You wake up and look out the window: You see a ghost on the horizon, standing astride the world like a colossus. This is no ordinary dream. It is a premonition, the ghost of the future.
In that future, you will learn that the Islamic Republic of Iran, the declared enemy of western civilization, of Israel, of the USA, the primary state sponsor of terrorism for the last two decades, has covertly armed itself with the atomic bomb. When that day arrives, it will be too late to recover the lost time. Because of the reluctance US leaders to use tougher measures, a grave threat was allowed to gestate and grow until it has become a fait accompli. Those voices who told you that the USA would have “options” are now silent. Negotiations have failed. Maybe, some leaders now suggest, we can live with this nuclear Iran.
But a chain reaction leading to large scale genocide will almost certainly follow. A dire threat has faced us, but no American president has so far been willing or able to effectively stop it. Who will now bell the cat, now that the cat has atomic weapons?
You think I exaggerate? Please keep reading.
The good news is that we still have some time, though possibly not the months left in the current president’s term. A number reasonable people are still willing to side with our president’s less-than-strict approach to Iran’s atomic bomb program. But already it is clear to many – including the Iranian regime - that Mr. Obama has effectively ruled out the use of force.
As a result, an airstrike, using our bunker-busting bombs to disable Iran’s nuclear weapons’ fuel enrichment facilities is not a credible threat to the Iranian regime. Having bluffed before, our president now lacks credibility.
Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that Mr. Obama’s supporters see the same world that the rest of us can see. If so, they would be relying on two assumptions:
· That Iran will gradually liberalize during the life of the sanctions agreement, eventually seeing the light: a more democratic regime, a voluntary renunciation of aggression and a rejection of the pursuit of an atomic bomb;
· Assuming Iran cheats and rushes for “breakout” (the fait accompli moment when actual Iranian atomic bombs are in play), some think that the US will then be willing and able to act with sufficient swift and decisive force to effectively destroy Iran’s WMD capacity before it can be used.
But what if the supporters of Mr. Obama’s current sanctions-without-war approach are not relying on those assumptions? What if, instead, they actually believe that a nuclear armed Iran would not be a real threat to us, just another player in the international sandbox that can be tamed? If so, Mr. Obama’s supporters/advisors would not be looking at the same world that the rest of us inhabit.
They would be delusional.
I will limit my comments just to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and to rebutting the assumptions that Iran will liberalize in time or that we would be able to quickly and safely snuff out the nuclear threat once that regime quickly breaks out with a fait accompli bomb.
Some reasonable minds apparently are willing to entertain the two assumptions. But the trap we reasonable types often fall into is that we like to assume that we are dealing with reasonable people. It is the wishful thinking trap.
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) during the Cold War was a dangerous standoff that almost failed (study the Cuban missile crisis closely). The MAD standoff of the Cold War involved just two rational opponents. Add more players with far less rationality; and you have a war far too close for comfort, far dangerous to tolerate.
From all the available evidence, Iran’s current regime (a) is well entrenched, and (b) is hell-bent on getting the bomb.
Yes, Islam is in transition, but for most of its current adherents, it is several centuries behind modern Christians, Jews and secular humanists in the developed West. A thoughtful article in the Catholic journal First Things, CHALLENGING RADICAL ISLAM, An Explanation of Islam’s Relation to Terrorism and Violence, By John Azumah, January 2015, makes all the appropriate distinctions between peaceful Muslims and the radicalized ones that run terrorist organizations and control terror-sponsoring nations like Iran.
Whatever is the case with Islam sui generis, Iran is a terror sponsoring Islamic state, one with a regime that exhibits the classic disconnect between technological sophistication and a radically retrograde culture, 21st century weapons wielded by 12th century minds, if you will.
Moderate figures like Rafsanjani or Hassan Rouhani (both are “liberals” in the Iran context) are not in charge of that country’s security policy, nor have they ever been, any more than Putin’s puppets are or have ever been in charge in Russia. In effect, the “moderate” Muslims in Iran are hostages, whose visible presence works to stay the forces of the west.
Meantime, the radical clerics, principally Ali Hosseini Khamenei, a key figure in the Iranian revolution, pull all the strings all the time.
Many reasonable people believe that the harsh regimes in the world, like Iran, cannot ignore the needs and sensibilities of their people; and the consumerist benefits of modernity forever; that they must “liberalize” in the end.
The key phrase is, “in the end.”
Just how peaceful and trustworthy is the current regime in Iran? When will that “in the end” stage come?
The Iranian PR apparatus has apparently floated the notion that there is a fatwa in the supreme Leader Khameni’s name (dating to the Iraqi war when Iran was behind in Iraq in WMD development). This never-produced fatwa was to the effect that the possession of nuclear weapons is against Muslim beliefs. I think that is a deception. See the linked Washington Post piece for background. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2013/11/27/did-irans-supreme-leader-issue-a-fatwa-against-the-development-of-nuclear-weapons/ .
The pursuit of nuclear weapons is the only rational explanation for the number of centrifuges Iran has producing pre-weapons grade uranium levels. The 20% levels of fissile concentration in Iran’s stockpile are well beyond any reasonable civilian use. In context, their pursuit and possession constitute the “smoking gun” – “Yes we are trying to get away with making atomic bombs.”
Moreover, “popular expectations” in Iran are not against their country becoming a nuclear power, nor would the ruling mullahs have to yield to popular opinion in any event. Once Iran “goes nuclear,” most analysts think that the “liberalization” of that regime would be even farther away that at present.
So the danger is clear, growing and grave, and the current regime there cannot be trusted.
The Saudis have announced an intention to pursue their own uranium enrichment program to the very limits of whatever is allowed the Iranians per any US agreement. Their concern is obvious. They want the same breakout time to bomb manufacture as the Iranians will enjoy. The obvious implication: Iran’s nuclear breakout would guarantee that other ME regimes will follow suit ASAP. This is a recipe for a regional nuclear war, whether by miscalculation, terrorist overreach and retaliation, or some other dire turn of events.
At the end of this piece, I am providing links to some of the pertinent “raw” information. The best of these is the first, a detailed report about the Iranian program, and the capacity of its huge number of centrifuges to rapidly produce useable bomb material, especially starting from the retained stock of 20% enriched uranium that it already has. That source is the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, and the pull quote is:
By using the approximately 9,000 first generation centrifuges operating at its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, Iran could theoretically produce enough weapon-grade uranium to fuel a single nuclear warhead in about 1.7 months.
Iran's more advanced IR-2m centrifuges, about 1,000 of which are installed at Natanz, would allow Iran to produce weapon-grade uranium more quickly.
Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium is now sufficient, after further enrichment, to fuel approximately seven nuclear warheads.
Because Russia has a ten-year contract to fuel Iran’s only power reactor at Bushehr, Iran has no present need for enriched uranium to generate civilian nuclear energy.
Iran could fuel approximately 25 first generation implosion bombs if it had the ability to enrich the uranium needed to supply the Bushehr reactor annually.
The second piece is a 2014 report by the BBC in which Iran reportedly diluted half of its 20% enriched uranium stockpile as a gesture of good faith. The key points here are three:
1. This action was a result of the US freezing Iranian funds. When told of the “voluntary” reduction in the 20% stockpile, the Obama administration reversed that sanction.
2. At the same time, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the negotiators that that Tehran will never give up its nuclear program.
3. Iran has never agreed to effective on-site nuclear inspections.
The remaining piece is an excerpt from the World Nuclear Association that explains the enrichment process, and makes a couple of key points: Civilian reactors run on 3 to 5% enriched fuel. Fuel enrichment processes pose an inherent threat, requiring “tight control.” To put differently: Iran’s centrifuges are inherently “dual use” tech, i.e., both civilian and military in nature.
The sheer number of known centrifuges in Iran, not to mention its secret centrifuge installations (a point made by Netanyahu) are a red flag. No one worries about the French centrifuges. But Iran is a rogue state with imperial designs.
Of course, the Saudis are worried. So are the Egyptians. So are the Jordanians. None of the Middle Eastern players will sit still while Iran exploits the Western naiveté in pursuit of the unholy grail – an atomic bomb arsenal. They, too, will arm themselves. Peace will not break out in that region. Too much tinder. Too many sparks. MAD worked for two relatively rational players. But the Islamic fanatics will introduce MAM (Mutually Assured Martyrdom.
The damage from a “modest” nuclear war in the region war cannot be contained. The reasons have already been outlined (even a moderate regional nuclear exchange can plunge world agriculture into dead-crops nuclear winter, even a couple of years of which could starving up to a billion people): see my earlier article --- http://jaygaskill.com/TickTickTick.pdf.
A catastrophe on that scale will damage civilization as we know it, possibly beyond recovery.
Now, let’s take this analysis to the next level. Assume that Iran tries a covert breakout. What will be the state of US military preparedness then? Which allies will join us? Will the US administration then have the will and the means to launch a fully effective preemptive strike? Suppose that Iran – at the breakout detection point – already has just one atomic bomb and may be capable of using it on Israel.
Would we act? Really?
So it boils down to this: Given the stakes, what risks are we willing to take right now, and for how long must we wait before we must do something decisive?
We already know that the Iranian regime responds to a chokehold on its economy. We already know that international sanctions are difficult to enact and maintain, especially rapidly and decisively. And we know that the earlier referenced cutoff of access to funds (prematurely withdrawn by the administration, in my opinion), produced a quick concession by the regime.
The inescapable conclusion: The concentration should be on really tough, relentless sanctions imposed now, long before the breakout scenario presents. The approach needs to be (dare I say it?) more ruthless and much more effective.
Kinetic sanctions can stop far short of all-out war. They are particularly effective for two reasons: (1) They demonstrate to the adversary a willingness to cross the line into a new category - the really tough measures that cannot be gamed or avoided. (2) They hold back a full-on war, while sending the unambiguous message that noncompliance will bring on far worse consequences.
Here is single example of the kind of thing I am suggesting (used for illustration only):
A sudden” disaster” takes out a major Iranian gasoline refinery. It is coupled with a back channel message that we will fix it, of course, but only if the nuclear program is dismantled. If this kind of diplomacy seems familiar, take a few hours to watch the Godfather. A dead race horse in one’s bed is a special kind of message. …As in a burning refinery.
We are dealing with thug minds here, dressed up in religious trappings to be sure, but their language, their mindset, is right out of an earlier era.
Who will bell the cat?
The BBC article
The World Nuclear Association piece
The Nuclear Timetable Piece from Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control
A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing. Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at http://jaygaskill.com/WhoIsJayBGaskill.pdf
 This prospect of the Saudis beginning an enrichment program was broached earlier this month at the Munich Security Conference. Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal, the kingdom’s powerful former intelligence chief, if any final agreement that allowed Iran to maintain an enrichment capability would cause Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to invoke their own right to enrich uranium. “I think we should insist on having equal rights for everybody, this is part of the (Non-Proliferation Treaty) arrangement,” the prince said.