June 28, 2010

Iranian sanctions - "mere ink on paper"

مجرد حبر على ورق

That phrase is a common in the Middle East - it translates to "mere ink on paper" and pretty much sums up the new sanctions on Iran passed by both the United Nations Security Council and the U.S. Congress. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's exhortations, they will have little effect on Iran's quest for a nuclear weapons capability.

That is not just my opinion, it is also the considered judgement of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, an Obama and Clinton insider. On the Sunday talks shows - which is a standard tactic for getting not-so-popular news subtly out to the American public - Panetta made some rather startling conclusions.

First, he stated that Iran now has enough low enriched uranium (if further processed) to construct two nuclear weapons, and that those weapons could be ready and deliverable in two years. The hard work is mostly done - acquiring the fissile material is usually the show-stopper for countries who desire a nuclear weapon.

The other important factor, perhaps the key factor in acquiring a nuclear capability is national will - there is no doubt that the Iranians possess this. Despite their constant claims that their program supports a future electric power generation capability, virtually everyone believes this is merely a rather transparent front for a weapons program.

The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which claims that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, has largely been discredited. Most analysts, including the intelligence services of the United Kingdom and Israel, disagreed with the assessment when it was published. Both candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign claimed that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons capability, undermining the validity of the report. It seemed like the only people who did not know that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon were the U.S. intelligence community.

Panetta's statements this weekend merely reinforce how ludicrous that NIE was. There is a new NIE in preparation - let me guess the conclusion: the Iranians have enough fissile material, that when further enriched, is sufficient for two nuclear weapons, and that they could have a deliverable weapon in two years. How much more do you need to know to take action?

Panetta also ventured into the area of the new sanctions on Iran - imposed by the United Nations and followed by additional sanctions by the United States (and others). Again, he said what most people with any background in this area believe - sanctions on Iran are not going to deter the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons.

History is not on our side. A study prepared by a researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory holds that every nation that has sought to acquire a nuclear weapons capability has been successful, except in one case: Iraq. That program was halted by an Israeli military strike in 1981. South Africa voluntarily disbanded its successful program, and Libya voluntarily halted its nascent program after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Despite the Director's assessment on nationwide television, Secretary of State Clinton is still touting her "success" in obtaining the watered-down sanctions at the United Nations and U.S. Congressional sanctions replete with waiver authority for the President to keep his promises to Russia and China for their support in the Security Council. Not exactly the "crippling" sanctions we were promised....

Clinton's words: “We are committed to fully implementing this legislation in a manner that advances our multilateral dual-track strategy of engagement and pressure." Her remarks that the sanctions "underscore the resolve of the international community to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to hold it accountable for its international obligations” fly in the face of the analysis of our own CIA director and press reports that the Chinese are reconsidering their support for the sanctions.

Given Panetta's assessment just this weekend, I have to ask Mrs. Clinton, "So how is that engagement and pressure strategy working out so far?" I think we know the answer. Unfortunately, people are beginning to view the President's and Clinton's statements with about the same credibility as those of the Iranians.

Thus far, every attempt we have made to engage or pressure the Iranians have had no effect whatsoever. The latest round of sanctions is not likely to result in a diplomatic solution to the issue either.

Again, these sanctions are "mere ink on paper." Some time ago, I asked the President what he was prepared to do to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I hope this isn't his final answer.

UPDATE: After I posted this article, a news item appeared in the European press that Russia has complained to the United Nations that Germany has intercepted Russian materials destined for the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr. The Russians are unhappy that unilateral American, European and Australian sanctions go beyond the United Nations sanctions and that is not in line with their understanding of the protocol. With this "support" from the Russians, sanctions do not look like they are going to stop the Iranians from anything.