The Old “My Centrifuge Broke Down” Excuse

WaPo and ISIS reporting on a decline in Iranian uranium enrichment fails to address the biggest implication: that “diversion” to a covert processing network has started.

The Washington Post reported today on a new assessment from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) on Iran’s progress – and problems – with uranium enrichment.  (H/t:  Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.)  Readers are unlikely to mistake either piece for an assessment that Iran’s nuclear program isn’t a threat.  But most readers are likely to miss the potential implications of the ISIS assessment when viewed in the context of other developments in the nuclear program.  Iran’s apparent failure to address centrifuge problems at the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz could merely be evidence of technological incompetence or fecklessness.  But it could also be a collateral indicator that Iran is placing a higher priority on activities elsewhere.

It could, in fact, indicate that Iran has progressed enough with undeclared processing sites that the declared operations at Natanz, and perhaps at the Esfahan uranium conversion complex as well, are not now the highest priority for resource allocation and troubleshooting.

The ISIS report as written is careful and sober, although a close reading reveals that its central attribution is circumstantial.  There has, according to both IAEA inspectors and Iranian self-reporting, been a significant drop-off in the number of centrifuges in operation at Natanz.  This decline was noticeable at different reporting dates in 2009, with the drop-off being assessed from a high-water mark in late 2008.  The circumstantial aspect of the analysis lies in the apparent use of general anecdote from unnamed officials and industry experts about the difficulty of what Iran is trying to do, the likelihood of running into problems in execution, and the rapid pace at which the Iranians have developed their program.  There are a couple of direct assertions that the Iranians are, in fact, having performance problems with their enrichment equipment, but the assertions are not specific or backed up with any detail.

I stress that this doesn’t mean I think the analysis is intentionally skewed. I don’t.  But I do think it may have been performed with blinders on.  And I am convinced that WaPo’s piece on it today conveys the ISIS assessment’s thesis so superficially as to be misleading.  “Technical setbacks cause Iran to falter in push to enrich uranium” sends a very clear message; but the ISIS report actually considers possibilities other than technical setbacks to explain the decline in centrifuge operations.

It basically dismisses them, however, outlining a key missing piece of the puzzle as follows:

Finally, there remains the question of what happened in late 2008 or early 2009 that resulted in a significant lowering of LEU [low-enriched uranium] output.  Any of the above problems could have risen to a level that drastically cut LEU production.  In addition, an unknown event could have caused the drop.

So:  Data Point 1.  There was a significant decline in LEU output in late 2008 to early 2009.

A starting point for broader analysis is this element of ISIS’ own commentary on the last IAEA report on Iran, from November 2009 (emphasis added):

During the most recent reporting period, from August 1 to October 30, 2009, Iran produced a total of 255 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride, bringing its total to 1,763 kilograms of LEU hexafluoride.  The average daily rate of LEU production has increased to 2.8 kg per day, up slightly from its rate of 2.75 over the two previous periods.  Because this LEU is being produced in 656 fewer centrifuges (a reduction of 15 percent), Iran’s P1 centrifuges appear to be operating more efficiently than in previous months, although little information is available about this subject.

ISIS Figure 2; see first paragraph for linked report of 11 Feb 10

Comparing the last two quoted passages with Figure 2 from the ISIS assessment, we discern that there was a precipitous drop-off of enrichment between August and December 2008, followed by a significant increase between December 2008 and April 2009, and the maintenance of a slight increase after that through October.  Although the level of enrichment at Natanz has not been restored to its high from August 2008, the ISIS evaluation in November of last year was that the level of late 2009 was being maintained with fewer centrifuges, operating more efficiently.

Data Point 2.  LEU output ramped back up, although not to the level of August 2008, and in 2009 was being produced more efficiently by fewer centrifuges.

It’s worth noting, without placing unjustified confidence ourselves in superficial observations, that this recitation of events sounds a little different from the “technical setbacks” narrative.  It sounds like a change in operating profile between late 2008 and mid-2009, one that could as well have been deliberate as driven wholly (or even mainly) by technical problems.  It’s certainly possible that Iran shut down a batch of poorly-performing centrifuges and has brought some better ones online, and that that’s all there is to it.  But then again, whether we see that as a setback, or as progress, is really a question of perspective:  glass half-empty or half-full.

