Nukes for Easter!

Speaking at a MILCOM symposium in San Diego (MILCOM is a long-running policy conference on military and security issues), Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell had this to say about Iran:

Let me close by just mentioning Iran. Iran is currently pursuing fissile material. We suspect – although we cannot prove – that Iran secretly desires a nuclear weapon, certainly a nuclear device. If Iran achieves such capability, then the stability of the Cold War that was witnessed between the United States and the Soviet Union or NATO and the Soviet Union would be unlikely to be achieved in the Gulf. And that’s going to – at least in this observer’s view – going to set off an arms race in the Gulf that would be very destabilizing and could have global impact.

His forecast is accurate–if incomplete–and should instill a sense of urgency among those deciding about future measures against the Islamic republic. Especially in light of recent reports about Iran’s nuke timeline, which would put the country in a position to have enough weapons-grade uranium to build a first-generation bomb by Easter 2009.

Of course, McConnell’s views are operational. He emphasized “the importance of a strong, professional, apolitical Intelligence Community.” His thinking is apolitical, like the thinking that produced the NIE on Iran last December. Given the confusion caused by that, and the serious consequences it had on the ability of the Bush administration to threaten Iran, one should consider the meaning of negotiating with a regime whose nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger such a scenario as the one described above.

For those who advocate negotiations with Iran–even as a way to build up enough international consensus for more pressure–this should be a cautionary tale. First, there might not be enough time to try this new strategy. Iran may cross the point of no return before the next administration has had all its foreign policy appointments confirmed in the Senate. Second, talking has been tried extensively, and has only served Iran’s attempts to gain time. And this time around, talking might help Iran get across the finish line. And third, because even after the international community talked to Iran for six years and kept accommodating Iran’s demands and reduced its own, there was no international appetite for real action against Iran. More carrots and more dialogue yielded two outcomes: Iran moved closer to usable nukes, and the international community declared its readiness to give Iran more in exchange for less. Isn’t it a bit silly to re-try a failed policy, already abundantly tested, that gives such bad results?