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The dilemmas that ruin sleep

Is it possible that the administration, that the “west”, has underestimated how close Iran was to enriching their own uranium?

The Iranian nuclear standoff has taken an ominous turn in recent weeks. Two weeks ago with great bluster and fury, George Bush and Condoleeza Rice made aggressive statements toward Iran, explaining that no options are taken off the table and that military strikes were still considered options if the stalemate could not be broken. How the stalemate could be broken otherwise is unclear to me, with the Iranian insisting that it is within their NPT rights to maintain a peaceful nuclear program, rejecting any offer of offsite enrichment or enrichment under the guidance of other countries, and the West not trusting Iran with its own enrichment facilities.

That is where the situation remained until Monday, when Iranian officials said that an important nuclear announcement would be made Tuesday. The administration response came from Donald Rumsfeld, who said that discussing military options was "get(ting) into fantasy land"and that the administration sought a peaceful compromise with Iran.

On Tuesday, Iran announced that it has successfully enriched uranium to the 3.5% purity required for peaceful power generation, two weeks ahead of the IAEA report to the Security Council on whether Iran has halted it’s research program into enrichment. Observers have suggested the announcement is part of an effort to present the Security Council with a “fait accompli” and changing the dynamic of future negotiations.

The announcement was declared a step “in the wrong direction” () by Scott McClellan, who then threatened further measures by the Security Council, a move stymied by Russian and Chinese hesitation in recent weeks.

Where does this go now? The US is in an unenviable position, trapped by the need to do something firm and the fear that any military intervention, even a quick strike at nuclear facilities, would spill over into an already unstable Iraq as well as endangering oil shipment through the narrow Gulf of Hormuz. As Mark Steyn points out (I think) in his tortured, self-indulgent prose, the time to act on this is now – Iran is a nation known to support terrorism, and promotes a radical Islamist political faith, and we might wish five years from now that we had done something to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Of course, we might also wish five years from now that we hadn’t further radicalized the Mid East through our clumsy and callous mishandling of this affair. Thus are the dilemmas that ruin sleep.

Lefties and irresponsible peaceniks like me will unkindly point out that the Bush Administration has essentially asked for this kind of problem by voluntarily invading Iraq, destabilizing the region, and pinning a large component of their military, but saying that doesn’t help get us to a solution. I’m still staring at this problem and the only thing that comes to me is the hope that a new generation of Iranians will be more influenced by outside Liberal forces than by the regressive religious tendencies currently in power. Iran has made steps toward loosening the conservative’s hold on power in recent years and has made overtures toward becoming a real democracy; however these forces need time to work. The flip side of this coin is that that the Iranian people have a long history of nationhood, unlike Iraq, and are fiercely nationalistic. Direct outside intervention might not be welcomed.

Of course a military strike toppling the Iranian government could release the pent up forces of freedom. And forces of an allied west would march triumphantly into the streets of Tehran while a jubilant population throws flowers at their feet…

Haven't I seen this somewhere before?

This is shit-hitting-fan material, that's for certain. At first I thought "3.5%? You couldn't blow up a kitten with 3.5% pure U235." It turns out, though, that if you can purify to 3.5% U235, you can also purify to the 80%+ needed for weapons-grade material. It's essentially the same process. Darn. We're all fucked if George is stupid enough to drop nukular bunker busters in the Middle East.

You know, I haven't totally ruled a military solution out in my mind yet, all quips aside. The Iranians really are only a small technical step away from real weaponry - and I'd far rather have someone unstable ("I'm so roneryyyyyy") with these weapons than a jihad-minded theocracy with an inferiority complex.

However, the weapons are really only the tip of the iceberg here, and the iceberg are the theocratic governments in the Mid East. Going after the weapons in some ham-handed way could completely destabilize the place for decades and then what? For example, what if the Americans were to find WMD's in Iraq after all, would that really change anything now? No, there still is a fucked up nation on the bring of civil war with little or no chance of being unfucked any time soon. There is no reason to believe that Iran would be any better off after an invasion, and lots of possible indicators that things could go far, far worse - they have a bigger military, haven't been disarmed by a decade of sanctions, and have a long, long history of nationhood that can draw the people together against an outside invasion. As easily as Iraq blew apart into factions Iran could unite and you'd find yourself fighting a long guerilla war in any one of four or five Mid East nations. This could be very very bad, but what are the other options?

And overshadowing all of this is the certainty that nuclear and other big nasty weapons are getting far too easy to produce and distribute, so that a few years down the road far mor countries will likely have access to them. The Americans have set a bad precedent in their dealings with India on that score, and the mishandling of the ex-Soviet material by the Putin and Bush administrations has virtually guaranteed a vast supply of material. That last factor might make the Iranians building the bomb in the long run look quaint.

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