“I’ve argued for [military strikes against Iran] for about three and a half years,” John Bolton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee today. “Absent military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Iran will have weapons much sooner rather than later,” Bolton said. “It’s a big mistake to conclude, as I believe the Administration has, that a nuclear Iran can be contained and deterred.”
Even as Bolton called for bombing Iran, President Bush’s controversial former Ambassador to the UN received a warm reception from Republicans and many Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Chairwoman of the committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, even went so far as to say “I love John Bolton.”
In addition to his calls for military action against Iran, Bolton made several bold assertions that went unchallenged by the committee. He claimed that nuclear Iran could not be contained because of the religious beliefs of Iranian leaders, arguing that containment worked against the Soviet Union because its rulers were atheists. Hence, he said, Moscow had valued life more than Tehran does because the Politburo did not believe in the afterlife. “[Soviet leader Nikita] Kruschev was considerably saner than the Iranian regime,” Bolton said.
But numerous experts have contradicted Bolton’s argument about Iran’s strategic calculus. The Pentagon concluded in a recently issued report that Tehran is motivated by a cost-benefit analysis and that its “first priority has consistently remained the survival of the regime.”
Bolton also claimed that Iran could enrich enough highly enriched uranium to make one bomb in one and a half months or four bombs in six months, estimates that are dramatically more alarmist than consensus estimates.
But Ollie Heinonen, a Senior Fellow at Harvard University and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s former chief of safeguards, who was largely overlooked at the hearing, disagreed with Bolton’s estimates. Heinonen explained that that process could take anywhere from 6 to 12 months, but only if Iran kicked out international inspectors and made an all-out effort to enrich uranium to weapons grade.
The conversation also turned to terrorism. Rep. Duncan (R-SC) claimed that there are extensive links between Iran and al-Qaeda and asked Bolton for his thoughts of the relationship. Bolton responded, “I don’t think we know what the connection is, but I think it’s something to worry about.” He then conceded there may be “no connection at all” but said that still, the U.S. should be fearful that al-Qaeda could get a nuclear weapon from Iran.
At the same time, Bolton and several members of Congress, including Reps. Sherman and Dana Rohrabacher expressed support for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which is designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization that operates as a cult. Before the hearing started, Bolton’s aide approached a group of MEK supporters in attendance and told them that he supported their efforts. Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen even made a point to greet the group and shake the hands of each of the MEK supporters. Even as Bolton called for bombing Iran, he acknowledged doing so would likely ignite a broader regional war, but dismissed the costs as worth the effort. “I think [Iran’s] most likely response would be to unleash Hezbollah and perhaps Hamas for rocket attacks against Israel,” Bolton said. No follow up questions were asked on the matter.