The question this scenario begs is why the Iranians haven’t restored more centrifuges to operation (or why, as ISIS points out, there seems to be a discrepancy between the number of operational centrifuges given by Iran’s nuclear chief in December 2009 – 6,000 – and the number reported by IAEA in November, which was less than 4,000).  One of the problems for us in making assessments is that we simply don’t know enough to confidently eliminate possible reasons.

That in turn means two things, however.  It means we can’t absolutely eliminate the possibility that the Iranians are just bumbling along having difficulties, racing into things too fast and looking poorly prepared and inefficient in the process.  But it also means we can’t eliminate the possibility that they are shifting their priorities elsewhere, and that the reason – whatever it is – that they don’t think it’s as important as outside observers would suppose, to maximize their LEU output at Natanz, makes perfect sense to them.

One clue lies in the drop in the feed of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to Natanz, from the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan, in late 2008.  Figure 3 from the ISIS assessment shows a substantial drop from August to December that year.  The feed then increased again through August 2009, and declined again by October.

ISIS Figure 3; see first paragraph for linked report of 11 Feb 10

The sense at ISIS, that something significant to Iran’s level of uranium processing happened in the period late 2008 to early 2009, is bolstered by the drop in UF6 feed to Natanz in that same period.  But what was it?  Why did the converted uranium feed decline at that point?

Data Point 3.  The UF6 feed from Esfahan to Natanz declined at the same time the production of LEU dropped significantly at Natanz.

The most important clue to that is probably the evidence, confirmed by multiple sources, that beginning in the latter half of 2008, Iran shifted her uranium feed entirely to uranium mined inside Iran.  Until that shift occurred, Iran was processing yellowcake obtained from South Africa in the 1970s.  She has developed two mining sites inside her territory in the past decade, however, one in central Iran at Saghand and one near the southern port of Bandar Abbas at Gchine (also rendered Gachin).  Iran reported achieving the capacity to produce her own yellowcake in 2006.  In November 2009, a Bloomberg report indicated that commercial satellite imagery showed a substantial increase in activity at the Gchine site, where facilities for separating and milling uranium are co-located with the mine itself.

Iran's active uranium mines/ISIS map

Subsequent analysis at the expert blog “Arms Control Wonk,” here and here, endorsed the soundness of the Bloomberg report’s conclusion.  The 10 November post contained a reference as well to a December 2008 article by nuclear industry expert Mark Hibbs in the journal Nuclear Fuel (dated 15 December 2008), entitled “All of Iran’s UF6 centrifuge feed now indigenously mined, milled.”  (This article is not available through Google search but can reportedly be accessed by journal subscribers and via Lexis-Nexis.)

Data Point 4.  Iran’s uranium feed for the conversion and enrichment processes shifted to indigenously-produced yellowcake at the same time LEU production dropped at Natanz.

The shift to indigenously-produced uranium was to be expected, given the limited amount of yellowcake Iran had on-hand from her Shah-era purchase from South Africa (less than 600 tons).  Iran’s use of her own uranium hardly qualifies as a suspicious development in and of itself.  But two factors justifying suspicion are nevertheless present:  the history of the Gchine site, and its procedural exclusion from IAEA monitoring.

The practical import of the latter can be expressed most aptly as follows:  we have no accountability regarding how much uranium has been mined and milled from Gchine, and then forwarded for conversion to UF6.  As the Wonk posts suggest, we can make educated guesses about how much has been mined and milled, based on the expanding size of the reservoir for ore wastes.  But we don’t have any reliable means of figuring out what has happened to it after that.  Iran has reported a capacity to produce yellowcake, and has continued to feed Esfahan and Natanz.  If Mark Hibbs’ piece is accurate, we can presume that all the feed material going into the enrichment process since late 2008 was indigenously produced.  But how that amount compares to what has been mined and milled, we have no method of accounting for.

Iran has usable uranium now, in other words, outside IAEA accountability.  The utility of the IAEA process has been predicated on accountability relative to the baseline established with the yellowcake from South Africa, and that accountability is no longer reliable.

