Iraq, Iran and the Nuclear Phantasm: We’ve Seen this Picture

Nuclear issues are so complicated that the public is easily misled and frightened by nuclear demagoguery. That is why the new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear program will be hyped endlessly.

Iran is a theocracy in which the Supreme Leader has said that nuclear weapons are forbidden in Islamic law. In the medieval Muslim law of war, killing innocent non-combatants is forbidden. The same people who jump up and down about Iran being “medieval” in this regard suddenly dismiss Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s injunctions against nuclear warheads as irrelevant when the latter subject comes up. But if he gave such a fatwa and at the same time undermined it, he would risk a fatal blow to his authority and legitimacy.

The way you tell if a country like Iran is actively working on a nuclear bomb is that it diverts uranium to weapons purposes. Iran has not done that, as the IAEA repeatedly affirms. Almost certainly, if Iran were seriously working on a bomb, it would kick international inspectors out altogether. Yousaf Butt explains the red lines.

It is likely that Iran wants “nuclear latency,” or the “Japan option.” That would involve knowing how to construct a bomb in short order if the country was ever directly menaced with an invasion and regime change a la Iraq. From Bush’s announcement of the coming war in September 2002 at the UNGA until there were American boots on the ground in Iraq was about seven months. If Iraq had had “latency” or a “break-out” capability, it could just have made a bomb and blown it up, and there would have been no US invasion. Iran wants to be in that position. It is not the same as constructing an actual bomb. Everything we know about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program points to it mainly being for civilian purposes. There is no known nuclear weapons program as such. Whatever computer simulations or other measures Iran has taken would be consistent with seeking nuclear latency as a deterrent against an invasion.

But the propaganda will say otherwise. Just so we remember what propaganda looks like, here is a compilation of the Bush administration’s out and out lies about Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” (itself a propaganda term meant to sweep old canisters of mustard gas up with nuclear warheads).

I lexised Congress after Bush gave the speech in October, 2002, in which he said Iraq was working on nukes, and the members of congress who spoke afterward said that that assertion was what persuaded them to authorize and Iraq War.

Iraq had no nuclear program at all in 2002, much less a weapons program. There was no real evidence for any such thing, just black propaganda such as the fraudulent document on alleged Niger uranium purchases.

We’ve seen this picture before. Let’s not fall for it again, this time with regard to Iran.

33 Responses

  1. “We’ve seen this picture before.”

    Of course we have – it’s standard operating procedure. From the sinking of the Maine to the Gulf of Tonkin to the Bush Administration’s pack of lies.* To this latest pack of evasions, insinuations, and downright lies anent Iran.

    Hell, why not go the whole hog and get Colin to go to the UN to wave a test tube full of what looks like piss in the air and spout a pack of lies about weapons of mass destruction. If you pay him enough …. ohhhhh let’s see about 5 cents should buy him he’ll do it gladly and will even throw in crocodile tears later as a bonus.

    I’d love to think that the American political elite, their extremist partners in Israel and the supine American public won’t clamour for and get war with Iran but experience teaches us otherwise. America is a VERY warlike nation – and always has been. Expanding settler states and Empires are like that ….

    markfromireland

    * The American government had help with that one as they were aided and abetted by Bush’s British lapdog* and his “sexed up” dossier. The said mendacious pooch is now masquerading as a peace envoy to the Middle East which tells you all you need to know about how seriously the quartet take any aspirations for peace in the Middle East.

  2. Nuclear latency is also a deterrent against stopping Iranian from abusing human rights of defenseless citizens.
    If nuclear latency is so potent a tool, then it is in the US interest to remove it out of the hands of “medieval” mullahs who interpret or change their fatwas at will.

  3. Obama may be the thin thread that is holding back the bombng strikes against Iran. There is little question that if Rick Perry/Santorum/Bachmann or even the very holy mormon Mitt Romney were to be elected president, we would have another “Bring it on!” neocon warmonger in the white house.

    There is no doubt big bucks can be made by attacking Iran. Military leaders speculate that Iran would respond to an attack by closing down (mining) the Strait of Hormuz.This would surely push the price of oil above two hundred bucks a barrel, if not three hundred. This would be followed by a finiancial meltdown of the world’s already fragil economy. For those with inside knowledge the purchase of oil futures, betting on the price explosion, could easily double their investment.

