By the estimates of U.S. and allied intelligence analysts, that day remains as much as a decade away -- assuming that Iran applies the full measure of its scientific and industrial resources to the project and encounters no major technical hurdles. But whether Iran's leaders have reached that decision and what concrete progress the effort has made remain divisive questions among government analysts and U.N. inspectors.
At the WesPAC fundraiser I attended on Saturday (I posted a photo from this fundraiser earlier) Wes Clark stressed in no uncertain terms that the solution first and foremost is to talk to Iran--something which this administration has not done. These intelligence reports and estimates--namely, that Iran is about 10 years away from having a bomb, barring any major technical or diplomatic hurdles--suggest that any attack by this administration on Iran's nuclear sites will be entirely politically motivated and not motivated by any genuine desire to ensure the safety of the United States.
Clark--and I can think of no more qualified person to discuss these issues--outlined what he thought would be the course and scope of a military strike against Iran, and said that it would certainly be possible to set the program back (though not destroy it completely like the Israelis did Iraq's program in the Osirak strike), but such a setback might have more long-term consequences. The General also openly advocated lifting the sanctions against Iran and flooding the country with U.S. commercial and political ties--not just allowing Exxon to compete with Shell for Iranian oil, but also allowing commerce and relationships among families in Iran and their relatives in America.
If the Democrats win back the Congress--at least one house--in 2006, I predict that the administration will start increased saber-rattling against Iran. In fact, we may see increased saber-rattling in Iran before the 2006 elections as a way of bringing national security issues to the forefront. Either way, our candidates need to follow General Clark's lead in stressing dialogue, diplomacy and economic access. We need to stress the fact that Iran is a decade away from having a bomb and that airstrikes are but a temporary fix that could have severe negative repercussions.
In short, we need to talk about our plan for national security--because as Bush withdraws troops from Iraq (I believe the initial withdrawals will come sometime this summer), Iran will be the next spotlight. So we need to formulate our plan for distribution now, and not be afraid to discuss the issue when it comes up.