The surest sign that another neocon bill of goods is being hawked in respect of the Iran “nuclear peril” is the revival of Rumsfeld-esque “unknowable unknowns”, a la Iraq WMD panic circa late 2002. In the real world, of course, solid progress is being made towards a plausible diplomatic deal to strengthen safeguards against Iran weaponizing the nuclear material it is producing. (See my latest on this at TIME.com)
But in the fevered world of the neocons, which the New York Time has, once again, bought into wholesale, the progress is illusory; Iran is playing games by only showing us the tip of the iceberg. Utterly shameless in its willingness to repeat the Judith Miller debacle, the Times tells us that Iran at Geneva agreed “to send most of its openly declared enriched uranium” to Russia for reprocessing into fuel rods for a medical research facility. Twice more in the story it uses the phrase “declared stockpile” — unmistakably signaling the reader that he or she ought to believe that Iran, of course, has other stocks of enriched uranium that are undeclared.
This new neocon talking point is explicitly elaborated by Michael Crowley in the New Republic: “It’s definitely good news that Iran has agreed to ship a large quantity of its low-enriched uranium out of the country. Every pound of the stuff that leaves Iran is a pound less that they can use for a bomb. But an agreement isn’t a shipment. And if there are more Qom-like secret enrichment facilities–which is likely–then Iran may have more enriched uranium than we know, and has the luxury of making a public show of giving some away.”
The New York Times may think it’s a serious newspaper, but not when it comes to Iran, where it is simply reprising the role of Fox News-for-the-arugula-crowd that it played in support of the Iraq invasion.
Writing about Iran’s “declared” facilities implies that there are undeclared ones. This is what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called an “unknowable unknown” in the buildup to war in Iraq. Nobody knows that Iran has such undeclared stocks, nor has any evidence to that effect been cited by the IAEA or by U.S. intelligence. It’s simply a guess.
And a pretty stupid guess at that. If Iran was, indeed, secretly stockpiling enriched uranium, with all the risks that entailed, the only rationale for doing so would be to build a bomb. In which case, they wouldn’t confine themselves to the 4% enrichment of their “declared” stocks, which are suitable only for reactor fuel; they’d have enriched that material to the upward of 90% necessary to make weapons-grade materiel. Otherwise, why bother to keep it secret?
But if Iran already has stockpiles of weapons grade uranium, then the whole process of engagement is a farce. Sanctions, too. Because it means Iran essentially already has the key component of a bomb. And, of course, the vaunted “military option” still on Obama’s “table” would be a joke — if nobody knows where the “undeclared” facilities are, they can’t be bombed.
Having done its bit to create a climate for war against Iraq, the New York Times is once again carrying water for the neocons. Unwittingly, I’m sure, because I wouldn’t want to suggest that such a venerable institution had an “undeclared” agenda.