Monday, January 30, 2012

“Patience and persistence!"

"... There is reason to doubt, though, that an attack on Iran is imminent. The United States and the European Union are ratcheting up economic sanctions in the hope that they will push Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to re-start serious nuclear negotiations.... The strategy, led by Obama, appears to be achieving its aim of raising the pressure on the ayatollahs to an unprecedented level. The value of Iran’s currency has fallen sharply. The diplomatic campaign would be stronger if it contained a definite plan to assuage Iran’s fears that the West and Israel ultimately seek regime change in Tehran—fears that presumably inform Iran’s search for a nuclear deterrent. Yet this is a rare period of momentum and international unity regarding Iran. “A peaceful resolution . . . is still possible, and far better,” the President said in the State of the Union. An attack now by either Israel or the United States would shatter diplomacy’s achievements.
The Iranian nuclear program is a problem with a long arc. The secret work began in the late nineteen-seventies, under the secular-minded Shah returned to power by Eisenhower’s intervention. There can be little doubt that Iranian scientists have studied atomic-bomb design. Several leading Israeli defense officials have said recently that Iran’s nuclear work has become so advanced that unless the sites are bombed soon—within months or, at most, within a year—it will be too late to prevent the country’s acquisition of atomic arms. It is difficult to tell whether the officials really believe that or if they are just adding to the pressure on Tehran. Either way, the evidence casts doubt on their judgment. The centrifuge technology that Iran has acquired to enrich uranium is relatively easy to hide, so it is conceivable that work has advanced further than world governments understand. But all of Iran’s known nuclear-fuel enrichment facilities are today under U.N. monitoring, and there is no evidence that any of Iran’s enriched uranium has been diverted to a military program.
Short of a nation conducting a bomb test, it’s not possible to define precisely when a country’s technology has attained weapons capability....The burden of proof rests, in any event, with those who would urge war. Two of Iran’s uranium-enrichment sites are underground; there are two significant reactors and another being built, and possibly other important sites that are unknown. In these circumstances, no one can confidently predict what aerial bombardment would achieve by way of damage or delay to Iran’s over-all nuclear timelines. And the costs of any such attack are much easier to describe than the benefits. For Israel, those costs would certainly include heavy retaliatory rocket and missile strikes by Hezbollah and Hamas against Israeli civilians, a wave of popular anti-Israeli upheaval in Egypt, and the prolonged inflammation of Iran’s nuclear nationalism. A regional war involving Lebanon, Syria, and oil-producing Gulf emirates would also be a possibility.
Moreover, although “the forces of stability and freedom” may be elusive and late arriving in Tehran, the durability of the Islamic Republic is far from assured. In Cairo last week, Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to commemorate the first anniversary of their revolution, an uprising that was as stunning and as unforeseen as Iran’s revolution was in 1979. The Arab Spring offers ample evidence that no dictatorship should be assumed to be indelible.
In 2009, in Prague, Obama, in one of the eloquent and idealistic speeches that characterized his early Presidency, pledged to pursue a world free from the menace of nuclear arms. He receives little credit for his work in this field, but he has delivered: accelerated programs to safeguard loose nuclear materials abroad, and a hard-won New START treaty with Russia, which proposes a smaller American nuclear arsenal. Iran’s case doesn’t offer much prospect for clear achievement; it is a crucible of uncertainty and risk. In Prague, however, Obama warned against “fatalism” about the nuclear danger, and he prescribed a strategy to defeat it: “Patience and persistence.” That strategy shouldn’t be taken off the table. ♦

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