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John Bolton Said Something Useful About The Iran Nuclear Agreement

Submitted by Robin Messing on Tue, 07/28/2015 - 7:00am

Former Ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush, John Bolton, recently wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times explaining why we should reject a nuclear deal with Iran.  He practically encouraged Israel to to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and said we should stand behind Israel's attack. Amidst a bunch of half-truths and wild speculation, John Bolton did actually say something worth paying attention to:

Some critics of Obama's plan advocate scuttling the deal and increasing economic sanctions against Iran instead. They are dreaming. Iran and the United States' negotiating partners have already signed the accords and are straining at their leashes to implement them. There will be no other “better deal.

Thus, Bolton undercuts one of the main arguments used by Bibi Netanyahu and his neoconservative backers.

But that is the only useful thing about Bolton's article. Bolton minimizes the cost of war and the probability that the U.S. will get dragged into a war against its interests or its will. He also forgot to mention that the best Israel can do is set back Iran's nuclear program by 2 years and the best the U.S. can do is set it back by 4 years. This is the conclusion of the Iran Project, a panel of REAL national security experts who weighed the costs and benefits of attacking Iran.

Contrary to what Bolton says, our intelligence agencies have not made a determination that Iran has decided to build a bomb. In 2012, both the Mossad and the CIA said they had no evidence that Iran had made the decision to build a nuke. (See here, and here, and here. )

Admittedly, it is possible that both Israeli and American intelligence agencies could be wrong. Intelligence estimates are built on murky, sometimes hard-to-interpret data. But it is criminal for Bolton to claim that Iran is building a nuclear bomb without giving any indication that this is at best an educated guess. He doesn't know that Iran is building a nuke, and we should be damn well certain of the facts before being dragged into a potentially devastating war.

It is questionable that Iran currently intends to build a nuclear weapon. However if Israel (or the U.S.) attacks Iran, then there is no doubt this will drive their nuclear program underground and they will pull out all stops to building a bomb. The only way we will be able to prevent them from building a nuke in the future will be to re-bomb them in 2 to 4 years, and then in 2 to 4 years after that, and 2 to 4 years after that. And it is guaranteed that Iran will kick out all IAEA inspectors after we, or Israel attacks it. Mr. Bolton fails to address how we will detect all their nuclear sites after the IAEA is ejected without putting boots on the ground and occupying Iran.  Indeed, many who oppose the deal argue that Iran could cheat because the deal does not include anytime/anywhere inspections.  Many knowledgeable experts dispute that Iran will be able to use this "loophole" to clandestinely build a nuke (see here, and here and here and here).  But for argument's sake let's assume these experts are wrong and that those criticizing the deal are right.

But if we assume this then we must ask the most important question: If we can't detect enough of Iran's nuclear activities to prevent it from getting a bomb under the most rigorous inspection regime ever negotiated, how can we possibly detect enough of their nuclear activities to thoroughly target and destroy their facilities after they've kicked out the IAEA inspectors without putting boots on the ground?

This is a question the deal's critics do not address.  And it is a question that MUST be addressed. Iraq has an area of 168,754 square miles. Iran has an area of 636,400 square miles. Iraq has a population of 33.4 million people. Iran's population is 77.4 million. In Iraq, only part of the population resisted our occupation. In Iran, nearly the entire population will be united against us. Occupying Iraq is to occupying Iran as wrestling a bunny is to wrestling a lion.

Past experience shows that the U.S. does not have indefinite staying power.  We grew tired of our occupation of Iraq and of the war in Afghanistan and we  greatly reduced our presence there.  And we will grow tired of our occupation of Iran after 5 or 10 or 15 years of having our soldiers coming under constant fire.  Sooner or later, we will pull out, leaving a very angry Iran free to develop nuclear weapons.

Bolton writes:

there will be no general Middle East war, despite fears to the contrary. We know this because no general war broke out when Israel attacked Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981, or when it attacked the North Korean-built Syrian reactor in 2007

Funny he should mention Osirak. Osirak provides a perfect example of how an attack by Israel can backfire and spur Iran on to making nuclear weapons. Before Israel's attack, Iraq's nuclear program was lackluster and disorganized. But after the attack, Iraq went full speed ahead in trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Colin H. Kahl explains in the Washington Post:

By demonstrating Iraq’s vulnerability, the attack on Osirak actually increased Hussein’s determination to develop a nuclear deterrent and provided Iraq’s scientists an opportunity to better organize the program. The Iraqi leader devoted significantly more resources toward pursuing nuclear weapons after the Israeli assault. As Reiter notes, “the Iraqi nuclear program increased from a program of 400 scientists and $400 million to one of 7,000 scientists and $10 billion.”