Data Point 5.  Indigenously-produced uranium yellowcake enables Iran to bypass IAEA accountability on her South African-supplied baseline.

The possibility of this day arriving has always been there, of course.  The UN has known for years of Iran’s uranium mining program.  But the mines and separation facilities are not subject to IAEA inspection, and analytical attention has been focused on the Saghand mining site since the early 2000s anyway, rather than on Gchine.  As the links above indicate, Iran has been at some pains to encourage that focus, promoting Saghand with tours and briefs at international conferences, and making open declarations about the status of the associated milling site at Ardakan (Erdekan).  In its July 2009 report, IAEA indicated observing activity at both mining sites (Saghand and Gchine) in satellite imagery – a rare check in the block for keeping track of these facilities.  But, again, it does not inspect them.

As mentioned above, however, Gchine has a suspicious history. It was named in foreign intelligence documents outlining the “Green Salt” project, one of the efforts connected with Iran’s nuclear weaponization program, and was thought to have an association with the military in the 1990s.  It was operated, moreover, by the shadowy private firm Kimia Madaan, apparently set up to evade sanctions in Iran’s nuclear procurement process, through the summer of 2003.  In June of that year Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) assumed control of it; timing that was, to say the least, interesting, given that it was in that period that US intelligence assessed Iran to have suspended the nuclear weaponization effort (see the 2007 NIE).

The IAEA framework has never been foolproof, of course, but the public has been lulled into a sense that it represents a reasonably comprehensive form of accounting on Iran’s nuclear programs.  Analysis from the last few months should convince us that it isn’t.  Most people would never have heard about the dramatic increase in uranium mining at Gchine, which has been underway since mid-late 2008, without the Bloomberg report from November.  Although IAEA was aware of it at some level, based on its July 2009 official report, the Agency has no responsibility for inspection or accountability at the mining sites – and therefore has had no chartered incentive to make those sites a centerpiece of any broader-scale forensic effort.

The key question remains whether Iran has the ability to perform the processing done at Esfahan and Natanz outside of those facilities, and to perform them on something approaching an industrial scale.  Yellowcake has to be converted and enriched somewhere.  The conversion of yellowcake into UF6 suitable for enrichment is done at Esfahan.  Natanz is the site of the centrifuge cascades that enrich the UF6, currently to a low, sub-weapons-grade level.  We don’t know of other sites in Iran for performing these tasks.

Massive tunnel complexes have been excavated adjacent to both sites in the last decade, however, and IAEA access to them has been almost entirely prohibited.  Inspectors visited the tunnels at Esfahan in 2004, when excavation had been underway for a few months, and it should be no surprise that they were empty at that time.  There has been no further access to Esfahan, and no visit to the tunnel complex at Natanz, where excavation was detected in 2007.  Publicly-available estimates from 3-6 years ago about the size and capacity of these underground facilities must of necessity be outdated by now:  to insist that they could not, in 2010, house any more than they were assessed to be capable of in 2004 or 2007 would be inherently faulty analysis.

It is also faulty to imagine, given the excavation revealed at Qom’s Fordo site in September, that the prospect of other undeclared facilities is unlikely.  In fact, there is a list of facilities suspected of connection to Iran’s nuclear program that has gone almost entirely uninspected, including the Lavisan site outside Tehran, reported by the usually-reliable expat group “National Council of Resistance of Iran” (NCRI) to have been reconstructed near its original location after a complete razing in that busy summer of 2003.  Lavisan’s activities have been thought to be related to weaponization research, along with those of Parchin, also located outside Tehran – neither is currently suspected of a role in uranium processing; but as a somewhat atypical New York Times story noted last month, continuing suspicions about sites in Iran are based on a record of secretiveness, bad faith, and surprises sprung by the regime in Tehran.  The Iranian pattern of covert activities and the use of tunnels is a sound indicator that where there are tunnels, there is covert activity.

