Iran Nuke Program: “Bluster May Outstrip Technical Expertise”


The New York Times‘ William Broad and David Sanger have written a thoughtful piece questioning the Iran as 900 pound nuclear gorilla. It’s a piece long overdue.
While I agree with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns that virtually every serious nation — including Russia, China, France, Germany, and others — that has looked at the design and direction of Iran’s declared nuclear energy interests sees a path towards weaponization, Iran may be trying to create an impression of greater technological sophistication than it has in order to satisfy domestic political appetite and ambitions.
Americans were sold a false WMD story to help build political support for a White House pre-committed to an Iraq War. There were political dynamics at play designed in part to give Republicans a monopoly on the political benefits of fear-mongering.
We need to imagine a similar situation in Iran in which Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Ruler Khameini have excited the national passions of Iran’s citizens who largely support Iran’s sovereign right and need to move towards nuclear energy, but appear not to support weaponization.
Iran’s scientists and theocratic leaders may be lying to their public about their technological achievements much as Americans were lied to about Iraq’s WMDs to stoke national passions and expectations.
If this is the case, it would be useful for some sophisticated and precise commentary at some point from inspectors or other nuclear experts familiar with Iran’s nuclear program to define whether or not there is a gap between what Ahmadinejad and other top Iran officials are saying about Iran’s nuke program, and what they have really achieved — or said another way, what failures they want to cover-up from their citizens and the world.
Arms Control Wonk is a good source for serious discussion about reality and fantasy in the world of nuclear proliferation.
— Steve Clemons


16 comments on “Iran Nuke Program: “Bluster May Outstrip Technical Expertise”

  1. Den Valdron says:

    Oh good lord, what exactly has Iran been lying to its people about?
    As I understand it, Iran has claimed mastery of the fuel enrichment process by virtue of having managed to link 180 centrifuges to enrich fuel by 3%.
    I don’t know that this is an unreasonable or dishonest claim.
    It may be an exaggeration to claim complete mastery of the fuel enrichment process, since to get any reasonable enrichment, you’d need a few thousand of them, and there are technical hurdles which are orders of magnitude greater.
    But it is not inherently dishonest.
    By the same token, Iran has consistently denied, to its people and everyone else, that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, or that its nuclear program is for anything but civilian use.
    For all the blather about weaponization, there’s no hard evidence and you damned well know it.


  2. pauline says:

    Justifications for attacking Iran on shaky ground
    “WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is escalating its confrontation with Iran, sending an additional aircraft carrier and minesweepers into the Persian Gulf as it accuses the Islamic regime in Tehran of arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq for attacks on American troops.
    A new U.S. intelligence estimate on Friday, however, concluded that Iranian and other outside meddling is “not likely” a major cause of the bloodshed in Iraq, and a new McClatchy analysis of U.S. casualties in Iraq found that Sunni Muslim insurgents, not Iranian-backed Shiites, have mounted most – but not all – of the attacks on American forces.”


  3. Reporters without borders says:

    This is the Internet Freedom desk at Reporters without borders in Paris. We have created a blog called “” which included a news site called “The World seen through Blogs.” The site’s aim is simple: to publish the viewpoints of bloggers from different countries on the same event. Rsfblog will showcase content produced by Internet users of very different origins and cultures.
    This week the topic is : Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under pressure from all sides
    Check this out ! and forward this message !
    Best regards,
    Reporters without borders


  4. John says:

    Here’s the correct link for the PNAC Primer:
    I appreciate these arguments and have heard them before. Unforutnately, the primer does not go far enough. Yes, the Bush agenda, as the authors state, is “to seek wealth and power at the expense of average citizens.” But the former oil executives who occupy the White House fully understand the sources of their power. As a wise man once said, “to control a person, control his access to food; to control a nation, control its access to oil.” The PNAC primer fails to explicitly identify the relationship between control of energy assets and world domination. I think most of the national security and foreign policy experts completely understand this, but dare not talk about it. Instead, they prefer to lead us on wild goose chases, talking about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, freedom, democracy, human rights and WMDs in Iraq, and Bush’s noble intentions but lousy execution for achieving these goals. This is why I keep asking for the experts to come clean and to engage in a frank discussion of the real underlying issues. Only then can we start to solve the problems of global warming and American militarism, both caused largely by our extreme dependence on fossil fuels.


