to prevent Iran from getting the bomb was similar to the conclusion reached by several Israeli experts (though the official Israeli estimate put the point of no return in 2009).


Then, in a trice, everything changed. Even as Bush must surely have been wrestling with the question of whether it would be on his watch that the decision on bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities would have to be made, the world was hit with a different kind of bomb. This took the form of an unclassified summary of a new NIE, published early last December. Entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” this new document was obviously designed to blow up the near-universal consensus that had flowed from the conclusions reached by the intelligence community in its 2005 NIE.1 In brief, whereas the NIE of 2005 had assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” the new NIE of 2007 did “not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

This startling 180-degree turn was arrived at from new intelligence, offered by the new NIE with “high confidence”: namely, that “in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.” The new NIE was also confident–though only moderately so–that “Tehran had not restarted its nuclear-weapons program as of mid-2007.” And in the most sweeping of its new conclusions, it was even “moderately confident” that “the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear-weapons program.”

Whatever else one might say about the new NIE, one point can be made with “high confidence”: that by leading with the sensational news that Iran had suspended its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, its authors ensured that their entire document would be interpreted as meaning that there was no longer anything to worry about. Of course, being experienced bureaucrats, they took care to protect themselves from this very accusation. For example, after dropping their own bomb on the fear that Iran was hell-bent on getting the bomb, they immediately added “with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.” But as they must have expected, scarcely anyone paid attention to this caveat. And as they must also have expected, even less attention was paid to another self-protective caveat, which–making doubly sure it would pass unnoticed–they relegated to a footnote appended to the lead sentence about the halt:

For the purposes of this Estimate, by “nuclear-weapons program” we mean Iran’s nuclear-weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment

Since only an expert could grasp the significance of this cunning little masterpiece of incomprehensible jargon, the damage had been done by the time its dishonesty was exposed.

The first such exposure came from John Bolton, who before becoming our ambassador to the UN had served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, with a special responsibility for preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Donning this hat once again, Bolton charged that the dishonesty of the footnote lay most egregiously in the sharp distinction it drew between military and civilian programs. For, he said,

the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses [emphasis added]. Indeed, it has always been Iran’s “civilian” program that posed the main risk of a nuclear “breakout.”

Two other experts, Valerie Lincy, the editor of, writing in collaboration with Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, followed up with an explanation of why the halt of 2003 was much less significant than a layman would inevitably be led to think:

[T]he new report defines “nuclear-weapons program” in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear-weapon design. But the halting of its secret enrichment and weapon-design efforts in 2003 proves only that Iran made a tactical move. It suspended work that, if discovered, would unambiguously reveal intent to build a weapon. It has continued other work, crucial to the ability to make a bomb, that it can pass off as having civilian applications.

Thus, as Lincy and Milhollin went on to write, the main point obfuscated by the footnote was that once Iran accumulated a stockpile of the kind of uranium fit for civilian use, it would “in a matter of months” be able “to convert that uranium . . . to weapons grade.”

I would add one additional thought. We’ve seen North Korea and Iran collaborating with one another, and we know that North Korea has already obtained at least limited nuclear weapons capability. As pointed out by Investors Business Daily and at my website GINA COBB in July 2006, North Korea could simply sell Iran a nuclear weapon — or may already have done so. Here’s an excerpt from IBD:

Axis Of Evil: The West, distracted by current events and thinking there’s still time, seems to have lost focus regarding Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. But what if North Korea just sells Tehran a nuke?

Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill has confirmed in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iranian observers — mainly scientists and engineers — witnessed the July 4 North Korean missile barrage, including a test of the intercontinental-range Taepodong-2C.

Asked if Iranians were present, Hill, who is chief U.S. negotiator with Pyongyang, replied: “Yes, that is my understanding.” Then, in one of the great understatements of all time, he noted: “Our understanding is that North Korea has had a number of commercial relations in the Middle East with respect to missiles.” Really.

In November 2002, U.S. intelligence began to track the So Sang, a vessel of unknown registry that had paid a visit to North Korea. Its journey to Yemen was interrupted by Spanish commandos, operating in conjunction with American authorities, who found 15 Scud-B missiles hidden under sacks of concrete.

The missiles were secretly purchased by the Yemeni government, part of North Korean missile trade estimated to bring in $500 million a year. Egypt, Libya and, yes, Syria, have been major customers of North Korean missile and related technology.

Some analysts said the July 4 failure of the Taepodong proved North Korean missile technology was overrated. But perhaps that launch was just a smoke screen, with the real test, for the Iranians’ benefit, being of the ability to rapidly deploy and launch the shorter-range Scuds and Nodongs in a tactical combat environment that Tehran would face in a confrontation with the West.

About two and a half months after the IBD editorial, in early October 2006, North Korea announced that it had conducted its first nuclear weapons test.. As I wrote then:

Now all that stands between Iran and a nuclear weapon is the ability to purchase one from North Korea. Add to that the chilling fact that Iranian observers — mainly scientists and engineers – were present when North Korea tested its intercontinental-range missiles on July 4th.

With only the ability of oil-rich Iran to buy nuclear weapons from cash-strapped North Korea now standing between Iran and the nuclear bomb, those who trumpeted the claim that Iran was at least 5 or even 10 years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon have now been proven wrong.

Those who wrongly or misleadingly claimed that Iran was at least 10 years from being able to acquire a nuclear weapon include the New York Times; the Washington Post (based on — guess what? — a National Intelligence Estimate of 2005; I guess those National Intelligence Estimates aren’t as reliable as some Democrats have portrayed them to be); the BBC; the leftist website AMERICAblog; and NPR.  There are others; but this list will do for starters.

Will you ever accept the advice of any of these sources on matters of national security again?  If so, why?

This might be a good time to review my earlier post discussing Buster Foghorn’s excellent indictment of the media for lacking a sense of urgency and importance.  While North Korea prepared for its nuclear weapons test, where did the mainstream media point your attention?  Which story was the subject of an astonishing 103 stories on ABC, CBS and NBC last week?  If there is such a thing as media malpractice, you’ve just witnessed it.

So where are we?

The international community has proven unwilling or unable to halt nuclear proliferation in our time.

As a result, the United States and other decent nations must become deadly serious about nuclear missile defense.  Such missile defense programs deserve substantial resources.  There is no trustworthy alternative.

Great nations will fall if we get this one wrong.

Sadly, as Ace of Spades points out, Democrats have tried time and time again to delay, kill, and gut the U.S. missile defense program.

Now that tyrants, terrorists, and madmen are arming themselves with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, there is no such thing as mutually assured destruction.

If we do not provide for nuclear missile defense, the only assured destruction will be our own.

Don’t kid yourself. The nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea has not diminished since 2006; it continues to grow, out of direct sight. We can preoccupy ourselves with domestic politics and any number of distractions, but the mortal danger continues to grow, just as it did for the United States in the spring and summer of 2001.

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