Meta Report: Collected Reactions to the IAEA on Iran

On Tuesday, the IAEA published it’s report on “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  Reactions were posted almost immediately.

Preempting the report’s publication, Reuters published a piece on Iran and the end of the Begin Doctrine, arguing that the days when Israel could guarantee it’s security through unilateral strike against neighbors developing WMD programs.

Over at the Carnegie, Mark Hibbs of the Council on Foreign Relations has a very matter-of-fact Q & A on the IAEA report.  Contained within is this fundamental nugget of reason:

 Many people who have been studying this program in Iran since then have wondered whether the Iranian leadership, after the Iran-Iraq War, took a decision to develop a nuclear weapons capability in secret to make sure that the kind of vulnerability Iran experienced in the Iraq War would never happen again. The IAEA’s report doesn’t answer that question.

Josh Shahryr, writing over at Enduring America, talks about how the IAEA report makes victors of all parties involved. Particularly enlightening is his take on how Iran will spin the report:

Prepare yourselves for the Iranian narrative to take centre-stage in many parts of the world in the face of Western counter-measures by the West. While the Supreme Leaders gives out sermons to Iranians about the virtues of his nation and the sins of the US and Britain, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will remind the listeners about that Iran is a nation with supremacy over the West in its ethics and dignity. [Editor: Indeed, the President did exactly that in his first public reaction to the IAEA document.] The West will be the aggressor that wants to destroy this utopia, but Iran will never budge in the face of the forces of tyranny. [Editor: Right again.]

The New York Times reaches a similar conclusion, noting:

Unlike the findings contained in the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, the latest report does not fundamentally reshape the debate here over how to manage Iran’s nuclear ambitions, despite calls from Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail for tougher action.

Not one to deviate from an easily established narrative, Mitt Romney uses his position as presidential candidate to put forth a tidy summation of what a hawkish policy would look like:

 I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Edelman, Krepinevich, and Montgomery set out to craft a more  elaborate exposition of why now is the time to strike, and why striking is the thing to do, in Foreign Affairs.  There gamble seems to be based on the premise that the decisive force of a pre-emptive strike would more than offset the deterrence benefit having a nuclear arsenal conveys, and so by forcibly making Iran a non-nuclear power, it would stop Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt from pursuing their own nuclear programs.  Viewing a strike now as the surest guarantee against a regional arms race, they plot out the consequences of the United States not acting:

 If Iran became a nuclear power and the United States reacted with a policy of containment, nuclear weapons would only be more appealing as the ultimate deterrent to outside intervention.

Meanwhile, Iran’s rivals for regional dominance, such as Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, might seek their own nuclear devices to counterbalance Tehran.

For a less hysterical reading, the Yale Journal of International Affairs has a withering critique of Iranian power and those who fear it as an apocalyptic cult.  Here’s the best snippet:

 To bully its neighbors or to provide an umbrella over Hezbollah, Iran would have to credibly threaten the use of nuclear weapons, which means — given overwhelming Israeli and American nuclear superiority — that it would have to credibly threaten national suicide.

Finally, here are two takes on the feasibility of military action against Iran.  The first can be found at Gunpowder and Lead, and contains a great preliminary cost-benefit analysis.  The second, and somewhat more lighthearted take, can be found at Wired’s Danger Room.  Using the board game “Persian Incursion” as a guideline, Michael Peck examines the very real challenges that come from such a military strike.  Rolling a d6 to determine the appropriate lesson to quote, we have this:

5. Israel can’t do it all in one shot. Unlike the 1981 raid on Iraq’s Osirak reactor, Israel can’t pull this off in a single raid. Persian Incursion assumes Israel will need to conduct a one-week air campaign. Besides the diplomatic ramifications of a sustained assault, combat losses and maintenance downtime means the Israeli effort will only weaken over time.

So: broadly, the analysis can be broken down into a few camps:

  1. Acknowledgement that IAEA report itself, while important and revealing, is vague enough to be an open template for those who want to incorporate it into their already formulated strategy for Iran
  2. Hawks advocating military action without examining the consequences or feasibility of such military action
  3. Wonks examining the consequences of a nuclear Iran and contrasting that with the feasibility and probability of success for action taken to prevent a nuclear Iran
My prediction for how this will play out: lots of bluster, talking tough, and then multiparty negotiations that will serve more to calm tensions than resolve the nuclear Iran issue. I would not put too much stock in anticipating  any preemptive strikes, for much the same reason I don’t think Iran would act in an apocalyptic manner should her nuclear program be successful: for either to happen, it would require a conspiracy of irrational actors and a complete ignorance of the consequences involved.

About kdatherton

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