Lost in the (certainly justifiable, if premature) celebration of the imminent fall of the monster Gaddafi, the world seems to be underreacting to this disturbing AP news story from the Middle East:
Iran moves centrifuges to underground site
“Islamic Republic transfers some of its uranium enrichment machines to subterranean facility
offering better protection from possible airstrikes: Associated Press”
“Iran has moved some of its centrifuge machines to an underground enrichment site that offers better protection from possible airstrikes, the country’s vice president said Monday.”
“Engineers are “hard at work” preparing the facility in Fordo, which is carved into a mountain to protect it against possible attacks, to house the centrifuges, Fereidoun Abbasi was quoted as saying by state TV.”
What makes this puzzling is that authoratative-sounding media pundits and prestigious national security experts have been assuring us for years that Iran’s nuclear program could not be stopped by airstrikes, since it was buried in deep subterranean facilities. This was all patiently explained to neocon hotheads who called for air action similar to the successful attacks that ended both Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs in past decades. As the “wise men” made clear, the only alternative to diplomacy and sanctions was a horrendous nightmare of “boots on the ground”; and nobody wants that now, do they?
So now it turns out that the uranium centrifuges, the biggest and most vulnerable part of the program, were sitting around in the open air? Oops.
This whole debate had settled down somewhat in recent years, as both the Administration and the news media (but I repeat myself?) took their eye off the Iranian ball. If you want a refresher course in this denialism, take a look back at my dialogue with Frankie Sturm, then Communications Director of the Truman Democrats (a misnamed organization trying to resurrect national security credibility for the Democratic Party). The title was “A Perfect Storm of Appeasement”, and it was written in February of 2009 – two and a half years ago.
Here is Mr. Sturm, expressing the left’s conventional wisdom at the time (and since):
“There’s a lot out there on the futility of air strikes. Here is one article from the Atlantic and another link to a study by the Oxford Research Group. It was easy to take out Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1983 because the entire program was contained in that single, above ground installation. The suspected nuclear site in Syria that Israel took out recently is a similar story – it was just one above ground building. Iran learned from the Israeli airstrike against Iraq in 1983. That’s why they’re so thoroughly buried underground.”
There is much more of the same, but the real tipoff to the left’s analysis is this line of Sturm’s: “The sad truth is that we might have to learn to live with an Iranian bomb.” Which means learning to live with genocide.
(Mr. Sturm is now a Foreign Service Officer stationed in Warsaw.)
In the case of Iran today, as in years past, the risk that resides with inaction (or reasonable concessions or vigorous diplomacy unaccompanied by a credible military threat) are very grave risks indeed.
First, the risk of the total annihilation (not defeat – eradication) of democratic Israel. Holocaust Round Two.
Second, the risk of domination of a crucial region by an apocalyptic regime armed with weapons of genocidaly mass destruction and the will to use them.
And third, the risk of an ultimate demonstration that the United States is not an ally worth having.
Calculating risk is a tricky business, of course, and always subject to unconscious bias. If one is predisposed to argue against action, then the perceived risks of action grow and grow. Meanwhile, the risks of inaction tend to be overlooked minimized, or wished away.
If you believe that Iranian weapons are invulnerable, then in a sense they already are. And sooner or later, reality on the ground may even catch up with your fears.
Have we truly chosen to “learn to live” with genocide?
I see that Jonathan Tobin of Commentary has blogged a useful story on this: “Iran’s Centrifuges Head To The Bunker”. He correctly emphasizes how this move makes a mockery of Obama’s “all-options-are-still-on-the-table” talk. But he fails to note what this says about the widespread conventional wisdom in the foreign policy establishment to the effect that the program was already so subterranean as to be invulnerable.