Monday, December 03, 2007

The Power of Fear

Our intelligence agencies report that in the fall of 2003, Iran halted their nuclear programs "under international pressure." They report that Iran is again pushing for nuclear weapons and could have them by 2010 at the earliest.

But then our intelligence agencies and unnamed officials throw in their so-called analysis that makes me wonder why we spend so much money on our civilian national defense apparatus (I'm assuming that the unnamed official is a State Department employee and stretching to include the State Department as part of our country's national defense apparatus):

That finding is a change from two years ago, when U.S. intelligence agencies believed Iran was determined to develop a nuclear capability and was continuing its weapons development program. It suggests that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic pressure, the official said.

"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," states the unclassified summary of the secret report, released Monday.

Officials said the new findings suggest that diplomacy was effective in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Are these analyists stoned? Is that official blind? Iran's halt shows the power of diplomacy? Their halt shows they are not as determined to develop nukes as we think?

The Iranians are developing nukes now despite the growing push for stronger sanctions. I'd say they are pretty determined.

Plus, what diplomacy was going on in 2003? The Euros haven't been at it for that long--it just seems like it. Under the current diplomatic route, Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. In the fall of 2003, Iran was still perhaps fearful that we would move on from destroying Saddam's regime to destroying the mullahs' regime. That's when Tehran suspended their nuclear work.

I can't prove that as the cause of their halt, but as the insurgency in Iraq got going and al Qaeda invaded Iraq, the Iranians started up their nuclear programs again.

And if you believe current apologists for Iran who say it is no wonder Iran (or North Korea) wants nuclear weapons because our invasion of Iraq has only caused Iran to develop nuclear weapons, why did Iran halt their programs in the fall of 2003? Why didn't Iran accelerate them in the face of our power?

This is the same negative proof that Libya provided when they gave up their nukes. If the reason nutball regimes want nukes is that they fear we will invade them, why did Libya give up their hitherto unknown nuclear program?

Now we have two cases where fear of us led two nations to reverse course on nukes. Libya has gone all the way. Iran has reversed course.

If diplomacy is to have a chance at convincing Iran to give up their nukes, I'd say that victory in Iraq is the only hope we have of restoring that sense of fear that Iran appears to have had in fall 2003.

If we weren't in the middle of war, I'd say we'd be better off firing a third of our intelligence apparatus and half of our permanent State Department bureaucracy and rebuilding it all from scratch with the remaining people who can find their ass with both hands.

UPDATE: I stand corrected, the EU-3 started their negotiations in October 2003. So the unnamed official could be right that diplomatic pressure forced Iran's hand.

But rather than rely on the press, I suppose it is best to go right to the NIE in question rather than rely on the press quoting unnamed officials about the NIE.

The NIE is highly confident Iran was working on nuclear weapons programs until fall 2003, and that the halt lasted at least several years (with two dissenters on the latter point who had only moderate confidence).

The NIE has moderate confidence that the Iranians have not restarted their nuclear weapons programs as of this summer.

The NIE has no idea if Iran still wants nuclear weapons.

The NIE has moderate to high confidence that Iran does not currently have nuclear weapons.

The NIE feels that Iran succumbed to international pressure and may not be as committed to nukes as was felt by our NIE two years ago.

The NIE has low confidence that Iran has already imported nuclear material to build a bomb, but have medium to high confidence that it is not enough to build a bomb; have high confidence that Iran has not produced enough on its own to build a bomb.

The NIE has moderate confidence that Iran would use hidden facilities rather than known facilities to enrich Uranium for weapons.

The NIE believes the most likely route for Iran to get enough material for a bomb is from internal enrichment, which should not take place before 2015 with a high level of confidence.

The NIE also states:

We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.

Oh, and the NIE has high confidence that Iran has the technical, scientific, and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if they want them.

That's the basics. They are on only two pages of the NIE so by all means read it yourself.

So, I think I can be sure that the unnamed official was from the State Department. The NIE did not speak of Iran succumbing to the dreaded diplomatic pressure--just unspecified international pressure. Given that Iran had pursued nukes from 1988 to 2003, our successes in Afghanistan to their east and Iraq to their west was surely part of this pressure. I cannot rule out that the EU-3 talks provided part of that pressure. It may be just as likely that Iranian fear led them to accept the EU-3 talks to forestall our military actions.

And remember that Iran has restarted their enrichment programs and has never slowed their missile programs. Iran needs missiles to get their nukes anywhere and would need to be able to enrich their own weapon grade Uranium for mass production of nukes. But do not forget that even without explicit nuclear weapons programs right now, Iran could get a few nukes from abroad to place on those missiles they are building and then use those to deter any attack while Iran goes full throttle on enrichment.

And Iran could easily afford North Korea's price for nuclear warheads. And those warheads could go to a third country--like Syria for example--prior to reaching Iran. I've long feared that Iran would spread its nuclear program outside of Iran to minimize the effect of an American or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

It seems clear that Iran wants nukes. They have enough fear to have pulled back just in case we can find justification to strike them. But they will push means to get nukes that we cannot see.

In the end, it all comes back to the regime itself. Iran has halted the narrow nuclear weapons programs while pushing missile and purportedly civilian Uranium enrichment which would be critical to production of nuclear missiles. And Iran has sought allies in North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela in the nuclear field that could provide hidden means of producing the initial nuclear weapons that Iran would need to deter a strike on Iran until Iran can openly press full speed ahead for nukes.

The NIE shows that Iran has reacted to international pressure. I do not know if that means we can safely assume that Iran has retreated from its nuclear ambitions due to international pressure.

And in the end, I don't know if we even know that international pressure has delayed Iranian nuclear development if Iran can import the first warheads from other sources (like a North Korean fire sale on their nuclear fuel as they get rid of it ahead of our scrutiny).

Good grief people, the NIE has only moderate to high confidence that Iran doesn't already have a nuclear bomb.

This NIE isn't of the sort to prompt me to dig a bomb shelter tonight, but it also isn't enough to make me think we've dodged a bullet. If the NIE can change so much in two years, what might it say in another year or two?

In the end, as I've often stated, it's the regime, stupid. Iran without nukes is a threat to us, so it doesn't really matter in that sense whether Iran has nukes--the point is that the regime must go.

But sadly, this NIE likely means that we will not strike Iran nor will we try to change the regime. We will go ahead and try to contain this regime and pray the mullahs really don't want to take a spear for the team by sacrificing Iran in order to destroy Israel and/or wreck the world economy by destroying Saudi Arabia's oil fields.