Now that Iran has once again expressed interest in talks about its nuclear program, in response to a US-endorsed initiative from Russia, the issue of Iran will be introduced into the political discourse in the United States once again, this time at the start of the 2012 presidential campaign.
I’m not sure, really, why people on both sides of the Iran divide see everything as black and white with so few shades of gray. From where I sit, it looks gray indeed.
Making facile comparisons between President Obama’s approach to Iran and President Bush’s Iraq policy seems especially noxious. Bush, by all accounts (including my own widely published reporting) desperately wanted to go to war against Iraq, and he eagerly grasped onto twisted and false intelligence to justify war. In contrast, Obama demonstrably does not want to go to war against Iran and, if anything, he’s seeking justifications to avoid war, not to make war. Although I believe that broad sanctions against Iran are a bad idea, it’s clear that Obama sees sanctions as a way of avoiding war, kicking the can down the road while placating hawks and AIPAC. But it should be clear to all but the most tendentious observers that Obama does not want war with Iran. Therefore, the Obama administration is not twisting intelligence to justify war but the opposite.
Related is the fact that in Iraq’s case, there was no nuclear program, no enriched uranium, no bomb designs, whereas in Iran’s case there is an advanced nuclear enrichment program, a stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a record (though disputed) of actual weapons research, a long-range missile program (Iraq had no long-range missiles), and so on. It’s fair to say, as I’ve written, that Iran possesses no weapons-grade HEU, no warheads capable of carrying a bomb, no over bomb designs (yet) and no obvious, declared intent to do any of that. Yet to dismiss concerns over an Iranian bomb as poppycock or warmongering by neocons seems extremely unfair and, yes, tendentious in the extreme. As academics, observers and journalists, we ought to be able to draw opposing conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program without attacking one another’s motivations and accusing one or another faction of being appeasers and Ian apologists on one hand or warmongering neocons agents of Netanyahu on the other.
It’s possible to believe that Iran is plunging ahead on a nuclear weapons program and still be opposed to war. It’s possible to believe that Iran is not making a bomb and still support some sort of pre-emptive attack. And it’s possible to see shades of gray in all of this. My own view inclines toward the former, that is, that Ayatollah Khamenei wants to oversee a nuclear-capable Iranian military, but I still believe in negotiations and, if that fails, a containment policy that is able to deal realistically with an Iran that has a limited nuclear weapons capability.