An editorial in today’s Washington Post strongly suggests, once again, that the paper’s editors have not seriously reflected on the role that they played in promoting the false case for the Iraq invasion, and are intent on reprising their role as the establishment media’s chief promulgator of alarmist scenarios, now with Iran.
Recognizing that the Obama administration “deserves credit for the diplomatic effort that produced stricter sanctions,” the editors nevertheless assert that “Iran’s leaders have not been deterred from their goal of producing a weapon, and the project is making steady progress”:
Despite the loss of centrifuges, Iran’s rate of enrichment is nearly double what it was in 2009, according to a study by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The center estimates that, should Iran decide on a “breakout” strategy of rapidly producing the highly enriched uranium for a weapon, it could do so in as little as 62 days — and that by the end of next year that timeline could fall to 12 days, making it possible to produce the core material for a bomb between visits by international inspectors.
While it’s increasingly clear that Iran is determined to obtain a nuclear weapons capability, the position of the U.S. intelligence community is that there is still insufficient evidence to determine that the Iranian government has decided to actually produce a nuclear weapon. Given both the domestic political import and the likely international reaction to such a decision, as well what it suggests about the continuing possibility of influencing that decision, this is not a minor distinction. Yet the editorial irresponsibly skates right over it.
I spoke to Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, who noted that the Post’s editorial also “gets a few [other] facts wrong”:
While Iran is enriching uranium with the advanced machines, this is currently for testing purposes and not for production. Iran [claimed it] was going to triple production of 20% with the advanced machines, but now that they are installing the older ones instead, this tripling is not slated to occur yet. Granted, that’s only a matter of time, likely months.
Iran gave itself until the end of their year (March 20) to complete the process of moving production to Fordow with the new machines. They can probably make that time line, but they missed the initial timeline of installing the new centrifuges this summer.
“Not to mention,” Crail concluded, “part of the reason for those delays are the very sanctions and denial efforts that the Washington Post calls ‘past measures’ and says the administration shouldn’t be boasting about.”
More troubling than these basic errors in fact, however, is the editorial’s suggestion that even intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be enough to satisfy:
With its focus on the Arab Spring and other international challenges, U.S. policy hasn’t taken account of these developments; in fact, it appears adrift. The administration’s reaction to the new IAEA report was so low-key as to be virtually nonexistent. In the vacuum, others are offering bad initiatives. Russia has proposed that sanctions be lifted on Iran if it deigns to answer long-outstanding IAEA questions about explicitly military dimensions of its program, such as warhead designs. On Monday, Tehran played on this idea, offering five years of “full supervision” of its nuclear work if sanctions are ended.
The United States will surely oppose these plans. But it needs its own strategy for responding to Iran’s advances. Boasting about the effect of past measures is not enough when Tehran’s behavior remains unchanged.
While Iran’s recent offer of inspections in return for lifting sanctions is by no means a game changer, it is a significant development in that it’s the first offer of its kind in over two years. Simply dismissing it out of hand would be a great way to demonstrate bad faith, and could diminish the considerable international support that the Obama administration has been able to garner over the past two and a half years. It could also undercut the efforts that President Obama has made to demonstrate to the Iranian people that it is their regime, not an aggressive United States, that is the problem. At the very least, the opportunity should be explored.
Unanswered questions about Iran’s nuclear program remain a key concern for the U.S. and its allies, but the fact is that there is only one way that the program will be brought under control in a way that sufficiently addresses those concerns: Inspections. The only question is whether those inspections will take place under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or under the guns of occupying U.S. troops. The Washington Post’s editors have now strongly implied that the former would be unacceptable. If they favor the latter, they should come out and say so.