Friday, September 15, 2006

Gearing up for war with Iran

Yes, it looks "like prewar Iraq all over again," in the words of one former nuclear inspector.

Republican Peter Hoekstra's House Intelligence Committee has issued a report claiming that "Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the town of Natanz". In a letter to Hoekstra, The Washington Post is reporting, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called that claim "incorrect".

This "the first time the IAEA has publicly disputed U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation. The agency noted five major errors in the committee's 29-page report, which said Iran's nuclear capabilities are more advanced than either the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown." The Natanz claims is one of those errors: "[W]eapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent under IAEA monitoring." In other words, Iran is not producing weapons-grade uranium at its Natanz facility. (For more on Iran's uranium enrichment, see here.)

Some intelligence officials go further in their critique of the Committee's report, which was "never voted on or discussed by the full committee". These officials "said the committee report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate". Negroponte's office may or may not have reviewed the report, as Hoekstra is claiming, but the report's implicit allegation that Iran is an imminent threat -- one so grave that it may warrant a military response from the U.S. -- is not just misleading but wrong.

According to the IAEA, the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements". Parts of it are "outrageous and dishonest". Iran's nuclear program is indeed a problem and it may very well be, bluff notwithstanding, that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons. If diplomacy and/or sanctions don't work, perhaps some form of military action will be necessary at some point in the future. But given the lessons learned from the run-up to war with Iraq, that is, that not all intelligence is to be believed and that, more seriously, political leaders can and do fit the intelligence to the policy, misleading the American people on Iran is simply irresponsible. Worse, it's downright nefarious. Hoekstra has evidently learned nothing from the Iraq experience and now wishes to push the U.S. into a largely unpredictable military conflict with Iran. How else to explain his report's gross misrepresentation of the facts? Surely ignorance alone was not the culprit.

Whatever happens between the U.S. and Iran, it is of the utmost importance that history not repeat itself. Iraq has destroyed the credibility of the war's architects, from Bush right on down through his administration. It has been a war fought upon the basis of faulty and misrepresented intelligence, upon a flimsy foundation of fabrication. The architects of a would-be war with Iran seem to be similar misrepresenters of the truth. Iran must be dealt with in some way, preferably through diplomacy, but the response to its nuclear program ought to account for the state of that program. If Iran isn't an imminent nuclear threat -- and the IAEA seems to be asserting that it isn't -- then there is still time for diplomacy, still time to work out a peaceful solution to this alleged crisis.

And is that not a preferable alternative to military action? War, after all, is hardly the sort of thing that should be entered into prematurely and upon the basis of a lie.

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