The break in Iran’s LEU production volume, in late 2008 and early 2009, might have been a very simple function of delays incident to bringing the indigenously-produced yellowcake online.  And ISIS may be focused on the right issue:  maybe it was all a matter of centrifuges breaking down and things going wrong.  But the ups and downs of LEU production are also consistent with the beginning of a reallocation of feed material to a covert processing network.  The timing matched the onset of Iran’s production of unaccountable source material too well for that factor to be dismissed out of hand. The subsequent establishment of a fairly regularized LEU output after the dip, especially if the output is maintained on a more efficient basis than previously seen, argues a reasonable level of control over the current processing regime.  The latter half of 2009 doesn’t look so much like the Iranians being at their wits’ end with the darn centrifuges, as it does like the production of a deliberate amount of output.

As to the narrow question of why they are letting centrifuges sit idle at Natanz, possible reasons are certainly that their supply of UF6 feed material is iffy, or that the machinery has broken down.  Analysts are pretty convinced that Iran’s supply of enrichable uranium is dwindling, and that she will be facing a shortage soon, a condition that is held to explain Tehran’s overtures to Kazakhstan, Guyana, Tanzania, and Venezuela for uranium cooperation and mining deals.  Iran repeatedly claims to have at least 30,000 tons of uranium to mine from her own soil; but while 1970s-era surveys and OECD estimates put her uranium potential at around 25,000 tons, the great majority of that is thought to be difficult and even uneconomic to recover.  So Iran may well be facing an effective shortage in the near term, even if she has plenty of uranium in theory.

But there is also the valid possibility that Iran’s priority is not, today, getting the production level back up to its high of August 2008 at Natanz.  Bringing the idle centrifuges there online would cost money – and processing more UF6 there means submitting more to the IAEA’s ledger.  The truth is, enriching less uranium at the declared facility at Natanz doesn’t necessarily mean less total uranium is being enriched.

The larger and more important point about all of this is that we simply don’t know.  Now that Iran is mining and refining her own uranium for use in the enrichment process, we even more don’t know.


20 thoughts on “The Old “My Centrifuge Broke Down” Excuse”

  1. What we do know is that Russia is intentionally facilitating the acquisition of nuclear technology by unstable third-world regimes.

    What we do know is that China, Russia and other nations are actively preventing any effective economic sanctions from being implemented against rogue nations.

    What we do know is that Obama won’t stop Iran and that Israel can’t stop Iran from gaining nukes.

    What we do know is that Iran’s leadership is absolutely determined to become a nuclear power.

    Q.E.D. What we do know is that Iran is going to get the bomb.

    What we do know is that Iran having nukes and Russia promoting nuclear proliferation among repressive regimes, will lead to greatly increased nuclear proliferation among unstable third-world nations.

    What we do know is what that will lead to but none dare think… the unthinkable.

  2. “What we do know is that Obama won’t stop Iran and that Israel can’t stop Iran from gaining nukes. ”

    All the more reason Geoffrey for Obama to have been supporting in several ways the protesters in Iran rather than offering weak rhetorical inanities. I’ve gotten more confident since the Scott Brown election that we might be able to save this country from European style decline. I also am hopeful that maybe we can have a current day version of “Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have been possible without Jimmy Carter” starting in 2012. However, I worry still about things that Obama may perpetrate or allow to happen on his watch that can’t be undone. Nuclear proliferation is one of them – in the very manner you outline above.

    By the way, somewhat off topic, but also somewhat related, did anyone see this article by Jeff Bergner in a recent issue of The Weekly Standard?

    It’s brilliant. He articulates succinctly how the left thinks and what’s at the base of their convictions. It’s as if one just discovered where the enemy headquarters are and now know where to attack to decapitate the enemy brain trust (if you’ll allow a military metaphor).

    He also outlines a governing platform for Republicans that if transformed into a current version of the Contract With America, I think would go a long way towards wresting Congress and the WH back from the loons that currently hold power.

    I had never heard of Jeff Bergner until this article.

    1. Ritchie,

      You suggest that Obama should have supported the Iranian protesters, as has J.E. I’m not against it, I just think it’s highly unlikely to do any good. A case of too little, too late.I guess it’s worth a try, certainly it is upon moral grounds, but barring a supportive military coup, I don’t see the people of Iran overthrowing the grip of the Mullahs.

      When J.E. posted her commentary, “Missing the Big Opportunity in Iran” on Hot Air, it was picked up and re-posted on C.K.’s excellent blog, Zombie Contentions where I read it.