    Israel certainly would not want to be blamed for such a negative world changing event, that is why they are trying to get their “BFF” to take the blame for a world depression.

  4. Professor Cole,
    I think one thing you should keep in mind when quoting the fatwa of the “supreme leader” Khamenei, which declares nuclear weapons as forbidden, is that he is known to lie when lying suits him.
    For instance, right after the serial killings carried out by the ministry intelligence were uncovered by the press during Khatami’s presidency, he delivered a sermon on a Friday prayers and publicly blamed the US and outsiders for carrying out these killings. Later, conclusive evidence surfaced that all the killings had been carried out by agents within the ministry of intelligence who were known to be utmost loyal to him and he had strict supervision over them.
    You often argue that Khamenei has declared nuclear weapons forbidden. Please stop this unbelievable simplicity. It is hard for me to imagine how an intelligent analyst like yourself can trust public statements of a master deceiver, Khamenei.

    Ali

  5. Juan, I think you don’t know Khameneie that well, Khomeini the issued a fatwa in the lat years of his living stating that “defending the regime is the most important and can overrule other religious order”. Considering the inside power struggle and Arab spring, Khameneie is going to build that bomb.

  6. The public’s conditioned association of the term “nuclear” is so profoundly negative that nuclear magnetic resonance procedures in a healthcare setting had to be rebranded as magnetic resonance imaging/MRI to avoid the n-word. Given that fact, it’s hardly surprising that juxtaposition of the terms “nuclear” and “weapon” produces far more uneasiness, even when the full context of a typical sentence is “there is no evidence Iran’s NUCLEAR material is being diverted from civilian research toward an entirely hypothetical WEAPON’s program”. Simply having both words in proximity is enough.

    Regarding an Iranian policy of nuclear latency, that would certainly be consistent with announcements and developments post-2006 or so. Part of Iran’s public relations problem is that they themselves were inconsistent in their messaging prior to that point, e.g. denying nuclear activity while satellites showed underground facilities under construction at Natanz. This led to moderate concern from the IAEA at the time, and even though such concerns have since been alleviated with far greater access and disclosure — enabling the IAEA to positively confirm that nuclear material is not being diverted — the spectre of “those sneaky Iranians” can still be raised by anyone wishing to add to the uncertainty. It’s not rational, but it’s certainly effective

  7. “Nuclear issues are so complicated that the public is easily misled and frightened by nuclear demagoguery. That is why the new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear program will be hyped endlessly.”

    Right! America has a completely captive IAEA now.

  8. Hell, yes, we’ve seen this before! Iran is no threat to us nor our way of life – it is we (and the war-mongering wing of Israel) who are the threat!

    The crazies in our Deep State have been itching for war with Iran for at least a decade, and they are doing everything they can to get what they want.

    The whole notion of attacking Iran is insane.

  9. I’m not used to seeing you use this many rhetorical twists, Professor. Such as:

    “The way you tell if a country like Iran is actively working on a nuclear bomb is that it diverts uranium to weapons purposes.”:

    Well, if they’re far-enough along in their program, that is. A country actively seeking to build nuclear weapons wouldn’t start diverting uranium to weapons purposes until it was ready, or almost ready, to build a weapon.

    “Everything we know about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program points to it mainly being for civilian purposes.”

    Mainly?

    “Whatever computer simulations or other measures Iran has taken would be consistent with seeking nuclear latency as a deterrent against an invasion.”

    And what else would they be “consistent with?”

    “Iraq had no nuclear program at all in 2002, much less a weapons program. There was no real evidence for any such thing, just black propaganda such as the fraudulent document on alleged Niger uranium purchases.”

    So, as opposed to the current situation with Iran, then.

    I can live with an Iran nuclear weapons program. Iran hasn’t launched an aggressive war for hundreds of years. Its program is clearly designed as a deterrent, and driven by the acquisition of nuclear weapons by several other powers in its region, along with concern about being next up for an invasion. I find Pakistani nuclear weapons a great deal scarier than Iranian nukes.

    But let’s face the facts straight on here. It is well within the realm of possibility that Iran is seeking an existent nuclear deterrent, and just just breakout capability. The information in the IAEA report is perfectly consistent with either scenario.

