The latest nonsense to come out of the summit of American government is that there is "no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb."
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By some reports, American analysts are talking about "absolute certainty" as a standard for concluding that Iran is intent on nuclear weapons.
Nonsense is a stronger word than I usually allow myself, but one should expect more for all the money the United States invests in intelligence gathering and analysis.
While I am not informed about the details, I feel comfortable enough about the principles to protest against policy reliance on a standard like "absolute certainty," or even "hard evidence" in the analysis of secretive authorities further from Washington than San Francisco.
The use of such standards in the case of Iran suggests someone too close to the Committee to Re-Elect Barack Obama.
Media analysts who also sound like supporters of Obama''s reluctance to face up to the Iranian threat are speculating that the Iranians only want to assure themselves international respect, and a secure place at the table in determining what happens in the Middle East. In this context, they may want to show the world that they can create nuclear weapons, even while they have not decided to.
Barack Obama takes great pride in the killing of Osama bid Laden. That may close his account with 9-11. But Iranian nuclear capacity can reduce that disaster to a trivial incident.
From my own sceptical vantage point, I am troubled by what seems like an effort to avoid more serious sanctions or military action.
If Iran only wants greater respect, why is spending so much, requiring its population to endure the burdens of high inflation and other effects of the sanctions to date, pushing ahead with one project after another against countries throughout the West, and from the majority of Muslim countries wary of Shi''ite intentions?
The Iranians have been invited time and again to negotiate, and to open their sites to international inspection. The responses have been obfuscation. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was Iran-friendly when it was headed by an Egyptian, has thrown up its hands at the lack of Iranian cooperation.
One should not casually escalate to military conflict on the basis of suspicions. Remember all that was done for the sake of Saddam Hussein''s weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, one can be too assiduous in looking for "hard evidence," whatever that means, in the case of a regime like Iran. In may be necessary to use all that expensive intelligence at the disposal of American authorities to assess what can be known from public utterances as well as the activities open to the media, plus efforts to hide, and repeated refusals to be candid or to negotiate.
I have no greater clue than any other newspaper reader about what Israel or the United States will do. It is impossible for us common folk to penetrate the ambivalence and what may be disinformation coming from national summits.
One can hope that sanctions will bring Iranian leaders to change their tone. If not, I see no limits to what Israel would be justified in doing against a country whose leaders deny the Holocaust and call for Israel''s destruction.
At a time like this, one has to rely on the wisdom of elected leaders. Experience has given me sufficient confidence in those running this country to expect that they will not exaggerate in their use of military power.
But if they do, we''ll have to accept the consequences.
If what we hear from Washington truly is a preoccupation with something that would satisfy standards of "hard evidence" or "absolute certainty, then Barack Obama and his administration do not justify a great deal of confidence.