|Mike Ramirez, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2006|
What's worse than an Iranian bomb? An Iranian almost-bomb
-Gary C. Gambill
For all of their sharp disagreements over the particulars of foreign policy, everyone in Washington seems to agree on one thing — that the overarching objective of American policy toward Iran should be, as President Barack Obama frequently intones, to "prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon."
They've got it wrong. The primary objective of American policy must be a sweeping degradation of Iran's nuclear industrial infrastructure, preferably by diplomatic means, even if the resolute pursuit of this goal provokes Iran into rashly attempting the construction of a bomb — indeed, especially if it does so.
Bear in mind that Iran hasn't been rushing to build a bomb. Rather, it has been working steadily to increase its breakout capacity — the ability to successfully produce a nuclear weapon on short notice, if it made a mad dash to do so.
Iran's paramount goal is to inch as close as possible to the finish line without triggering a military response, then reach a permanent settlement with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) that preserves as much of its breakout capacity as possible in exchange for an end to sanctions that have hobbled its economy.
Achieving an internationally-legitimized nuclear threshold status has immense strategic advantages for the Islamic Republic, above and beyond the ability to rapidly weaponize at a few months' notice: Fear of provoking Tehran to cross this final threshold likely will discourage the international community from slapping on future sanctions for sponsoring terrorism, bloody proxy interventions in the region (including Syria), human rights violations, and Iran's various other rogue-state activities. And Iranian threshold status is just as bad as a bomb in instigating a regional nuclear arms race.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's frequent admonitions that, absent the JPA, Iran would "rush towards a nuclear weapon" are absurd. Iran won't seriously consider a breakout unless or until its leaders are prepared to absorb Israeli, and possibly American, air strikes and live with a far more debilitating sanctions regime — or until one or both of these threats fade away. Thankfully, we're not there yet.
We should all be so lucky if Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is foolhardy enough to launch a breakout prematurely and unite the world against his regime. Even if he manages to squeeze a weapon's worth of fissile material out of what's left of Iran's smoldering enrichment facilities, I like the international community's chances of ensuring that it is destroyed or relinquished once the ayatollahs have shown their true colors.
The nightmare scenario isn't that the Iranians rush to weaponize; it is that they are allowed to perch on or near the precipice of doing so ...