Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New, More Innocent Assessment Of Iranian Plans

"On balance, the estimate is good news," said National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley of the new U.S. intelligence estimate that Iran actually halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and that present enrichment of uranium is, as the Iranians have been saying, devoted only to civilian uses of atomic energy.

Let's hope it's true. Whether (1) we should trust the Iranians or (2) trust our own intelligence agencies to come up with correct assessments are, of course, major questions.

But, if as the months go by, it does seem more likely that the new information is correct, it is clear that an agreement between the U.S. and Iran to end the long period of terrible relations between our two countries may be within our eventual grasp. It appears that Sen. Barack Obama was correct when he recently advocated an attempt to reach out to Iran, and that hawks in the Bush Administration and in Israel who warned of a possibly imminent war, or strike on Iranian facilities, were mistaken in their approach.

If Iran indeed has stopped efforts, at least for now, to develop a nuclear weapon, then it should be possible to negotiate an inspection regimen where the Iranians can develop peaceful nuclear power generation, while the rest of the world can be assured it is not being turned to military purposes.

This also would take the edge off the demagogic Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's frequent exortations to "wipe Israel from the map." Without nuclear weapons, Iran could not do this.

It should immediately be added that while such developments are much to be hoped for, they would not mean an end to the tremendous danger of nuclear proliferation in the world. The present Pakistani crisis alone threatens to destabilize the situation, and endanger the U.S. and other Western countries, because of the prospect that that country's nuclear arsenal could somehow fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization and then be used against us.

Just this week, the outstanding Washington Post reporter, Thomas E. Ricks, who is far, far ahead of any other correspondent in present reporting on the nuclear proliferation issue, had an article saying that the U.S. had a classified war game last year examining what could be done to seize control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, if that proved necessary to prevent them from Al-Qaeda control.

The conclusion of the exercise, Ricks reported, was that this would be almost insuperably difficult, that the Pakistan nukes are well hidden and dispersed, and that any such exercise could lead to a new, major war in a country far larger and more populous than Iraq. If there was any tentative approach that offered even a small ray of hope, it would be closer relations with the Pakistani military, to be sure it kept control of the weapons. This delicate situation explains why the Bush Administration has refused, thus far, to sever relations with the Pakistan military dictator, Pervez Musharraf.

Nuclear proliferation and global warming are two problems that require the most urgent attention, from governments, private think tanks, and, of course, the press. Yet able reporters such as Ricks are presently few and far between.

In this respect, the loss by the L.A. Times of Doug Frantz is particularly bad news. Frantz was on the Opinion section page one Sunday with a nuclear proliferation article, but before he became a managing editor of the Times, he had this subject as a virtually full time beat from his post in Istanbul, and had done prize-winning articles.

When Frantz was left as a managing editor by the firing of the man who named him to that post, Dean Baquet, he found that James O'Shea, the toady sent out by the Tribune Co. as the new editor of the paper, replacing Baquet, was not all that supportive or friendly. When Frantz fell into the dispute over an article he killed by Mark Arax on the Armenian genocide, O'Shea is said reliably to have left him out to dry.

So, Frantz left. I think it would have been much better for the paper had Frantz simply agreed to return to his old beat, because, like Ricks, he knows a great deal about it, and has exhibited good judgment in the past.

Similarly, it is too bad that Bob Scheer is no longer writing on the subject of disarmament to the extent he once was, when he was with the Times. I didn't agree with many of Scheer's views, but his expertise in this area was unquestioned. I now feel it's a shame he's no longer with the Times. His Op-Ed Page column had fallen into the mire of polemics, but his reporting, his long articles of years past, provided invaluable insight.

These may seem like peripheral observations on the nuclear proliferation issue, but in the welter of intelligence assessments, big power politics, and the terrorist threat, it is essential that we have able correspondents writing about it.

Finally, another aspect of the new revelation about Iran is that it lends some hope that the Iranians can be persuaded to cooperate in helping to end the Iraq war and bringing about stability in that country. Some U.S. military assessments in recent weeks have already held that they are doing this, but it may be too early to judge.

The U.S. military presence in Iraq contributes, I believe, to better prospects in the Middle East in general. It deserves, I believe, the full support of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times editorial pages, which it has not had now for a long time. We must plan on a military presence in Iraq for many years to come.

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