The US needs to leave Iran alone

Washington’s hostility towards Tehran is fast making war inevitable. But the bluster, sanctions and covert action are aimed at foiling Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a threat that may be entirely imaginary.

Most of the Republican presidential candidates have openly called for a preemptive military strike on Iran. And they have support from Washington insiders.

John Bolton, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Fox News that the best “way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to attack its nuclear weapons program directly.” Mark Helprin recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that any president “fit for the office” should “order the armed forces of the United States to attack and destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons complex.” Matthew Kroenig, a professor at Georgetown and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs whose title said it all: “Time to attack Iran.”

The Obama administration has been almost as belligerent. After Congress heaped crippling economic sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors, the administration sent diplomats to our European and Asian allies to pressure them into banning Iranian oil imports. Columbia University Professor Gary Sick has called this effort “the equivalent of a blockade. It’s an act of war.”

The covert war against Iran is already taking place. A downed American drone aircraft proved that a significant spy program is underway. The United States has also been assisting Iranian dissident groups that aim to overthrow the regime. Successive assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, whether orchestrated by the United States or Israel, are among the most explicit acts of war yet.

All of this is supposedly being done to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons program. There’s just one problem: there’s no evidence that program exists.

All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in 2007, and again in 2011, that there is no military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. And despite the hyperbolic reporting on it, the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, “the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material.”

A U.S. intelligence official explained to The Washington Post that Iran has not decided to pursue nuclear weapons: “Our belief is that they are reserving judgment on whether to continue with key steps they haven’t taken regarding nuclear weapons.”

Even the Obama administration has had to admit this. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability.”

This conforms to previous assessments. Adm. Dennis Blair, Obama’s former director of national intelligence, told Congress in March 2009, “We judge in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities” but that Tehran “is keeping open the option to develop them.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the IAEA, said that same year that he did not “believe the Iranians have made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon, but they are absolutely determined to have the technology because they believe it brings you power, prestige and an insurance policy.”

Tehran has chosen this tack in order to signal to potential adversaries that it is capable of acquiring a deterrent if it is attacked. Iran is acting out of a perception of fear, and understandably so.