  10. Israel probably has 100-200 nuclear weapons. Why are they so afraid of Iran getting just one?
    What makes the fear even more crazy, is that Israel probably has superior means of delivering a nuclear weeapon, in all major types of delivery, than Iran. Now I have two jobs, my wife is my boss inthe 2nd, shje’s been pouring it on the last weeks. I am not the one who’s going to be looking up the types of aircraft and types of missiles in the Jane’s and the other standard reference sources on this sort of thing. But it’s out there, and you can look it up. And I am willing to bet, without doing the research, that Israel will turn our to have superior aircraft, superior land-based missiles, better ship- and air-launched missile capacity, superior submarine resources, and while none of us who are not in the intelligence industries can be sure, Israel probably also has much superior capabilities for covert insertion of a suitcase bomb in Iran, than Iran has such capabilities against Israel.

    Why are they so paranoid? Is it all about fund-raising in the USA ??

    • The concern about a nuclear attack (whether through traditional means, or nuclear terrorism) is what everyone talks about in public, but a deeper concern in about the regional balance of power. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent can act with a freer hand.

    • “Why are they so paranoid?”

      Guilt? Israelis are educated people; somewhere deep down, most of them probably know that what they’ve been doing is wrong. And if they ever let up that bootheel on the neck of Palestine …

  11. Who is behind all this? I don´t get it. Is it once more distraction from domestic problems? In which country, whose problems?
    Obama doesn´t need this, who else in the US might? The mullahs…. might…. I agree that Khamenei is a sinister geriatric irresponsible piece of sh..t. But then again, the whole country of Iran repeats oer and over how many wars were waged on foreign soil from Iran in the past century… So is it Israeli politicians?

    Someone has lost it, but who?

  12. I am following this story very keenly and would like some followup information or comments on a few items. One, what happened to the sophisticated air defence system the Russians were once slated to deliver to Iran? Was that scuttled for good? Seems that anything the Russians could do to significantly deter an Israeli attack would be a helpful counterweight to American enabling of Israel’s aggressive tendencies. And following on this, if the Israelis are able to reach Iranian air space (and exactly how? Over Iraq? From submarines and naval vessels? From friendly bases in the Caucasus?), could the Russians themselves directly interdict such an attack with their own air forces? Would they do so? Or would such a threat itself act to deter the Israelis?

    • The rumor is that Iran got a complete S-300 system from a non-Russian third party. As a result, Iran has announced that they have been able to successfully clone the S-300 system and it is currently in production and deployment in Iran. Since Russia is currently replacing the S-300 systems with S-400 systems and a few S-500 beta test systems, there are a significant number of S-300 systems surplus.

      Israel has three ways to deliver explosive ordnance to Iran

      - Israel has three Dolphin class subs equipped with Cruise missiles sitting in the Indian ocean. Supposedly some of the cruise missiles have nuke warheads, but given the size of the cruise missiles, they would have to be low yield
      nukes. Iran has no direct defense against the cruise missiles, but can detect and destroy the subs.

      - Intermediate range ballistic missiles (Jericho) with either conventional of nuke warheads. This is equivalent to the IRBMs that Iran has targeted on Israel. Both Israel (iron dome) and Iran (S-300) have limited capability of shooting down the IRBMs before they can explode.

      - About 200 fighter/bombers with small bomb payloads because of the need to carry external fuel tanks. These planes would have to overfly many other countries and would need to be refueled twice (going and returning). Israel has limited refueling capacity. Iran has both the long range S-300 system sand thousands of short range hypersonic anti-aircraft missiles. Israel has limited defense against the S-300 and near zero defense against the hypersonic missiles.

      The reality is Israel would not be very effective attacking Iran and could lose a fiat number of very expensive airplanes and subs along with highly trained crews.

      Of course Iran will retaliate by doing one or more of these:

      - launch their own IRBMs and Hezbollah’s 40,000 missiles at Israel, destroying most of Israel’s infrastructure (and their economy). The 40K number comes from Israeli intelligence.

      - launch more of their IRBMS to destroy all the oil infrastructure in the ME, crippling the Saudis and the US. In the process the US economy will be destroyed.

      - sink a few commercial oil ships to ensure the insurance companies void the policies, to make sure no oil in transit leaves the gulf.

