So, it is bad enough that GOP pols like Santorum are calling for bombing Iran and that reportedly 50% of the US population agrees with this, but we also have the Obama administration about to implement a seriously intensive sanctions policy on the Iranian central bank that has gotten the Iranians all worked up and making threats about closing the Straits of Hormuz. Some of this is clearly just politics, with the US in an election year and war whooping on Iran popular, while Iran is coming up on a parliamentary election on March 2, with similar sorts of tough guy strutting going on there as well as here. Needless to say, Iran is unlikely to follow through on its threat, but enjoys watching oil prices spike with the threats, thus threatening the economic recovery Obama needs for his reelection.
Let us remember certain things. While the latest US National Intelligence Estimate moved somewhat away from its previous firm denials of there being any Iranian nuclear weapons program, that movement amounted to saying that they maybe had one going on longer than we had previously thought, but continued to say that there is not one going on now. The more recent IAEA report that seems to lie behind Obama's plicy basically only amplified that somewhat, with some more recent reported simulations by some scientists of nuclear explosions and some evidence of not being fully forthcoming in certain areas. Neither report says that they have an active program to build nuclear weapons, so the vast majority of the current talk is basically hysteria, less credible than the claims that Iraq had WMD.
While Juan Cole has long argued that they would like to have the capability to build nuclear weapons, what they have done so far is completely legal according to the NNPT to which they are a party. They have a civilian nuclear energy program, which they are allowed to have, and their ongoing uranium enrichment program is fully consistent with it and not the higher levels associated with a nuclear weapons program. IAEA inspectors are still in the country, and Cole points out that we would be able to figure out if they went active because of a variety of things the inspectors and other sources would observe. And, although many dismiss this, the supreme military commander and supreme leader, Vilayat-el-faqih, Khamene'i has issued fatwas against nuclear weapons. As long as he does not undo those and remains in charge, there will be no nuclear weapons program in Iran.
What I confess to being a bit mystified about is the attitude of some of the Western European countries, who seem to be quite eager for these heightened sanctions and this confrontation. I can sort of understand that they might fear more any possible nukes from Iran due to proximity, just as Israel does. But I also think that there intel agencies ought to be able to figure out what the US intel agencies know, and that reportedly the Isreali ones do as well, even though they get majorly ignored by their politicians, that there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran.
Indeed, I am really not at all clear what Obama or anybody else thinks is going to be acheived by these heightened sanctions. Are we actually demanding that they shut down their perfectly legal civilian nuclear weapons program? Presumably a negotiation would involve some sort of deal where they are allowed to have their civilian program if they promise not to have a military program. But that is already what they are doing and repeatedly declare that they are doing. Is this really about trying to achieve regime change? This will also not work, as sanctions simply reinforce the arguments of the hardliners, just as the US sanctions have done with regard to Cuba for a half a century. The only place I know where sanctions worked was maybe in South Africa, but they had a real problem and undid it, whereas what is being demanded of Iran is for them to stop doing something that they are not doing. Really, this war whooping is getting seriously out of hand. Do we really need to go into Iran now that we finally just got out of Iraq?
Oh, and hope to see some of you in Chicago, :-).