The International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday released a report on the status of Iran’s nuclear programs; it makes alarming reading. The report concludes there is credible basis for concluding that Iran has long had programs and continues to work toward an arsenal of nuclear weapons: Iran has the fuel, was given the design information, built testing facilities, experimented with detonation systems, and developed 14 designs of missiles chambered to deliver nuclear warheads, The report emphasizes its sources are independent (translation: not just U.S. intelligence) and come from nearly a dozen countries. It also concludes that years of sanctions have not caused the government of Iran to reconsider its nuclear ambitions.
Last week a senior American military commander said the biggest threat to the United States is Iran. Not even a nuclear-armed Iran -- but the behavior of this Iranian government, whose tentacles reach beyond the Middle East, as the plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington demonstrates. Whether or not the Iranian government is in control of the actions of Qu’uds force and intelligence services, it should be held accountable for their actions.
Academics and liberals often argue that if only we didn’t threaten Iran, their government wouldn’t behave as it does. If only we let them feel secure, they wouldn’t arm and fund acts of terrorism, support Hamas and Hezbollah to ruin the prospects for peace in Palestine and Lebanon, threaten neighboring countries, or foment sectarian violence in Bahrain and Iraq. The commander saw no reason to believe a nuclear-armed Iran would become docile; they would simply have more power to intimidate others.
When President Obama took office, Iran was considered to have the fissile material for one nuclear weapon; the IAEA report concludes they now have enough for at least three. For all the President’s supposed attention to nuclear proliferation (anyone remember the Nuclear Security Summit he held in 2010 that was supposed to augur a new era of international cooperation to prevent this outcome?), the Administration has done remarkably little to impede Iran’s progress.
The Administration was slow to support protesters after the fraudulent 2009 elections in Iran -- what should rightly be seen as the first flowering of the democratic Awakening in the region. The President’s approach centered on building trust with the Iranian government, based on that academic theory that if we don’t threaten them, they won’t be a threat. He sided with the repressors against the repressed until criticism from Americans forced a recalibration. Since then he has favored a slow accretion of sanctions at a pace the Russians and Chinese will support. Which is great, unless you’re a victim of the regime, in which case time actually matters. The policy also does not acknowledge there is a hard limit to the support Russia and China will give us, as their reaction to Libya operations demonstrates.
The stuxnet virus was a great success, damaging centrifuges and setting the programs back a year or two. But acts of espionage do not by themselves constitute a strategy. The United States should be very worried about Iran, and we should be doing an awful lot more by policy means to constrain and weaken the government of Iran. Regime change will not likely solve all our problems (a democratic government will have a difficult relationship with the security apparatus and may not be in full control), but it is an essential component. Odd that the Obama Administration could see that in Libya but not for a country that is a national security threat to us.
(photo credit: Daniella Zalcman)