      Note that China and Russia are wild cards. China gets ~10% of their energy from Iran so any disruption of that supply will anger them a lot. While China prefers to quietly stab people in the back, they are perfectly willing to directly confront the US and Israel. I suspect that China would even be wiling to nuke Israel given enough provocation because they know the US can not risk nuclear war with Chins over Israel (China would wipe out the US).

  13. I think that this is an unusually penetrating and important piece from a thinker whose work I find consistently penetrating and important.

    • Oh, c’mon, Cyrus — We have just been told, up above there, that the IAEA report, full of jingoist, pseudo-scientific, neo-dork BS and shading, and simple misrepresentation, is “consistent” with “something or other:”

      But let’s face the facts straight on here. It is well within the realm of possibility that Iran is seeking an existent nuclear deterrent, and just just breakout capability. The information in the IAEA report is perfectly consistent with either scenario.

      Which facts are those again?

      And I guess it was well within the realm of possibility that Saddam was going pell-mell for his own nukes and chemical and biological weapons, too. But hey — in the minds of the Serious Senior Players (why do you hardly hear that adjective “serious,” any more, or maybe I’ve just stopped reading the BS Press where it is so fraudulently employed?) in the fool’s game the rest of us are just soft targets and extractable wealth generators in, who cares about actual facts? The Narrative is the only truthiness we need. Right, Joe? It fits so neatly with that Manichaean/realpolitikal worldview, where countries are conveniently treated as individual players, and with the ebbs and flows of all that money’n’power…

      Says the lawyer, cross-examining a witness whose solid testimony gives the lie to his client’s defense, “But it is possible, Mr. Smith, that you could be wrong, now isn’t it? Remember, you’re under oath here…”

      Yeah, “within the realm of possibility.” So is a K-T-level asteroid strike 71 minutes from now, and the Cubbies winning the World Series…

      • “Which facts are those again?”

        Do you actually need me to walk you through the report, or are you up to reading it yourself?

        Because the use of centrifuges that need only be run for a longer period to produce bomb-grade material is not in dispute.

        Nor is the presence of hardened facilities capable of withstanding an air strike (not typically used for commercial power generation, you might or might not know).

        And I guess it was well within the realm of possibility that Saddam was going pell-mell for his own nukes and chemical and biological weapons, too.

        No, it wasn’t. Are you insane? The UN inspectors certainly never made any such claim. You know, it helps to actually familiarize yourself with the facts, rather than just checking your own ideological predilections. We’re supposed to be the reality-based community, remember?

        The Narrative is the only truthiness we need. Right, Joe? You’re the only one in this discussion basing his understanding of the facts on a narrative, champ. You should really try to stop doing that.

        It fits so neatly with that Manichaean/realpolitikal worldview, where countries are conveniently treated as individual players, and with the ebbs and flows of all that money’n’power…

        Um, what on earth do you imagine this to have to do with the comments of someone who writes: I can live with an Iran nuclear weapons program. Iran hasn’t launched an aggressive war for hundreds of years. Its program is clearly designed as a deterrent, and driven by the acquisition of nuclear weapons by several other powers in its region, along with concern about being next up for an invasion. I find Pakistani nuclear weapons a great deal scarier than Iranian nukes. Those are some mighty impressive BIG WORDS you used, but I don’t think they mean what you think they mean.

        Seriously, you need to stop thinking backwards. You’re supposed to let your political opinions flow from an understanding of the facts, not vice-versa, like you’re doing here.

      • Yeah, “within the realm of possibility.” So is a K-T-level asteroid strike 71 minutes from now, and the Cubbies winning the World Series…

        You seem to have missed the fact that is was Professor Cole who introduced this standard into the discussion.

        Of course, you had absolutely no problem with that, when it led to your desired political outcome.

        Intellectual honesty: UR NOT DOING IT RITE.

  14. I have always wondered why everybody is so bent on Iran not having Nuclear weapons of its own. All the veto members in UN have them. They have exploded tons of them in experiments all over the world and even in space. One of them even tested theirs live in the far east. Isn’t it just because might is right. Just because they control the UN, they can force anyone to their will while their own stockpiles are getting rusty. Hypocrisy at its best as far as I can see.

