The Iran Charade

The Iran Charade

By Rich Lowry - September 29, 2009

The revelation of an Iranian uranium-enrichment facility buried in a mountain at an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base near the religious city of Qom might seem ominous. If, that is, the Iranians were determined to develop a nuclear weapon. Fortunately, we are advised that they are not. In November 2007, U.S. intelligence agencies wrote a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluding, "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." The intelligence community appears to be sticking by its judgment, which means - cue the sighs of relief - that the Qom facility may be only a strange curiosity.

Apparently, the Iranian regime is an obscurantist theocracy with an unquenchable taste for conducting massive experiments in advanced physics. In secret. In heavily defended facilities. The 2007 NIE had a very circumscribed definition of a weapons program, but it included "covert conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work." Exactly what Qom is for. What do the Iranians have to do to convince U.S. intelligence they have a weapons program?

Iran has been very lucky in its watchdogs. The 2007 NIE, which stands exposed as about as worthless as George Tenet's prewar talk of a "slam-dunk" on Iraq's WMD, crushed any thought of the politically weakened Bush administration moving against Iran. And the punch-pulling International Atomic Energy Agency has been suppressing damaging material, concerned more with forestalling a conflict over Iran's nuclear program than forestalling the program itself.

If the mullahs have a sense of humor, they must enjoy the farcical aspect of their showdown with the hapless "international community." Immediately after Pres. Barack Obama and Co. scolded them over the Qom facility, they test-launched short- and medium-range missiles in an in-your-face military exercise named The Great Prophet IV. The Iranians want to become a nuclear power on the Pyongyang Plan, featuring lots of bluster and lies coupled with interminable negotiations and negotiations over negotiations.

The Qom facility is less a surprise than a confirmation of standard Iranian procedure. In 2002, the Iranians were caught with an undeclared enrichment facility at Natanz. A few years later, they were caught trying to figure out how to get a warhead onto a Shahab missile. Each revelation is followed by international tsk-tsking, while Iran's program marches on.

In a painfully wishful sentiment, Obama says that gaining a nuclear weapon is not in the Iranians' interest. But Tehran isn't so foolish. With a nuke, it knows it will have a deterrent against us; a means to destroy Israel; and an instant boost to its influence and prestige in the region.

The Iranians consider the world order to be deeply unjust, foisted on everyone else by the Jews and the West, using the lie of the Holocaust for leverage. Iranian power is to be the instrument of this order's reformation. The regime would have to be thoroughly irrational - even on its own apocalyptic terms - to want to give up the prospect of a weapon merely to avoid tougher sanctions that may never arrive.

The notion that a bomb isn't in the Iranians' interest feeds the fantasy that they can be coaxed out of it by dialogue. If only they could understand our good intentions, if only we hash out a mutually agreeable accommodation, then they will realize their true interest is in eschewing proliferation. This attitude is about as cleareyed as the 2007 NIE.

The Europeans have been embroiled in negotiations with the Iranians for years, pleading with them to abide by repeated U.N. resolutions urging them to suspend their uranium enrichment. The Iranians have kept going since 2006. Tellingly, they had indeed suspended enrichment back in 2003, after the Europeans told them they risked courting the same fate as Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Through the haze of delusion over Iran's nuclear ambitions, that's a stark lesson in the persuasive power of fear. But why would anyone who is not an American insurance executive or a highly compensated banker be scared of Barack Obama?

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review.

© 2009 by King Features Syndicate

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