I am beginning to feel a vague sickness in my stomach and mind. It is the same queasiness I felt around March 2003, when satellite photos of supposed mobile weapons construction vehicles were released and used as a primary source of evidence in the Bush administration’s case for the existence of WMD in Iraq. The details and existence of these vehicles were made known to the U.S. through an Iraqi defector who was subsequently paid $1 million and given a house in the Midwest for his testimony – which many active data analysts in the CIA highly questioned if not contradicted.
In fact, in his infamous presentation to the U.N. general assembly, Colin Powell did not show pictures of these vehicles (except in satellite photos) but rather drawings based this anti-Ba’thist Iraqi’s testimony. Yet the Bush administration continues to deny any failures in intelligence, and seems unfazed by its inability to find any of these vehicles. A video has shown interviews with about a dozen former CIA analysts who said that these were known to be fire trucks, and that Powell’s testimony countered to all common knowledge within the CIA community.
The sick feeling returned Sunday afternoon when I learned from CNN that satellite photos indicating the possibility of weapons facilities were released. I was in horror, because if this were true, my conviction that the Iranians truly do not want nuclear weapons but only nuclear power would be utterly betrayed.
A little research showed that the group that released these photos – the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) – is a non-partisan group directed by a qualified physicist. They did recently release a six-page report detailing the expansion of Iran’s Natanz and Esfahan nuclear facilities. The report offers no indication of any weapons facilities and is not sinister in its tone. In fact it concludes:
“There is currently little centrifuge equipment inside the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP). Although slated to eventually hold over 50,000, the FEP does not now contain any operating centrifuges. Iran has stated that it intends to begin installing 3,000 centrifuges at the FEP late this year, although Iran will likely not meet its anticipated schedule for completing this initial installation.
My sickness persists. It comes from a profound disempowerment that I – and certainly others – feel in regard to our nation’s foreign policy. Most people look at U.S. foreign policy as a means of supporting our interests.
There is a fundamental irrationality to the belief that unilateral military action is in the long-term interests of our country. I’m sure many people watch the Daily Show, which recently showed footage of President Bush telling off a reporter for insinuating that the president wanted to go to war. But a glance at the website for “Project for the New American Century,” a poorly masked conservative policy peddler, reveals a letter to President Clinton dated January 26, 1998 indicting Saddam as a possible “threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War.” It also urged the US to “take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf” and not to “continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter’s authors? Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Donald Rumsfeld.
I truly fear we are on an unavoidable and absurdly politicized course to war or belligerent sanctions yet again. We cannot invade Iran – it is simply an impossibility. American military commanders have been talking about invasion for years, but Iran has a massive military that is not nearly as hopelessly out of date as the media portrays it to be, with its vast amounts of well-organized troops and strong domestic tank production. The Iranian military has also recently tested several new SAM and underwater missiles that rival the most advanced in the world – and are capable of hitting targets in Israel and U.S. bases.
It is tough to assess the status and contents of facilities without inspections, but the protocol put in place by the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gave unprecedented access of inspectors to Tehran’s facilities – the most comprehensive access any country has allowed voluntarily. I feel that the escalation of this conflict has been was a sign of misunderstanding and poor faith on the part of the West.
The U.S. media has also been downplaying the importance of the lack of unity between the 5 veto members of the Security Council. Though all agree Iran’s actions are ugly, there is no consensus over sanctions. With so much indecision in the air, most Iranians seem to feel nuclear power is their legal right under the NPT. In Iran, there is also public distaste for economic imperialism and a longstanding war of symbols against foreign intervention. Sanctions would no doubt be seen as unjust and illegal.
I would suggest bilateral or multilateral engagement. Rather than trying at all odds to isolate this regime, we should be trying to restore the protections of the Additional Protocol. We should not vilify the world’s fourth largest oil supplier for claiming it needs nuclear power. The Iranian labor market is very weak and a large percentage of the population is under 30. It is conceivable that Iran wants power to boost its tech job sector just as much as it wants to prevent the blackouts that occur frequently even in cities.
If Iran had a nuclear weapons program (and there is little concrete evidence for this), it would be exorbitantly difficult for the country to create a nuclear weapon. Even Iran’s insane President Ahmedi Nechadand is smart enough to know that using any short- range nuclear bombs is not in the interest of his country.
The U.S. must do what it did not do in March 2003. Instead of feeling that we are on an inevitable course for war, we must gauge the reality at hand. As the ISIS concludes: “Iran is likely to need well over a decade to install the tens of thousands of centrifuges necessary to produce enough enriched uranium to fuel the Bushehr (civilian) power reactor.” There is no concrete evidence of a weapons program.