If we accept, for the sake of argument, that the NIE conclusion that Iran suspended its nuclear program in fall 2003, the next logical question is…why fall 2003? Why not summer 2001 or winter 2005? The timing makes the underlying cause obvious, but the precise motivation somewhat less clear.
That cause was pretty clearly the removal of Saddam Hussein from his post as Iraqi dictator for life by US armed forces. But I can see two separate threads behind that driving force.
The first is good old-fashioned fear. The removal of Saddam showed that our engagement in the War on Terror was not just going to be going after bin Laden and the Taliban and then going back into our 1990’s shell. No, we were in this thing for the long haul, and those who harbored or otherwise aided terrorists would have to answer for doing so. Qaddafi had seen the writing on the wall and, not wanting any part of a new and bolder US, voluntarily disbanded Libya’s nuclear weapons program, a happy side effect of which was the dismantling of the A.Q. Kahn nuclear black market.
It’s not hard to imagine that in this atmosphere, where the previous 12 months had seen the removal of the Taliban and Saddam and the emasculation of Qaddafi, the Mad Mullahs opted for self-preservation in deciding to back off their quest for the bomb for a spell. This is the Occam’s Razor version, the most likely scenario.
The second possibility is that the decision was made after Saddam was extracted from his hole in the ground. The thinking here is that Iran was pursuing the bomb precisely because they had a next-door neighbor who was as unstable and unpredictable as, well themselves, one who had already attempted to conquer them and another neighbor within the last two decades and change. This grave threat was clearly hell-bent on obtaining his own nuclear bomb, indeed there is a pretty good chance that he would have succeeded in doing so and used it against Iran in their war if not for the fortuitous intervention of the Israelis.
The US had finally, after over a decade of his thumbing his nose at the world and violating the Gulf War cease fire, removed this loose cannon from power in the spring of 2003. But, like the Iraqi people themselves, the Iranians had to stay pretty nervous as long as he was on the lam. Who’s to say that he would not manage to hide out until the US lost its will? They certainly had left the South Vietnamese people hanging out to dry in 1975 and the Iraqis in 1991, why would this time be different? All they had to do was flick on CNN or check out the New York Times to see cheerleading for a burgeoning anti-war movement.
No, they would not be safe until this guy was caught. And then, in fall 2003 he was. The Iraqi people, having been burned before, still greatly feared a Saddam return to power, but the Iranians probably realized that the US was not about to let him go under any circumstances. With their primary threat gone, and in a world grown hostile to rouge nations developing nukes, the time seemed right to back off for a while, making sure that aspects of the program remained and that the whole thing could be restarted in full on fairly short notice.
This is also for a very plausible scenario. It has some problems, not the least of which is that one of (the primary?) Iran’s primary foreign policy goals is to remove Israel from the map and push all Middle Eastern Jews into the ground or out of the region, a modern version of Hitler’s Final Solution. And this fantasy would obviously require the bomb if it were to have any hope of succeeding.
Further evidence against it is that Iran continues to wage hot war against the US and occasionally Israel; if they only wanted nukes to defend themselves against Saddam this makes no sense. It is more in line with the fear scenario and what they would do if they wanted to remove the source of their fear. Destabilizing Iraq and waiting for US useful idiots to help them drive the US out of Iraq would be the quickest way to do so, at which point they could get back to the business of preparing to kill millions of Jews.
So I have to ultimately side with fear as Iran’s motivation in the hypothetical that the late November NIE is correct. As the sane world certainly hopes and prays that it is.
Labels: Iran, Iraq, politics, War on Terror