  5. momster says:

    To answer your question why we invaded Iraq can be found at:
    “How We Got Into This Imperial Pickle: A PNAC Primer” by Bernard Weiner Co-Editor , The Crisis Papers
    The article was written May 26, 2003, I printed it out and have read it dozens of times. It is shocking to me we don’t hear more about PNAC in the political dialogue.
    Regards, momster


  6. sdemetri says:

    I have worked with high speed, non-cascading centrifuges of the type used in biotechnology. I never saw one of the high speed centrifuges go into an off-balance crash, but I have witnessed a low speed centifuge go out of balance with a twenty pound rotor spinning at 3000 rpms. You duck for cover behind your bench and hope the door to the thing stays shut. The noise could send you into cardiac arrest if it takes you by surprise. The high speed machines spun at 30k to 70k rpms depending on what the separation protocol required. The machines I worked with cost 10’s of thousands each, and had to be balanced within very small tolerances. The centrifuges they are talking about here are much more highly engineered, delicate things, where a greasy fingerprint can throw a rotor critically out of balance.
    I read recently, though I can’t remember where, the Iranians suffered a 50 centrifuge crash. No small expense, and an indication of the technical difficulties of setting up a cascade. I understand a crash in one machine can set up a chain reaction of sorts shutting down subsequent centrifuges, with damage and replacement activities taking time and resources.
    I read the IAEA report of September, and I saw no mention of a lack of ability to sample and inspect. It did mention difficulties and resistance to granting access, but in the end the report said what they wanted to see, they saw. Things may have changed since then.


  7. Mike says:

    I think you’ve hit upon the key issue with the doctrine of preemption. It asks us to make decisions based on not on information which we lack, but rather on belief. The problem of course is that what we believe has a tendency to be exploited by our fears and by our politicians whose careers (they may think) are based on the manipulation of this fear.
    “If this is the case, it would be useful for some sophisticated and precise commentary at some point from inspectors or other nuclear experts familiar with Iran’s nuclear program to define whether or not there is a gap between what Ahmadinejad and other top Iran officials are saying about Iran’s nuke program, and what they have really achieved — or said another way, what failures they want to cover-up from their citizens and the world.”
    Exactly. We should only take as accurate claims from disinterested parties, not those such as Bush who have proved over and over again that they believe they are justified in spreading misinformation to justify their aggression. So, for instance, we should stop working with vile terrorist groups like the MEK when it suits our interests, and stop using claims that MEK leaders (most MEK members are based in Iraq now) make in order to justify our intelligence claims. It’s a shameful practice to be working with groups who are responsible for bombings that kill hundreds of civilians and also gives us unreliable information.


  8. WhatToDo? says:

    Iran would never “nuke” Israel — Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock is where Muslims believe their prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven and where Abraham almost sacrificed Issac.
    It is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
    An Iranian attack on Israel is yet more *hasbara* (sometimes defined currently as Israeli propaganda).
    Come on guys — most of us and most people in the U.S. government grew up during the Cold War to some extent and we’re supposed to be scared of a country on the other side of the world possibly getting a nuclear weapon in the next decade despite a fatwa issued by their true powers, the mullahs, against nuclear weapons?
    And despite that they know any aggressive action on their part towards ANY country would turn Iran into a *glass parking lot*?
    Iran hasn’t started a war in CENTURIES. And we have just started two plus our two proxy wars in Lebanon and Palestine.
    This is utter madness: Russia, China, Spain and even U.S. oil companies have major stakes in Iran. It’s a wild card what they will do to protect their interests, but as our great or great-great grandparents saw in WW I, there are tragic and worldwide unintended consequences to a relatively small incident.
    The irony is that we DON’T EVEN HAVE A DEFENSE TREATY WITH ISRAEL but because of the influence of the pro-Israel lobbies we are about to start WW III.
    I’m very sad that Steve sometimes seems to be buying into the insanity.


  9. John says:

    The invasion of Iraq was never about WMDs, freedom, democracy, human rights, or Saddam being a bad guy (we deal with bad guys every day). Since it was about none of the above, it must have been about something. What was it? Too many are willing to ascribe “good intentions” to this administrations willful deceptions regarding its underlying motivations.
    The same is happening with Iran. Yes, nuclear proliferation is a concern, but not an imminent one given all the hurdles Iran must jump. So what is behind the urgency of dealing with Iran?
    I have posited two theories: 1) control of Iranian energy resources, and 2) Iran’s revolutionary rhetoric, which threatens the oil-rich autocracies across the gulf.
    From the administration’s viewpoint, these two issues are not as compelling as WMDs, which is why, according to Wolfowitz, the administration chose to hype that issue in Iraq.
    Given the administration’s predilection for hyping WMDs, even if the treat is not real or imminent, why should national security and foreign policy experts constantly and reactively parrot this issue? Why not talk instead about the real stakes? If control of Iranian energy assets and muting Iran’s revolutionary rhetoric are not the real, core issues, what are they? This is the frank discussion that I think we are all waiting for.


  10. selise says:

    while i do think it’s important to show the administration lies for what they are…. i don’t think that nukes or iraq have anything (other than propaganda valuje) to do with the current concern wrt to iran.
    my hypothesis – the real issue is that there is a power vacuum which iran looks poised to fill…. and that must (according to our national security strategy) not be allowed to happen.
    i refer to president bush’s national security speech in june of 2002 (and the 2002 national security strategy), where we are told that “United States has, and intends to keep, military strength beyond challenge”.
    our national security “strategy” is for military military supremacy – we will not tolerate even regional rivals. that is what iran threatens… in a region that is critical for our goal of world-wide hegemony.
    (of course i think this is insane – i’m just trying to get at the assumptions and real goals behind the rhetoric… so we can address them too.)


