The war in Iraq and the unreliable case for waging it have made many people understandably wary of claims about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. An authoritarian Middle Eastern regime supposedly developing weapons of mass destruction? Haven’t we read this novel before?
In the latest example of this kind of skepticism, famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports in The New Yorker that there is no “serious evidence” that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon. He cites a 2007 U.S. National Intelligence estimate that states with “high confidence” that Iran halted its nuke program in 2003. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, inexplicably indulgent of Iran’s theocracy, celebrates Hersh’s “findings,” suggesting that talk of WMDs in Iran is a useful fiction promulgated by the mullahs themselves. “In other words,” he writes, “Iran, epicenter of inefficiency, unable to produce a kilowatt of electricity through its Bushehr nuclear reactor despite decades of effort, is still doing its old brinkmanship number.”
And yet Hersh and Cohen are outliers. The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency finds evidence of a nuclear program with “military dimensions,” including projects committed to missiles, triggers, and warheads. Even The New York Times, once taken in by the Bush administration over Iraq’s nonexistent weapons program and understandably skeptical of similar claims, cites United States officials who say that Iran’s own “Manhattan Project” may indeed have ended in 2003 “but that many of the same scientists are still engaged in weapons-related pursuits.” The Times also reported last week that Iran plans to triple its production of concentrated nuclear fuel, useful in developing weapons-grade uranium.
As the Times acknowledged, “After the Iraq debacle, all claims must be examined closely.” But there is healthy skepticism, and there’s denying reality. Right now, the potential for military intervention in Iran is slim, in part because Israel, the United States, and their allies are banking on tough sanctions to put pressure on Iran. It would be devastating if reports like Hersh’s thwart the political will for these and even tougher sanctions. Talk about brinkmanship.