Obama's Plan B?

Are we months or several years away from a nuclear armed Iran?

Iran Nuclear 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Iran Nuclear 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
According to UN officials and arms-control experts, as of last Thursday, which of the following was true? (a) Iran has enough nuclear fuel to build a bomb if it violates its international treaty obligations, kicks out inspectors and further refines its supply, as The Los Angeles Times reported; (b) "Iran has slowed its uranium enrichment program," as Xinhua, the Chinese news agency reported; or (c), "Iran has slowed the expansion of its uranium enrichment plant, but has built up a stockpile of nuclear fuel…," as Reuters reported. Confused? That's probably what Iran and its international enablers want. Experts deduce Iran has amassed 1,010 kilograms of reactor-grade nuclear fuel. It needs, give or take, 1,700. The Financial Times quoted UN officials as saying that "Iran has built up a stockpile of enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb" and has "produced more nuclear material than previously thought." Are we months or several years away from a nuclear armed Iran? We can only speculate - about how much weapons-grade uranium Iran possesses; about possible clandestine bomb-making facilities; about whether Iran has built, or purchased, nuclear trigger mechanisms. There are no certainties about Iran's capabilities or intentions. We know only that its continued enrichment of uranium is in contravention of multiple Security Council resolutions from 2006-2008. We know, too, that Iran is guilty, under the "1949 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," of "direct and public incitement" to commit genocide. Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has called Israel "a cancerous bacterium" and "a stain of disgrace" on the garment of Islam. While attention focuses on the hate speech of the uncouth Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was actually the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who tied Iran's genocidal intentions to its nuclear ambitions: "The employment of even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth..." IT REALLY isn't fair that Europe, Russia and China not only abdicated their responsibilities to stop Iran, but also stoked its economy and military. The international community did not muster the collective will to impose the kind of biting sanctions that could have by now compelled Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. The world failed to exploit the leverage created by Iran's declining oil production and its need to import refined petroleum. It isn't fair that the Bush administration bogged America down in Iraq and took its eye off Afghanistan-Pakistan. Still, this is the state of affairs President Barack Obama has inherited, and this appalling situation will get exponentially worse if Iran gets its bomb. Only 35 days into his administration, Obama appears to have less time than anyone imagined to stop Teheran. With meaningful sanctions seemingly dead in the water, the administration is pledged to "engagement." For this, it may wait until after Iran's presidential elections in June in the hope that Ahmadinejad will lose. It will take yet additional months to acknowledge that Ahmadinejad wasn't the problem, that the mullahs will not abandon their quest. Could it be that Obama and his advisers know this and have already given up on preventing Teheran from getting the bomb, that their fallback position is to "contain" a nuclear-armed Iran? But an America that lacked the stomach to stop Iran in the first place will have small credibility in containing its rapacious ambitions in the region and beyond. As part of a policy of containment, there is talk of a US declaration that an attack on the Jewish state would be viewed as an attack against the United States. How credible would that be? To undermine just such a pledge, Iran could surreptitiously transfer a nuclear device to Hizbullah-controlled Lebanon or to Hamastan. Pakistan, the only other Muslim state to go nuclear, proliferated to Iran. Teheran could be expected to carry on the tradition. In fact, containment may simply not apply to an apocalyptic messianic regime. It is certainly not a viable "Plan B" to the prospect of a failed engagement policy. And engagement, while arguably worth a try, is no substitute for the kind of sanctions - a complete blockade, for instance - that could yet prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capacity that threatens far more than the Middle East.