Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bomb, Bomb, Bomb; Bomb, Bomb, Iran'

Candidate Watch
'The Washington Post

"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program...A growing amount of intelligence indicates Iran was engaged in covert uranium conversion and uranium enrichment activity, but we judge that these efforts probably were halted in response to the fall 2003 halt, and that these efforts probably had not been restarted through at least mid-2007."

--National Intelligence Estimate, released December 3, 2007.

There has been a lot of loose talk about Iran's nuclear capabilities out on the campaign trail. Here is a sampling of campaign rhetoric undercut by the publication of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, representing the consensus view of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

Rudy Giuliani:

"As we all know, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and they're threatening to use them."
--Speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, October 16, 2007

John McCain:

"There's no doubt that [Iran is] moving forward with the acquisition of a nuclear weapon."
--Republican debate, September 5, 2007.

McCain caused some controversy back in April when he suggested that the Beach Boys' song, "Barbara Ann," should have new lyrics reflecting the present-day situation in the Middle East. He entertained an audience by singing the opening line:

"Bomb, bomb, bomb,
Bomb, bomb, Iran."

Mitt Romney:

"I believe that Iran's leaders and ambitions represent the greatest threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union, and before that, Nazi Germany....The Iranian regime threatens not only Israel, but also every other nation in the region, and ultimately the world."
--Speech in Herzliya, Israel, January 23, 2007

Hillary Clinton:

"Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism."
--Democratic debate, Philadelphia, October 30, 2007, explaining why she voted in favor of a resolution declaring the Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist" organization.

The Facts

Republican candidates, and some Democrats, have been vying with each other to make bellicose statements about Iran. The assumption behind many of these statements has been that the Iranian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pushing full speed ahead with a nuclear weapons program. While there is no doubt that Iran has been processing uranium for what it claims is a civilian nuclear program, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, it suspended its military program in 2003, according to the NIE.

Last August, President Bush mistakenly stated that the Iranian government had "proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon." (Iran has never said it wants to develop a nuclear weapon. It claims that its nuclear program is purely civilian, although it has had difficulty explaining why it needs to develop nuclear power when it has ample oil reserves.) During an October 17 press conference, he warned that an Iranian nuclear bomb could lead to "World War III." But he was more circumspect when asked whether "you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon." His reply was a model of incoherence, which becomes more explicable in light of the latest NIE:

I think so long -- until they suspend and/or make it clear that they -- that their statements aren't real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it's in the world's interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian -- if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

It is almost certainly true, as Bush says, that Iran wants to have the "capacity" or "knowledge" to build a nuclear weapon. But there is an important distinction between that and saying that it has proclaimed its intent to build a bomb, or is actually developing nuclear weapons. Past intelligence failures serve as a reminder of the danger of making definitive statements on such matters, without carefully examining the actual evidence.

The Pinocchio Test

I will hold off on Pinocchios for the time being, but let me know if you think that the candidates have been telling the truth on Iran. If you come across quotes from other presidential candidates that conflict with the latest NIE on Iran, please post them in the comments section.



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