Iran has announced that it will build 10 new nuclear facilities. Big deal.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the facilities are necessary to meet the country’s goal to one day generate up to 20,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, a grand ambition.
That program would require 500,000 centrifuges. Iran presently has 8,000, only half of which are currently producing reactor-grade uranium. Experts predict the Iranians can’t get there from here, at least not any time soon.
"We’re looking at an extremely costly 20- or 30-year program, at best,” says Gary Sick, a professor of Middle East studies at Columbia University who served on the National Security Council during Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Ahmad Shirzad, an Iranian nuclear scientist who is often critical of his government, says Iran has neither the industrial ability to create 500,000 centrifuges nor the basic ingredients to operate them. He says the announcement was a “political decision to make an impression.”
The announcement came in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution that said Iran was bad, bad, bad for not exporting the majority of its reactor-grade uranium to Russia and France. That was a bogus deal that Iran was wise to stiff-arm. France has screwed Iran on nuclear deals in the past.
No one wants to grant that Iran, like many countries, wants to improve its situation in the world, and that the prize, for them, is a nuclear energy program. To have nuclear weapons would be, for them, a death sentence. Both Israel and America would go snake spit and bomb them back to the Bronze Age.
The impasse revolves around demands by the West that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program. That’s an outrageous demand, one that Iran says it will never accede to, and well it should not. Having a nuclear energy program that relies on other countries to provide your nuclear fuel is like not having a nuclear energy program at all.
The Iranians will stand their ground. They will not be bullied into giving up their "inalienable right," as guaranteed in the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty, to refine their own uranium. So why bother pursuing that aim?
The sound and fury over their "secret" enrichment facility at Qom, buried under a mountain, the one they revealed before we accused them of keeping it a secret, is not a big deal. As they explain, they wanted a backup, bomb-proof facility in case the Israelis blow up their main facility in Natanz, something the Iranians have ample reason to believe might happen.
To review the bidding, Iranians don’t have a nuclear weapons program. They have never invaded another country. Their conventional forces have limited capability. Their army has never deployed more than about 10 miles from its border, and that was only during the eight-year war with Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded them. Their navy is a coast guard and their air force is a junkyard. Their defense budget is less than 1 percent of ours. Iran is a pismire.
Iran’s president says unfortunate things; most of them, one strongly suspects, are for domestic and Muslim-world consumption. But the Iranians are, well, paper Persians. Their growl is much worse than their bite. They are, in fact, toothless.
Iran is part of the multi-tined Long War strategy that the Pentagon and its supporters are cramming up our noses. They’re digging their heels in on Iraq. Gen. Ray Odierno has been making noises about how we need to keep 30,000 or so troops in Iraq until 2015 or so, and he says the insurgency in Iraq may go on for another 15 or so years. So much for the "successful" surge. MacArthur’s antics with Truman were tame in comparison.
Afghanistan, where it looks like we’re going to re-re-escalate in order to develop an exit plan, has become the Long War’s center of gravity. We’ve never seen the Pentagon and its confederates make such a media play to force a president to keep a war going indefinitely.
Iran serves several purposes. It gives the Air Force and the Navy a reason to exist. We won’t bother to invade Iran; we’ll whack it with air power. Iran is a convenient scapegoat. Whenever something goes wrong anywhere in the region, we blame it on Iran, even though we never have managed to prove any of our allegations. Most importantly, the Iranians give us a perfect excuse to maintain a presence in the Middle East, so we can guard Israel from them and keep them from shutting down the Strait of Hormuz.
In all, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan form our Long War trifecta.
I don’t propose that we turn our backs on Iran. There is a possibility that they someday will develop nuclear weapons behind everybody’s backs if we don’t keep an eye on them.
But the sound and fury we generate every time Iran jerks our chain is silly.