      I commented as follows:

      “Should the United States use force to regime-change Iran? No – not today. But should we be ready to use all the elements of national power – diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – to support the reformists, and actively hinder the IRGC in trying to suppress them and brutalize the Iranian people?” J.E. Dyer

      Nothing, I repeat nothing scares autocratic/repressive regimes more than regime change ‘encouraged’ by outside elements.

      This is repressive regime’s most ’sacred ox’.

      Thus, UN sponsored or merely International sanctions, indeed any International action in ’support’ of reformists, whether diplomatic, informational, military, or economic, have absolutely no chance of being implemented. China, Russia, the Arab nations alliance, Venezuela, Cuba and dozens of other nations will oppose it.

      Even if the current administration favored overt support for the reformists, which is highly questionable, it would have to be a unilateral action upon America’s part. Europe is not going to risk alienating the Iranian Mullah’s over this, as they need Iran’s oil.

      And any unilateral action upon the administration’s part would have to be military, as diplomatic actions are futile, and economic action solely by the US would be insufficient to effect regime change.

      There are no good answers, no good ‘options’ and in the US, public support and thus political support is insufficient at this time, to allow military intervention. The problem is that, by the time sufficient public support (70%+) for unilateral military action exists, it will be too late to use that support effectively.

      As once Iran has the bomb, conventional military intervention is eliminated, for when contemplating how to attack a nuclear armed nation, solely using conventional forces… is not an option. Thus military ‘options’ are reduced to contemplating and planning for nuclear conflict between the US and Iran.

      Avoidance of that “too terrible to contemplate scenario” predictably results in the long term consequence of greatly increased nuclear proliferation among unstable third-world nations. That inevitably leads to the eventual acquisition of nukes by Islamic terrorist groups, who will use them.

      Once a nuclear terrorist attack occurs, another nexus of decision awaits us, wherein two categories of response lie before us; nuclear conflagration in which we kill many millions of people, seeking to make the price so terrible for rogue nations that they cease their support for terrorism, while accepting that in the course of establishing that reality, we may be attacked directly and lose more American cities… OR we establish near-permanent martial law within the US and an isolationist, “Fortress America” that has essentially abandoned the very freedoms and representative form of government which are absolutely essential to the American ‘experiment’.

      Leading to a variant of Orwell’s “Brave New World”, one in which perhaps even drug cartels acquire nuclear weapons.

      A world in which the ‘bad’ guys have won, simply because when we could have done something effective, we collectively balked at the price and sought to appease, rather than confront…thus sealing our fate.

      For unlike England in WWII, there will be no ‘white knight’, no ‘awakened giant’ riding to our rescue this time. We will be the knight who rather than fight, bowed his head, lowered his knee and surrendered his sword.

      When a society faces the choice of “Live Free or Die” and rejects that choice, all that remains is slavery, either to others or to a self-imposed prison.

      In either case, the price paid is the crushing of a society’s spirit.

  3. Ritchie,

    I read Bergner’s “Can Republicans Govern?”

    What an outstanding piece of work. Perhaps the most explicative, trenchant analysis of where and most importantly, why the Republicans have gone wrong and will continue to do so until they understand progressivism and its “Narrative”.

  4. Thanks, guys. I did see your comments at ZC, GB, and of course you summarize the worst case admirably. I don’t expect any form of magic to rescue us from the consequences of a feckless policy on Iran’s bomb, but I do think it’s important at each step to point out where and how we could have made different decisions.

    This is one of those places. Iran has had a disjunctive “jerk” in enrichment operations. All along, this should have been one of the big clues we looked for that material was being diverted to a covert processing network. All the factors come together: evidence of will (repeated instances of Iranian deception and secretiveness, including the latest revelation about the Fordo/Qom site); and evidence of capability (Iran is mining her own uranium and producing her own yellowcake now).

    In fact, the timing has been almost ridiculously perfect to put the jerk in enrichment output in a neon-red halo, and make us suspicious. But what’s happening instead? The civilian analysts who have made their name following this problem are attributing the jerk to equipment failure. This doesn’t seem to be because there’s a documented, in-detail record of widespread equipment failure, but because it’s the best theory they can come up with.*

    As the WaPo headline indicates, the effect of this analysis is to mislead the public. The misleading effect is particularly diabolical (not ascribing intention here, just describing the effect) because what it seems to indicate in terms of ACTION is that we’re a little safer doing nothing for a while longer.

