Monday, October 29, 2007

Nuclear Weapons Program-Related Activity

Like Matt, I was struck by the subtle shift in rhetoric from President Bush regarding potential red lines associated with Iranian nukes that, if crossed, would require a military response from the United States. Pay attention to the trigger here [my emphasis throughout]:

I believe [the Iranians] want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon...

So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.
The shift in the casus belli goal posts was evident again in a recent appearance by Bush, as quoted by Michael Hirsh:

In a speech Tuesday at National Defense University, Bush declared that "the need for missile defense in Europe … is urgent" because "Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles."
The appearance of these new markers is not likely the result of mere happenstance. The major obstacle to Iran's, or any other state's, ambition for nuclear weapons is less the lack of "knowledge" and more the lack of raw materials. Most credible assessments of Iran's progress in terms of the acquisition or production of those fissile raw materials (those elusive centrifuges) puts the red line many years down the road. That line is moved even further back if we're talking about Iran developing technology to convert that nuclear arsenal into a credible threat against the United States.

Thus, the harsh demands of empirical evidence weakens Iran war advocates' claims that Bush must strike during the remaining months of his presidency. On the other hand, under the "knowledge" rubric for justifying (or selling) war with Iran (and other similarly attenuated standards like possession of technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons), the timeline is likely accelerated to...well, today.

I suppose one could argue that the Bush administration has learned something from the debacle in Iraq. Rather than over-selling the evidentiary case a priori, and then trying to move the goal posts after the fact with clumsy constructs like, "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities," they seem to have opted to just start out with easy to reach goals that even this gang can hit.

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