McCain opened a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying that Iran will get the bomb unless the U.S. acts more boldly. The Arizona Republican said the U.S. keeps pointing a loaded gun at Iran, but it is failing to “pull the trigger.”
The U.S. government has prepared a new, classified assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability and intent, but it has not released it yet. Military and intelligence officials who testified before Congress Wednesday would not publicly address whether the U.S. has changed its 4-year-old assessment that Iran isn’t actively seeking to make a bomb.
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran could have a deliverable nuclear weapon in three to five years, going a step further than Defense Secretary Gates, who told reporters Tuesday that Iran could make a nuclear weapon within a year.
A footnote to that three-to-five-year estimate: It could be sooner if Iran’s working simultaneously on the bomb and a delivery system. Which, incidentally, is a good reason not to be too hard on the White House for hyping the threat of nuclear terror even though there’s apparently no new intel on that front lately. With the way we’re going on Iran, there’s bound to be some new intel sooner or later.
We haven’t blogged much recently on the great Iran clusterfark, mainly because “west threatens sanctions as Tehran inches closer to bomb” stories are always in season and ripe for picking, but it’s worth noting how many provocations the Islamic republic’s been up to of late. Today, the day after the big nuke photo op in D.C. concluded, they announced that they’ve enriched their first batch of uranium to 20 percent. That’s not weapons grade, but it’s a step in the right direction. Yesterday they claimed without elaborating that they’re a month away from joining the “nuclear club” and last week they unveiled third-generation centrifuges designed to enrich uranium at a much faster rate. Just this afternoon, our partners in peace in Moscow announced that a new reactor in Bushehr will be online by the end of summer; meanwhile, Syria’s reportedly shipping scud missiles to Hezbollah, a.k.a. Iran’s proxy in Lebanon. Oh, and here’s a confidence booster: The Iranian parliament just passed a law limiting its own power to review regulations passed by the regime’s unelected clerical institutions, thus nudging the country that little bit closer to unabashed dictatorship. In sum, my crazy hunch is that the threat of sanctions is not, in fact, having the desired deterrent effect.
Which poses the question: Is Maverick right that it’s time to pull the trigger? The latest poll, from Fox News, shows heavy support for military action, but I’ll bet that at least part of the public thinks a raid on the reactors will be similar to Clinton’s bombing campaign in Kosovo — no risk to Americans and high reward if it’s successful. Not true, of course, as a recent wargame illustrated: U.S. troops in Iraq would be at risk of an Iranian counterattack, Saudi oil fields would be targeted by Iran to wreak economic havoc, and by almost all assessments, the damage done to their nuclear program would only be a temporary setback. In other words, it’s actually high risk and potentially low reward and The One understands only too well what the practical (and political) consequences of that calculus will be. So no one’s pulling the trigger; the plan is, and will remain, sanctions plus finger-crossing for regime change until Netanyahu finally decides he can’t wait any longer for western support. Good luck, Bibi!