Intelligence Agency and other agencies blocked a Bush Administration
plan to deliver sharp new warnings this week about Syria's efforts to
develop unconventional weapons," a July 18, 2003 New York Times
article began. It continued by noting that the "CIA and other agencies
raised strong objections to testimony" that former U.N. Ambassador John
Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, was planning to deliver to
Congress that week.
testimony that Bolton was scheduled to deliver in the summer of 2003
dealt with the scope of Syria's weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
programs. According to the aforementioned New York Times
article, Bolton believed Syria's WMD programs were extensive and even
went so far to suggest that American officials should be "looking at
Syria's nuclear program with growing concern." The CIA apparently
didn't feel that such an assessment was justified.
Other than this 2003 article mentioning Syria's nuclear program, one doesn't find much else on the subject in the New York Times
until September 2007 when Israel launched a covert mission that
destroyed a building in Syria. While the operation was veiled in
secrecy, reports slowly began trickling out that Israel believed it had
destroyed a nuclear reactor constructed with the help of North Korea.
evidence was finally presented by the Bush Administration to help
confirm these reports. It now appears that Syria's clandestine nuclear
weapons program was far more advanced than our intelligence community
assessed it to be. CIA director Michael Hayden now says that "in the
course of a year after [the Syrians] got full up they could have
produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons."
It seems that Mr. Bolton was right after all.
The fact of the
matter is that intelligence is a precarious business. It depends on
uncertain premises. As a result, sometimes our intelligence agencies
get things wrong. In the case of Iraq in 2003, we discovered they
overestimated Saddam's capabilities. With regards to many other
countries, they have underestimated their advancement.
Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991, for instance, our intelligence community
discovered that Iraq was likely within two years of developing a
nuclear weapon. Similarly, after Libyan dictator Mohmmar Khadafy
voluntarily gave up his WMD programs in 2003, American officials
discovered that his WMD programs were also more advanced then they
previously believed. And now we have the case of Syria, which was fast
on its way to becoming a nuclear power while the CIA was trying to stop
John Bolton from making such a radical assessment.
This, of course,
brings us to the elephant in the room: Iran. As scary as it would have
been to wake up one morning and discover that the terrorist safe haven
of Syria was a nuclear power, the prospect having a nuclear-capable
Iran is far worse. Syria is, at least in theory, deterrable. While
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad cooperates with Islamists, he himself is a
secularist and would presumably harbor some qualms about risking the
destruction of his country by using a nuclear weapon. Iran, conversely,
is run by religious fanatics, many of whom seem hell-bent on bringing
about an Armageddon no matter the consequences to their country.
If we do not
develop a clear and effective policy to stop Iran's nuclear program
now, then we are going to wake up and find out that Iran is not 10
years away from a nuclear bomb – nor five years away nor two years away
– but one day away yesterday. And when that day comes America and the
world will be shocked into a new reality. It won't matter that Iran
lacks a vibrant economy and a massive military. What they will have is
Hezbollah, a terrorist organization which many consider the most highly
trained and best organized of any in the world. It will have missiles
capable of hitting Israel and parts of Europe. And, most importantly,
it will have a religious ideology that very well may make it
Some think that
the Islamic Republic is more rational and wouldn't risk the
obliteration of their own country by using a nuclear weapon against
Israel or the West. Or, at the very least, they argue that there are
some in Iran's regime who are more pragmatic. Well, maybe there are a
few reasonable figures, but we can't be too sure. How much confidence
do you have in such rationalizations?
effective policy with regard to Iran is easier said than done. The
problem America faces is that there are virtually no good options in
dealing with the religious theocracy. Our military is already
overextended fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the military says
it could launch an air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities, such a
task is harder than it sounds. Key installations are supposedly hidden
in underground bunkers throughout the country.
Even if such an
attack could be carried out successfully, the consequences could be
serious. Iran might launch missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq, direct
their operatives to further destabilize Iraq or unleash Hezbollah to
carry out terrorist attacks worldwide – not to mention the economic
cost we would pay in terms of skyrocketing oil prices.
and the West are not impotent. Our best hope probably lies in covert
action to halt Iranian nuclear advancement. Hopefully, such action is
ongoing. If we fail to prevent Iran from developing
nuclear weapons, the world will become a far more dangerous place. As
time goes by, our options for action only become worse.