Gates: No plan for a nuclear Iran

It's not like we haven't had ten years to come up with something. There are suggestions galore, but the fact that this administration hasn't come up with a strategic response to the prospect of an Iranian bomb shouldn't surprise anyone who knows anything about this White House.

We have never seen such a political White House. Policy making has been subcontracted to Congress while most of the resources in the Obama administration seemed geared toward "the permanent campaign" in order to sell policy to the American people. Politics infuses everything so it is no surprise that something as important as developing a plan to deal with a nuclear Iran would be placed on the back burner, even though the Mullahs may be months away from having the capability to construct a nuclear device.

David Sanger and Thomas Shanker at the New York Times have the story:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran's steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.

Officials familiar with the memo's contents would describe only portions dealing with strategy and policy, and not sections that apparently dealt with secret operations against Iran, or how to deal with Persian Gulf allies.

One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as "a wake-up call." But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran's nuclear program.


But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon - fuel, designs and detonators - but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

One wonders when this White House is going to get around to developing such a policy. They have already abandoned the flawed, politically motivated NIE from 2007 that declared Iran wouldn't have a bomb until at least 2011 and probably not until 2015. Even doubting Thomases in the arms control community now believe Iran is months away from being able to enrich uranium from its current 5% level suitable for some reactors, to the 85-90% level necessary to build a weapon. Given that we must assume they have been working on a bomb design as well, it would be the height of folly to think they haven't already made great progress toward perfecting the total package.

Obama will continue to advance his notion of "collective security" with the UN and perhaps other regional players like Saudi Arabia, who certainly has the cash to build a weapon, lacking only the expertise the west could supply. But Israel, who has evidently been told in no uncertain terms by the Obama administration that an attack on Iran would lead to dire consequences with the United States, is still weighing its options and may yet act unilaterally to protect itself from Iranian threats.

Obama still expect the UN to do something. But the hollowness of another round of sanctions has already been exposed by Russia and China who refuse to vote for any meaningful curbs on Iranian commerce. In such a case, Iran has no fear of reprisals from the international community and can continue its work with impunity.

The US will either have to deal with Iran now or later. If later, there is a very good chance they will already be a nuclear state and thus, increase the chance that they would "use it or lose it" in any confrontation.

Maybe by then we'll have a policy in place but don't count on it.

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