In 2007, the American intelligence establishment issued a National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran was not working toward a nuclear weapon. The finding was criticized around the world and was soon disavowed by the Bush administration. Since then, the evidence compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it clear the NIE was more a reflection of the post-Iraq caution on the part of U.S. intelligence in which they are reluctant to sound the alarms about potential threats than an actual belief in Iran’s good intentions. The refinement of uranium at increasingly high rates and other clues as to work on the military applications of nuclear technology have reinforced the widespread conviction that it is only a matter of time before the Iranians achieve their goal. The only serious debate has been about when that day will arrive.
Thus, the statement by the head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, that Iran will achieve nuclear capability within two years is sobering news. Sir John Sawyer’s reported remarks give the lie to those who have been attempting to deny the existence of the threat. It also makes clear that whoever wins the U.S. presidency this fall will be faced with a momentous decision that is not being fully discussed in the campaign. Both President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have said they will not allow Iran to go nuclear. But putting a date on the expected time that Iran will realize its deadly ambition means that by 2014, either man will have to decide whether to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining the means to make good on their pledge to eliminate Israel and to exercise hegemony over the Middle East. Given the utter failure of the president’s feckless attempts at engagement and diplomacy to deal with the problem, Americans must ask themselves whether he or his challenger can be relied upon to act.