Bolton covered a lot of ground, lamenting the politicization of the intelligence community (“policy considerations drive so much of their conclusions”); commenting on Tehran’s irrationality (it’s “a regime that prizes life in the hereafter more than life on earth”); and then describing Iran’s seemingly rational and thoughtful response to an Israeli strike (“Iran is not so irrational that they would actually do that [attempt to close the strait of Hormuz], because that would bring the U.S. into it”). Some of these observations might be the topic of future blog posts, but for this piece, I think I’ll give Ambassador Bolton’s talk a good old-fashioned fact check.
Here are some of Bolton’s assertions:
- Secretary of Defense Panetta said a couple of weeks ago that if they [Iran] made the decision to have a nuclear weapon … they could have one in about a year.
Correct, but with a caveat. Panetta did in fact say that “It would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. (Some experts, like David Albright, put the number at closer to “a few months.”) However, Iran would have no practical means of delivering such a weapon, and as Panetta states in the same breath, it would take “possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon.”
- Of course, if you read down in the footnotes of what was publicly released [i.e., the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate], they define weaponization to be that part where you actually take the explosives and wrap it around the enriched uranium or plutonium hemisphere and begin to attach the electrodes for the simultaneous explosions. Once you define it that way, you’ve defined it so narrowly, you’ve defined, really, technically, one of the lesser in importance, significance, and degree of difficulty, components of the nuclear weapons program.
Wrong. The footnote Bolton is referring to is making a necessary and meaningful distinction between “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment” and “Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work.” Nowhere is there any mention of electrodes, hemispheres, or any other technical details related to making a nuclear weapon.
- The polling I’ve seen shows a great willingness to consider the use of force against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, whether it’s by the U.S. or by Israel.
Eh, maybe. The polls are mixed; here’s a quick rundown. The most recent poll on the matter, conducted between February 29 and March 3 of this year by NBC News/Wall Street Journal, has 52% of respondents saying the US “should initiate military action to destroy Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons” if it continues its nuclear research and comes close to developing such a weapon. 40% disagree, while 8% are unsure. The numbers on either side have fluctuated somewhat, but for the most part, since 2006, Americans have generally been more in favor of attacking rather than not. Here’s where things get a little mushy, though. In the same NBC News/WSJ poll, respondents were asked another, more specific, question: “If Iran continues with its nuclear research and is close to developing a nuclear weapon, which one statement best describes what you think?” This time, only 21% respondents said the US should take direct military action. 26% said the US should support Israel if it takes military action, and 49% said the US should take stronger diplomatic and economic action or take no action at all unless Iran attacks the US or its allies (32% and 17%, respectively). 4% were mixed or unsure. So the devil is in the details, it would seem.
Other polling data seem to belie Bolton’s “great willingness” claim. While, according to a recent Pew poll, Americans are pretty skeptical about the effectiveness of the current sanctions regimes on Tehran (64% say they won’t work) and deem it more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (58%) than avoid military conflict (30%), if Israel attacks Iran, only 39% of respondents say the US should support Israel’s military reaction while 51% say the US should stay neutral.
So it doesn’t seem that the figures are as clear cut as Bolton makes them out to be. Or, perhaps he just hasn’t seen this polling. One more:
- We can see simply from the data available from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran right now has enough low-enriched uranium that, if enriched further to 90% … would give them about five nuclear weapons.
Yes. If by “about five” he means “four,” then Ambassador Bolton is correct.
It’s probably a bit unfair to “grade” the Ambassador based on these cherry-picked quotations, so I’m not going to. Here’s the rest of his talk, though, for posterity.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist