Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Unstoppable Disaster
The Coming Conflict with Iran

By David G. Young

Washington DC, December 11, 2007 --  

Iran has not stopped its drive to build a nuclear bomb. Abuse of an American intelligence report suggesting the contrary may spark a regional war.

With Democratic presidential candidates virtually tripping over each other to claim the most anti-war position, any chance for a productive policy toward Iran is now dead. Lefty Americans were unabashedly giddy last week over a National Intelligence Estimate report that said Iran halted work on its nuclear weapons project in 2003.1 To those who disdain the Bush administration's war-mongering Middle East policy, the report was a big thorny club they could use to relentlessly beat down administration's saber-rattling toward Iran.

But there's just one problem. Without question, the government of Iran is working hard to build nuclear weapons. Whatever the status of explicit weapons research, nominally civilian nuclear fuel enrichment efforts continue with great zeal -- the President of Iran publicly bragged this summer about deploying 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium.2 And as anybody who knows anything about nuclear proliferation knows, once a country has enriched uranium, assembling it into a bomb is a piece of cake.

Iran's suspension of its nuclear weaponization program was probably a strategic move to help it get a bomb faster. Back in 2003, Iran took plenty of heat because international inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium on the civilian program's enrichment equipment.3 Whether these residues were from uranium produced in Iran or left over from an equipment supplying country like Pakistan or North Korea, the Iranian government learned an important lesson: any evidence of weaponization could lead to unbearable international pressure on the country. By destroying all such evidence and dressing the uranium enrichment program in civilian clothing, Iran learned that there is nothing that the world can legally do to stop it from getting the bomb.

Is it possible that Iran's uranium enrichment program really is for peaceful energy purposes? Possible, perhaps, but highly doubtful. As many others have noted, Iran's crude oil reserves are the second largest conventional stash of oil in the world -- 138 billion barrels. This is enough to support Iran's domestic use at current levels for over 250 years.4 Historically, Iran has often been a great power, and many nationalistic Iranians -- even exiled secular Iranians opposed to the current Islamist regime -- support the country's acquisition of nuclear weapons as a means of reclaiming its rightful historical place as a great world power.

Should these more secular Iranians succeed in deposing Iran's fanatical government before the government gets the bomb, then there may be little to fear from an Iranian nuclear arsenal. And given the United States' overwhelming military power, it is highly doubtful America would be directly threatened by an Iranian bomb in the decades to come, even if it were controlled by the country's radical mullahs.

This is not true for Israel. Iran's crackpot civilian figurehead, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has hosted conventions of holocaust deniers and has publicly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Although a conflict between Iran and Israel may not put Indianapolis in danger, it could certainly draw America into a regional war.

Ironically, this result may be inevitable, thanks to the ballyhoo over last week's National Intelligence Estimate report.

The report -- and lefty Americans' misuse of it -- has made it politically impossible for an American president to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. And while such an attack might not be productive, the threat of an attack could have been extremely useful to altering Iran's behavior. Iran knows this, and in the absence of a threat from America, it no longer has any incentive to halt its enrichment activities. Israel, which is understandably terrified by the program, will now most certainly launch a smaller strike against Iran's facilities as it did against Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981. But such a strike will only delay Iran's enrichment activities, not stop them. And God only knows the consequences should this inevitable Israeli attack spark a wider regional war involving Iraq-based American forces.

This disaster is now virtually unstoppable. Because of last week's abuse of the National Intelligence Estimate report, the train has already left the station.

To be sure, all the blame for this disaster doesn't fall on left-learning Americans. The Bush administration's ignored the greater threats in Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, and bogged America's forces down in Iraq in a way that does nothing to enhance America's security, and everything to enhance the security of other despotic regimes. Bush's disingenuous wolf-crying on Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" destroyed America's credibility for dealing with states that actually are producing nuclear weapons.

Bush's action in Iraq, however, is water under the bridge. With little more than a year left in Bush's presidency, one of the Democratic candidates will likely have to clean up this mess. Whoever wins will have to pay dearly for last week's political games.


1. Washington Post, U.S. Finds That Iran Halted Nuclear Arms Bid in 2003, December 4, 2007

2. Associated Press, Iran Says It Has 3000 Centrifuges, November 7, 2007

3. PBS, In Depth Coverage: Tracking Proliferation, March 23, 2006

4. CIA World Factbook, as updated on December 6, 2007