Answer Some Questions Before You Bomb Iran

In no way do I entirely endorse Micah Zenko’s latest post at the Council of Foreign Relations blog, but he does put forth a healthy dose of skepticism about the Iranian nuclear issue and the clambering for war since the IAEA’s latest hyperbolic report. Zenko points out the misleading official lines about Iran being one or two years away from the bomb and how those same warnings have been going on for decades. He also says that, given international monitoring and inspections of Iran’s reactors, “it is virtually impossible that Iran could covertly make, divert, and reprocess spent fuel to make eight kilograms of plutonium, or the ‘special quantity’ amount that the IAEA contends is required for one nuclear weapon.”

He then poses eight questions he thinks Obama must consider before taking the advice of the “growing chorus of hawks and authorizes a preventive attack against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons facilities”:

  • Are its violations of the NPT, UN Security Council resolutions, and ongoing inadequate cooperation with the IAEA sufficient grounds for suspecting that Iran will soon achieve nuclear weapons capability?
  • Last February, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress, stating, “We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.” But, “we do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” What new information has emerged that now confirms senior leaders in Iran have decided to pursue the bomb?
  • It is unlikely that Iran would needlessly test a nuclear weapon, since it would not be required to verify that it worked, and would only rally further international opposition against them. What sort of credible information will the Obama administration declassify and make public that would justify a preventive attack on Iran?
  • Does the Obama administration truly believe what Senator John McCain first said six years ago?: “There’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option. That is a nuclear-armed Iran.”
  • Iranian nuclear ambitions extend back thirty-five years. According to a CIA estimate in 1974: “If other countries have proceeded with [nuclear] weapons development, we have no doubt that Iran will follow suit.” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta conceded in December that an attack “might postpone [Iran’s nuclear program] maybe one, possibly two years.” Are the costs of a preventive attack worth twelve to twenty-four months of peace of mind?
  • What is the expected air and ground requirements, scope of targets, duration, and financial costs of an attack against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons facilities?  What percentage of this burden would be met by partners and allies?
  • What is the expected collateral damage and civilian casualties within Iran to such an attack?
  • What is the desired endgame of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? What is the plausible diplomatic and military plan for how this happens?