Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,
Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.
One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:
Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.
One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.
Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,
Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.
Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.
So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?
Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.
Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).
inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.
There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.