Stunning.  That’s the only word to describe what was printed in the once-respected op-ed page of the New York Times today. 
Alan Kuperman argues in his op-ed titled There’s Only One Way to Stop Iran, that

In the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement. We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Strange that the author could arrive at this conclusion a week before the Dec. 31 deadline for Iran to accept the West’s nuclear proposal.  It’s almost as if he had made up his mind already.  
Let’s look at his reasoning, such as it is.  Kuperman argues that the West’s nuclear proposal to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor was not a clever idea with benefits for both parties, as most experts believe, but instead was a boondoggle that threatened the security of the US and would have given Iran “a head start” toward building a nuclear bomb.  It is good that the deal was not adopted, he argues, because it would have only postponed the really important and only remaining effective option for the US to pursue: multiple airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. 
Even worse, Kuperman fumes, the plan would have actually “fostered proliferation” by allowing Iran to continue operating the research reactor, which he says could provide valuable knowledge for a weapons program.  Of course, it is probably safe to assume that the IAEA was aware that the fuel could be used to operate the reactor…what with that being the whole idea of the deal and all.  But apparently, the UN’s atomic agency doesn’t share Kuperman’s definition of “fostering proliferation.”
He goes on:

While Iran permits international inspections at its declared enrichment plant at Natanz, it ignores United Nations demands that it close the plant, where it gains the expertise needed to produce weapons-grade uranium at other secret facilities like the nascent one recently uncovered near Qom.” 

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Kuperman seems to be one of the few remaining nonproliferation professionals who actually believe transparency is a bad thing.  Suspending enrichment does no good if Iran starts up a covert facility that can’t be inspected; on the other hand, inspections can virtually ensure enrichment activity is not used for a weapon, and if Tehran tries, they will be detected. 
Kuperman also says that Tehran rejected the deal because of domestic political turmoil.  But the truth is more complicated than the startlingly concise explanation –“Ahmadinejad reneged” — that Kuperman provides.  See Ray Takeyh’s explanation of how Iran’s internal national security apparatus scuttled the deal.  Also, how many times do we have to say this? Ahmadinejad does not control Iran’s nuclear program–the Supreme Leader does.
After all that, Kuperman finally gets to his real point.  Start the music…“bomb, bomb, bomb Iran…”

Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work, and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The risks of the latter are obvious, he says: “Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes.”  Supplies them of what?  Ominously, he doesn’t say, suggesting that if Iran were to possess WMD, they would hand it over in a heartbeat.  Of course, this ignores the fact that Iran has had chemical and biological weapons for two decades and is yet to deliver them to terrorist proxies who most certainly want them.  “Even President Ahmadinejad’s domestic opponents support this weapons traffic.”  Huh?  You mean the Green Movement, whose chants say “Not Gaza, nor Lebanon; I give my life for Iran”? 
At last, Kuperman concedes that an aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities might not work, and it might impose heavy costs.  But history suggests that it could work, and is therefore “worth a try.”  For evidence, he lists episodes such as the 1981 Israeli strike on Iraq and the subsequent Gulf War (the success of which Kuperman somehow manages to claim was only confirmed by the 2003 Iraq war, which apparently made the entire thing worth it).  “Analogously,” he says, “Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”  Because the more times we bomb them, the more they’ll see things our way…
Kuperman’s rationale for bombing Iran is not new; it is just intellectually sloppier than most others.  But that doesn’t mean that it should be taken for granted.  If anything, the fact that the New York Times printed this column before the laughably short deadline for diplomacy is up just illustrates the sorry state of discourse in the US on how to deal with Iran.  And that is exactly the plan for those who wish to hasten a US-Iran war: drive the debate so far to the fringe that reasonable proposals are discounted and the irrational seems like the only option.
update: For the record, I penned this blog post on a plane between DC and Texas, long before I read Heather Hurlburt’s scathing piece about the same article.  Kudos, Heather.
update 2: Wow, nice to see I wasn’t alone with this.  See also Matt Duss, Joe Klein, Steve Saideman and Dan Drezner.   Marc Lynch says: “This kind of sustained pushback is exactly what is needed to prevent this dangerous idea from being mainstreamed.”

Back to top