Iraq’s nuclear efforts also went underground. Hussein allowed the IAEA to verify Osirak’s destruction, but then he shifted from a plutonium strategy to a more dispersed and ambitious uranium-enrichment strategy. This approach relied on undeclared sites, away from the prying eyes of inspectors, and aimed to develop local technology and expertise to reduce the reliance on foreign suppliers of sensitive technologies. When inspectors finally gained access after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, they were shocked by the extent of Iraq’s nuclear infrastructure and how close Hussein had gotten to a bomb.

Ultimately, Israel’s 1981 raid didn’t end Iraq’s drive to develop nuclear weapons. It took the destruction of the Gulf War, followed by more than a decade of sanctions, containment, inspections, no-fly zones and periodic bombing — not to mention the 2003 U.S. invasion — to eliminate the program. The international community got lucky: Had Hussein not been dumb enough to invade Kuwait in 1990, he probably would have gotten the bomb sometime by the mid-1990s.

Bolton's claim that we know an attack by Israel won't cause a wider Middle East War because war didn't develop after Israel attacked Syrian and Iraqi nuclear facilities is as misleading as it is ludicrous. Remember that in 2002 when he was pushing for us to go to war with Iraq he said:

We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq. ... I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we'll have an important security role.

The Iraqi invasion was disastrous, not only for what happened in Iraq, but for what happened in Afghanistan and for what happened with Iran. We took our eyes off the ball when we invaded Iraq. Our military was divided between two fronts and we could not give the Taliban the full attention it deserved. Thus, by urging us to invade Iraq, John Bolton handed the Taliban a life raft and gave them an opportunity to arise anew.

And that's not all. Iraq was Iran's rival. Iraq was the counterweight keeping Iran in check. We created a political and military vacuum when we attacked Iraq--a vacuum that Iran was all too happy to fill.

Today Iran may be doing more than any other country to keep ISIS in check. ISIS will be the biggest beneficiary if we attack Iran. We will once again be taking our eyes off the ball, and ISIS will just laugh, expand, and behead people in celebration. And unlike Iran which claims it is not trying to get nuclear weapons, ISIS has indicated that it will try to buy nukes and use them on the U.S.

If we listen to Bolton's advice we could end up with the worst of all possible worlds.  We could end up with a very angry Iran with a nuclear weapon AND an insane ISIS with a nuclear weapon--an ISIS that has expressed interest in using that weapon against the United States.  Hasn't John Bolton's bad advice done enough to endanger U.S. national security? Why should anyone pay attention to anything that he says?


Update 8/3/15: I am hardly alone in believing that we will be unable to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon by rejecting a deal and attacking its nuclear facilities.  Jeffrey Goldberg is one of America's most highly esteemed and widely read journalists reporting on Israeli-American relations.  Here is what he had to say in a recent debate he had with Peter Beinart and David Frum. (emphasis added.)


This deal could also prevent an eventual military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, or Israel and Iran. I put great stock . . . in the argument that opponents of this deal should be forced to come up with a better alternative. I haven’t come up with anything. I do think, in the absence of a deal, we would be looking at an Iran soon at the threshold, or at a military operation to delay the moment when Iran could cross the threshold. (Delay, not defeat, because three things would happen in the event of an American military strike: Sanctions would crumble; Russia would become Iran’s partner; and the ayatollahs would have their predicate to justify a rush to the bomb. Only more bombing could stop them, and then, of course, we would be talking about a never-ending regional war.) . . .


No arms-control agreement is perfect—no arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union was perfect—but if this deal is properly implemented, it should keep Iran from reaching the nuclear threshold for at least 10, if not 20 years. I’m aware of the flaws, and I hope they get fixed. The lifting of the international arms embargo is a particularly unpleasant aspect of this deal. But I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold. My main concern, throughout this long process, is that a formula be found that keeps nuclear weapons out of the hands of the mullahs without having to engage them in perpetual warfare—which, by the way, would not serve to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the mullahs. War against Iran over its nuclear program would not guarantee that Iran is kept forever away from a bomb; it would pretty much guarantee that Iran unleashes its terrorist armies against American targets, however. . . .


As I’ve argued before, I don’t even think that air strikes could force a total capitulation; quite the opposite: Nothing motivates a proud people—even a proud people intensely dissatisfied with the men who rule them—to do the thing you don’t want them to do quite like an extended bombing run.