    It matters whether people understand this: that the jerk in enrichment output is what you look for to figure out if diversion is going on. ISIS has concluded that we’ve seen that jerk. The timing is impeccable for this to BE diversion. The UN’s IAEA process isn’t going to catch the diversion now, because it starts before IAEA has accountability on the raw material.

    Our process, as executed, is past its point of usefulness. Even if there’s no diversion going on, we have no way now of establishing that. We either demand going beyond the IAEA’s charter and the terms of the NPT — i.e., inspecting in detail every aspect of Iran’s activities — or we accept, de facto, that Iran will do whatever she wants.

    Look, I know you guys knew all along the process would be ineffective. But we’ve reached the point at which the EVIDENCE that it can’t function as any sort of guarantee is incontrovertible. That ought to convince others as well.

    * Even if the factor of widespead equipment failure is valid, Iran’s ability to now enrich uranium more efficiently calls into question the conclusion that her nuclear program is mainly being affected by random outages and an inability to deal with them. The total picture is explained better by diversion, and an emphasis on putting resources into the covert network, than by the theory outlined in the ISIS report.

    1. J.E.,

      I do not summarize the worst case, cavalierly. I have arrived at my grim forecasts very reluctantly, as I am by nature an optimist as well. But I’m also a realist. And while I freely acknowledge that unforeseen events could change the whole paradigm, without that paradigm changing ‘wild card’ event, I see no logical alternative but the path I foresee.

      No one prays more than I, that I am mistaken and I do pray that ‘divine providence’ shall yet rescue us from our folly…

      However, civilian analysts who have ‘made their name’ following this problem are not attributing the jerk to equipment failure because it’s the best theory they can come up with, rather I think it highly probable that they are either in denial or have been ordered to mislead the public. And their ‘analysis’ does indicate a desire to promote the view, that in terms of ACTION, we’re a little safer doing nothing for a while longer.

      It’s all part of a long term pattern of behavior by the West, of denial, appeasement and avoidance of the problem. Nor can I believe that western governments are not fully aware of the true situation. Thus the only explanation that fits their behavior is intentional avoidance of the problem. The administration is ‘kicking the can down the road’ because taking the actions necessary to resolution of the problem are not politically viable.

      The administration does not want to confront Iran, Russia and China, etc. All of whom are supporting both the maintenance of the status quo of Islamic radicalism and, in Russia’s case, the proliferation of nuclear technology to unstable, repressive third-world regimes and rogue nations.

      Others may well be convinced that the evidence is now incontrovertible. Unfortunately, the assertions I made earlier remain viable and unchanged:

      Russia, China and Iran will not change their behavioral paths, it’s a covert/overt strategy against the West in general and specifically, against the US.

      Obama will not stop Iran, period. It ain’t gonna happen, not now, not ever.

      Logistical and political reasons prevent Israel from stopping Iran.

      Ergo, Iran will get the bomb.

      Once they get the bomb, the possibility of wild card, paradigm changing scenario’s do arise; such as Iran prematurely seizing the Strait of Hormuz, launching a nuke at Tel Aviv or attempting to use Hamas or Hezbollah to smuggle a nuke into Israel.

      If Iran restrains itself, seeking initially just to bask in its increased prestige within the Islamic world and ease its probable paranoia about the US deciding to “pull an Iraq” on them and invade, then the inevitability of increased nuclear proliferation will proceed apace.

      That is so because Russia is not going to stop promoting nuclear proliferation to unstable rogue nations. China will continue to be ‘uncooperative’ within the UN. Other rogue nations will seek to emulate Iran. ‘Moderate’ Sunni regimes will seek to ‘protect’ themselves…

      In such an eventuality, what other long term result can there be, than eventually, by ‘hook or crook’, radical Islamists getting their hands on nukes?

      We know they’ll use them and US port cities are completely vulnerable to covert nuclear terrorist attack. Plus, that’s just one avenue of attack. The Canadian border is a sieve and small aircraft and watercraft can enter the US almost at will.

