Israel has put off their recent near-term projection of Iran crossing the nuclear threshold. This is the summary:
Nuclear weapons are hard to build for managerial reasons, not technical ones. This is why so few authoritarian regimes have succeeded: they don’t have the right culture or institutions. When it comes to Iran’s program, then, the United States and its allies should get out of the way and let Iran’s worst enemies -- its own leaders -- gum up the process on their own.
And the author makes two very bizarre statements in his essay about how he learned to stop worrying about the Iranian nuclear program.
Overestimating Iran's nuclear potential might not seem like a big problem. However, similar, unfounded fears were the basis for President George W. Bush's preemptive attack against Iraq and its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Israel and the United States need to make sure that this kind of human and foreign policy disaster does not happen again.
Iran is not the only state with a dysfunctional nuclear weapons program. As I argued in a 2012 Foreign Affairs article, since the 1970s, most states seeking entry into the nuclear weapons club have run their weapons programs poorly, leading to a marked slowdown in global proliferation. The cause of this mismanagement is the poor quality of the would-be proliferator's state institutions. Libya and North Korea are two classic examples. Libya essentially made no progress, even after 30 years of trying. North Korea has gotten somewhere -- but only after 50 years, and with many high-profile embarrassments along the way.
The author is conflating nuclear WMD with chemical and biological WMD in regard to Iraq. Remember, Saddam was required to prove to us that he had completely dismantled his WMD programs. He refused. Our intelligence was wrong because many high-ranking Iraqis believed they had WMD. And just because we had no smoking gun, we knew Iraq had not proven his WMD disarmament and actively thwarted our attempts to do what we had no obligation to do--prove he did have WMD programs.
Further, we were sobered by prior failures in intelligence over Saddam's WMD programs. In 1991, we discovered how frighteningly close Iraq was to nuclear weapons before we defeated him in the Persian Gulf War. And in the mid-1990s we discovered Saddam had an active biological weapons program. We would not have known about that but for a surprise defection (the defector foolishly returned to Iraq to beg forgiveness and was executed for his trust). So we didn't know what we didn't know.
Further, we knew that Saddam actually produced and used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and against Kurdish civilians. And we knew that he retained the scientific, technical, and organizational assets to produce them if he had the opportunity.
In light of 9/11 and Saddam's support for terrorism in general and his and al Qaeda's shared hatred of America, it was understandable that we'd worry about future linkage even if there was no evidence of direct linkage between the two for the 9/11 attacks.
So to say our fears over Iraq WMD--as if that was the only reason for war--were unfounded is ridiculous.
Second, his dismissal of authoritarian regime nuclear programs ignores that Russia, China, and Pakistan have developed and deployed nuclear weapons.
His dismissal of North Korea's program is particularly astonishing if he thinks this bolsters his case for letting Iran pursue nuclear weapons without trying to stop them. North Korea has had three nuclear tests already and plan one or two more in the near term. If this black hole of the planet can do this, who can't?
And while it is comforting that North Korea didn't develop nuclear weapons earlier, why is that any comfort right now when North Korea is on the verge of having nuclear-tipped long-range ballistic missiles? If Iran takes another generation to get nuclear weapons, will that really be just fine? Will we really be able to smirk as we recall the high-profile embarrassments of their drive to get nuclear missiles? What rubes!
What rubbish. In the end, we have another directive from FUBARCOM here.
We are having the wrong Iran debate. We spend too much time calculating how far along the nuclear path psychotic regimes are, and too little time worrying about stopping the journey or ending the regimes that want nuclear weapons. Say what you will about the state of Saddam's WMD programs in 2003, but we know for sure Saddam's evil regime will not be getting WMD.