Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Iran hawks

Oliver Kamm (who has taken our debate onto his blog here), self-styled left-wing neo-con, is upset that I suggested that Hillary's threat to obliterate Iran (given this, given that....) was irresponsible.

I'll build my case on the argument rather than the more personal approach that Mr Kamm adopts in his response to my article on his blog. I based much (but not all) of my criticism of Senator Clinton on a US intelligence document, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. The conclusions (it's very short report so it's worth a read) are available here.

Just some highlights:

- Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme (as defined: For the purposes of this Estimate, by “nuclear weapons program” we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.
- The DNI is 'moderately confident' that Iran could technically produce enough fissile material between 2010-2015. There is a 'possibility' that this will not be the case until after 2015.
- Iran halted the programme in 2003 in response to international pressure.
- It is 'moderately' confident that dissuading Iran from eventually developing a nuclear weapon will be difficult. Furthermore, it assesses with moderate to high confidence that Iran is keeping open the option of re-starting its nuclear weapons programme.
- It is 'moderately' confident that Iran would use covert sites to to develop high grade uranium. Such covert enrichment ceased in 2003 at the same time that the weapons programme halted.

So we have to be aware of the real possibility that Iran may still be pursuing a nuclear weapon by other means and will have the capability within a decade. We also have to acknowledge that, as things stand, its programme is halted and that there is enormous scope for negotiation and international pressure.

Mr Kamm, of course, reads a lot into my argument that wasn't there- I'd like him to show exactly where I assert or suggest that Iran is not a threat or a concern. Rather on the balance of the evidence contained within the NIE, a bellicose approach is just not justified.

And if you are a Presidential candidate who is asked ''if' Iran had a nuclear weapon and 'if' it attacked Israel what would you do?' and you respond 'we could obliterate them' then that is grossly irresponsible. The NIE suggests a more diplomatic and negotiated way forward. The scenario presented of a nuclear attack on Israel is just plucked out of the air.

You can see that Senator Obama responds in a very different way. See Meet The Press last Sunday. This must be why Mr Kamm groups Senators McCain and Clinton on these issues. He is right to. On the basis of recent comments both would constitute a continuation of neo-con foreign policy.

Of course, one major reason that you shouldn't threaten to 'obliterate Iran' is that it will actually be counter-productive. If you back Iran into a corner then any negotiated conclusion becomes less likely. Potential national humiliation is the enemy of progress on this threat. International support for our position will be diminished. Beyond that, be careful what you threaten you might just create a situation where you have to follow through....very quickly you can lose control of events.

Anyway, it's good to know that the hawks are watching over us....

Postscript: Hawks come in pairs it would seem. Stephen Pollard has repeated Oliver Kamm's points (for amplification presumably) mis-representing the argument all the way but that's a familiar tactic.

Of course, those silly Iranians won't hear Hillary threaten to 'obliterate' them. No one else will hear it either. It's just a political game. Has no impact. Hell, let's have some fun playing all sorts of scenarios through and issuing all sorts of threats. It's just deterrence. They don't know that the US has the biggest nuclear arsenal on the planet. So they have to be told....

It would seem that 'hearts and minds' still does not have a place in the neo-con's dictionary...

I do notice that Mr Pollard refers to Mr Kamm as the 'master.' Enough said.

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