Just days after Seymour Hersh captured headlines with his New Yorker report on how the Bush administration is considering — and initiating steps to prepare for — war in Iran to destroy that nation’s capability to develop nuclear weapons, Iran announced that its scientists had achieved a breakthrough: they had enriched a small quantity of uranium that would be used in civilian reactors.
Although the amount and purity of the uranium involved falls far below weapons-grade, Iran is now one step closer to becoming a nuclear threat, just like North Korea. Estimates vary as to how long it will take Iran to become a fully mature menace. At the moment, conventional wisdom projects a span of as long as ten years. But if experience is any guide, it will probably be sooner.
It’s impossible to hide nuclear efforts, but as Pakistan has demonstrated, it is possible to deceive the world about your rate of progress. Pakistan is a telling example because it not only developed its nuclear program on the sly; it was the covert foreign sponsor of North Korea’s equally successful effort. So far, perhaps the only good news to come from Bush’s war on terror — ham-fisted in conception and boneheaded in execution as it is — is that Pakistan is now out of the business of selling nuclear-weapons technology to others. But the bad news is that Pakistan, now an American ally of sorts, had already helped Iran jump-start its weapons program before it joined Team Bush.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of a fanatical, fundamentalist, and theocratic regime such as Iran’s is threat enough to arouse even Europe and the United Nations. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is bad news by any Western standard. He may be a former terrorist (the evidence is sketchy but suggestive). He is, by his own proclamation, dedicated to the destruction of Israel. And he has all the characteristics of a full-blown Islamist hood, bent on spreading and maintaining a Mohammed-inspired form of theocratic imperialism. While not yet a tyrant and international bandit on the scale of Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad has the potential to be even worse. And unlike Saddam, whose nuclear-weapons program turned out to be a hoax designed to fool even Saddam’s own generals, as well as President Bush, Ahmadinejad is playing with the real thing.
The situation is dangerous, but not yet dire. And while the Iranian president is truly scary, what’s scarier still is the thought that the four stooges who have bungled Afghanistan and blown Iraq — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice — may be planning yet another war. Seymour Hersh is not the only one writing and talking about this. In Washington and in expert academic circles, it’s been something of an open secret. A week before Hersh’s piece ran, the American Conservative, a magazine at the other end of the ideological and cultural spectrum from the New Yorker, dedicated much of an issue to the notion that the Bushies are planning a war on Iran.