  11. Steve Clemons says:

    all good posts above. POA is right that this is not about American reactions to what Iran might be doing but rather reactions to American leaders…or that’s what I think he said. KarenK and POA — quite a long time ago, I suggested that we needed to think through the consequences of an Iran with nukes — and demystify that boogeyman. Iran “might” in fact be a responsible manager of nuclear weapons capacity — and it might make a lot of sense to try and cultivate a new type of mutual, multiparty deterrence in the Middle East.
    I don’t want to see a new round of proliferation, but if it is happening anyway, we need to think it through.
    John, good point, though I’m not sure what I need to come clean about. I think that the only way to deal with these issues is to “Think Through the Unthinkables” which is a post I did some time ago on TWN and which should be searchable.
    Steve Clemons


  12. Pissed Off American says:

    Whats more dangerous, Iran developing a nuclear program…
    Bush refusing to open dialogue with Iran and Syria while both the United States and Isreal threaten Iran militarily, and demonize Iran daily with inflammatory rhetoric and inaccurate translations of Iranian statements?


  13. John says:

    Yes, it would be interesting to know what Iran has achieved. But we already know a lot. 1) in addition to making bomb grade materials, Iran has to weaponize them, not a trivial task. 2) Iran needs to develop a delivery system, again not a trivial task. 3) Iran would have to be motivated to use the weapon, something no country besides the United States has ever done. All holders of nuclear weapons now use them solely as deterrence.
    Notions that Iran will nuke Israel the day after it obtains a weapon are just fantasies, propaganda brought to you by the same people that sold freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. to justify the invasion of Iraq.
    When will national security and foreign policy experts, including Steve, come clean about our real intentions in Iran?


  14. Pissed Off American says:

    We can’t do anything about Iran’s leaders lying to the Iranian people, can we Steve? Whats important, and what we CAN do something about, is OUR leaders lying to us about Iran’s ambitions and capabilities. Or, I should say, we SHOULD BE ABLE to do something about the lies being nurtured by our leaders, and our potential presidential “candidates”, such as Hillary. But with insiders like you, and the media, helping to pimp the lies, and the liars….
    Well, it becomes difficult, doesn’t it? Burns said recently that “there is no doubt” that Iran is seeking nuclear weaponry. Thats a God damned lie. And you are helping to nurture it. There is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, and both the IAEA and the CIA have said as much.
    If Iran got the bomb tomorrow, just what the hell do you think they would do with it? Nuke Israel? Nuke the USA? Bullshit. This fearmongering horseshit is just a repeat performance of the Iraq lies, and it disgusts me that you have climbed on board with it.
    The real threat to our nation is the failure of Congress to demand accountability for this administration’s crimes. As big a threat is this disinformation and fearmongering that you and your cohorts in Washington and in the mainstream media are shoving down the throats of the American people.


  15. karenk says:

    I believe the reason we don’t have good intelligence regarding Iran’s nuclear program is due in part to our own errors and lack of foresight. Correct?
    And why so much anxiety over Iran developing a nuclear weapon? Really what if they do? Is the big fear that they’re going to drop it on us or Israel? Really think so? In psychology this is called projection- and projection it is-of the highest order. Remember, the USA is the only country to ever actually drop a nuclear weapon on people….twice.
    Besides, many countries have nukes. If crazy Kim Jong Il hasn’t dropped one on anyone yet, I’m not so concerned about what Iran might be able to do someday. I’ve heard Israel has nukes. If so, then this must be disconcerting to countries in the ME, like Iran, correct? If the US was in that position you can bet we’d be developing something to defend ourselves. Pakistan has nukes. And they’re basically one bullet away from being in the hands of God only knows who. We need to stop the warmongering against Iran. It won’t help. Diplomacy is the only way. It’s not weakness, it’s the smart way to go. People never respond well to “strong arm” tactics.


  16. Sucker says:

    Read the following and then tell me again that the coming war against Iran isn’t for Israel. And I have a bridge to sell ya’!
    Time to get Israel out of our foreign policy and to stop funding and often fighting their wars. Impeach all congress people who hold ANY other country’s interest above our own. I’m looking at you Hitlery Clinton and John McPain…
    Iranian nuclear scientist “assasinated by Mossad”
    THE SUNDAY TIMES (UK) Feb. 4, 2007
    A PRIZE-WINNING Iranian nuclear scientist has died in mysterious circumstances, according to Radio Farda, which is funded by the US State Department and broadcasts to Iran.
    An intelligence source suggested that Ardeshire Hassanpour, 44, a nuclear physicist, had been assassinated by Mossad, the Israeli security service.


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