      Horrifically, once we lose a city, then the political will to ‘do something’ will be there but unless we’re talking nuclear conflagration, it will be a case of Pandora’s box having been fully opened and ‘the horse having left the barn and run off, over the hill and completely out of sight’.

      At that point, our choices will be far more grim. The time to do something is now… tragically and collectively, we are whistling past the graveyard.

      Almost certainly, millions shall die and all because we collectively lacked the mental fortitude to face predictable consequences and bite into ‘the sour apple of rotten choices’ that presently confront us.

  5. Thanks for digging up that response Geoffrey. You bring up some very valid points. I suppose that I am/was a little more optimistic that the full weight of US rhetorical/monetary/material/etc support for the protesters would be enough to turn the tide against the mullahs. At the very least, there is no harm in trying. How much worse would the relationship between the US/Iran get? And as you said above, there’s a moral component as well. I feel it’s important to have the US side with those who are fighting for their freedom against oppressive govts.

    If all that doesn’t work, I’ll all for the US going it alone militarily. That’s an awful awful solution, but letting the mullahs get nukes would be awful awful awful. I actually don’t have a fundamental problem with simply killing the mullahs on moral grounds (which obviously doesn’t take into consideration the consequences, which J.E. one time graciously outlined for me).

    If Iran gets nukes, which then get into the hands of terrorists, which then get detonated in America, I’d be curious who the left would blame.
    I suppose Reagan might get a dose of it. Bush/Cheney wouldn’t be bad either. The President at the time, if he’s a Republican, would be an easy one too. I’m pretty sure that Barack Obama will be free of blame though.

  6. We’re pretty much on the same page, GB. (And RE too.) The weird refusal of our analytical elite to confront the “uranium jerk” as the indicator it probably is — an indicator of covert diversion — is what I charactrerized in my Hot Air/GR post yesterday as a civilizational and systemic failure. It’s like they have so lost the instinct for self-protection and survival that they don’t even see threats now. They’ve intellectualized away any reason for looking for them, or trying to recognize them. Even a deer in the headlights has better defenses.

    I do perceive in ordinary Americans a much more effective set of internal sensors. Someone recently was pointing out that the percentage of Americans who would approve a military attack on Iran has been rising over the last decade, based on polling data over time.

    But the elected leadership feels very differently. The worst-case scenario is the one that’s inevitable if we and Obama stay on the path we’re on. What I always want to stress is that we don’t have to be on that path. We have choices.

    Absolutely nothing compels us to allow Iran to develop the bomb. If we don’t change course, and it does happen, there will be no excuse. Frankly, I never thought the Nuremberg trials were a high-water mark of Western morality, and one reason for that is that the political leadership of England and France, and even the US, could have taken action earier to avert Hitler’s career of conquest and genocide — and they didn’t.

    But it’s a political calculation. No one is ever pilloried for what he didn’t do. On the other hand, if a leader does take preemptive action, he can be excoriated by his opposition for years precisely because the tragedy he averted DIDN’T happen. Cf. George W. Bush and the Iraqi WMD programs.

    People always want an easy way and a guaranteed outcome, and for something like preventing a dictatorial regime from deploying WMD, neither of those is possible. But the easiest course we could possibly take in the present situation is to materially encourage the Iranian opposition, and sabotage and undermine the mullahs’ regime. We aren’t even doing that.

    1. We are on the same page J.E.

      I entirely agree with your assessment.

      Including your assertion that ordinary Americans possess a far greater understanding of the basics than America’s pretentious elite.

      Here’s praying that a wild card event and divine providence saves us from our own leadership’s folly.

      BTW, can you believe Brennan’s “a 20% terrorist recidivism rate is not that bad” comment? It’s like they can’t help themselves…which is all to the good.

  7. GB — your last reminds me of a study I read about some years ago, of the recidivism rate of criminals who embraced religious faith while in prison. The number that sticks in my mind is that their rate of recidivism was 18% — and leftists who oppose faith-based prison programs trumpeted that as evidence against such programs. As I recall, although recidivism was lower among those who embraced faith from prison, opponents still depicted 18% as a terrible recidivism rate, one that proved how worthless faith-based outreaches were.

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