  15. Everybody is saying lets not go that path again. Lets not be duped again. Don’t let those scoundrels make another phony war on fraudulent evidence. But what is being done to bring the perpetrators to justice? Nothing. That is is the limit nobody wants to or knows how to cross. There will be no indictments or convictions or independent tribunals for the millions killed. For we are doomed to repeat this travesty of justice again and again and again. We are going to repeat until we replace this profound indifference with empathy.

  16. I’ve got family who works for the DoE, specifically for low energy (nuclear) physics. He also happens to be a former Iranian national who keeps up with blogs and other political on-goings on that side. His estimation, to confim Mr. Cole’s own beliefs, is that Iran doesn’t have the necessary tech and/or resources to do things yet. They may be working towards it, but it won’t happen for at least another few years. The thing we should fear from Iran is not their nuclear armament, it’s their willingess to fund radicals who even they don’t fully control, much as the US did previously during the Cold War.

    The solution to the dilemma is to not play their game, especially when it comes to their attempts to rally others to their cause. If we were to bomb their program now, we’d hand them the populist clout they currently lack. The better option is to engage the Iranian and Arab peoples in nation and project building, basically force them to open their doors to us and encourage their populations not to keep supporting the regimes in power.

    • Perhaps a better option would be for the US to withdraw to the Western Hemisphere where it lives, and leave the rest of us to get on with our lives where we live.

      In other words mind your own business and get out of our faces and we’ll mind our business and keep out of your way.

      Perhaps when you’ve learnt some humility & grace and to act like a responsible adult rather than steroid hyped hubris filled bully we can renew the acquaintance.

  17. DB– three years is a good estimate….but it’s hard to see how the iranian regime can be forced to open its doors.

  18. I’d like to emphasize that while Iran MAY have explored the possibility of having nuclear weapons sometime before 2003 as a reaction to the US accusations against Iraq for having one, there is ZERO evidence that Iran has even the desire for the “Japan option”.

    No one in Iran, as far as I know, has ever said Iran has ANY desire for nuclear weapons.

    Ahmadinejad just said that Iran is wise enough not to build two bombs against the US’ 20,000 bombs. This is precisely the point. Iran would have UTTERLY NO USE for ANY nuclear weapons short of parity with at least Israel – which still leaves it at a disadvantage against the US.

    The notion that Iraq could have prevented being invaded by exploding a test bomb is completely unfounded. The US could still have blown the hell out of Iraq and been able to successfully invade. You have to have DEPLOYABLE TACTICAL nuclear weapons to be a threat against an invading force.

    Who would Iraq have bombed if invaded? Israel? Perhaps. But they could have done nothing against an attacking US force with just one or two bombs which would have changed to strategic balance.

    The case of North Korea is often cited. It is not NK’s possible two to six nuclear weapons (untested successfully at that) which are holding back the US and South Korea. It is the North’s massive conventional (if aging) military which achieves that. Pentagon war games show the US suffering 50,000 casualties within ninety days of a full-scale war against North Korea. THAT is the deterrent, along with the ability even without nuclear weapons to destroy much of Seoul, South Korea, within 48 hours under a rain of missiles and artillery – estimated at some 500,000 PER HOUR.

    Do not repeat the notion that Iran “needs” nuclear weapons to forestall regime change. Iran has stated repeatedly that it does not – and they are correct. Nuclear weapons would only isolate the Iranian regime geopolitically and they know this. They also know that having one or a few nuclear weapons would be almost useless except for some pyrrhic possible attack on Israel if already under US attack – which would only result in Iran being nuked into the stone age.

    The Iranians aren’t that stupid. But apparently many of the US analysts are.

  19. The US will not intervene in Iran though drones may fly through the skies. Israel is closer to the situation and has acted against nuclear activities before and surely will again if need be. It will be unilateral, it will be divisive, it will be disruptive and publicly scorned but as with prior “nuclear deterrent” actions, it will be discreetly celebrated by all neighboring entities.

  20. Such insanity from power crazed people. especially those in America and Israel. throw the whole world into another war, destroy every nation economically and claim “territorial” dominance, beating their chest with a “Planet of the Apes” mentality. and make a fortune killing innocents, have our men and women in the military die for their “desire” to one up the other guy.

    As usual. tell lies and call it patriotism.

    these are not leaders, but destroyers of our economies, our ecosystem and our lives. As if things haven’t been made extremely bad for the rest of us, the 99%, these “leaders of destruction” are going to help make it worse. Not Better.

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