Mitt Romney said, during a past debate, that if he is elected, he will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons:
” ‘If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,’ said Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.” [Fox news]
Rick Santorum has made much the same assertion:
“Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch,” Santorum said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Santorum floated an aggressive strategy for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. He said he would order air strikes if the country does not open up its facilities, and he declared Iranian nuclear scientists should be treated like an “enemy combatant,” similar to an “Al Qaeda member.”
Newt Gingrich has also said that he would target Iranian nuclear scientists as enemy combatants to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
There are several problems with these types of assertions.
First, the next U.S. Presidential term begins in late January of 2013. Iran has more than a year to complete its nuclear bomb development program. It is entirely possible that Iran will have nuclear weapons before any of these GOP candidates could possibly take office as President.
Second, the recent IAEA report showed very clearly that Iran has already completed its research and development program. Almost all of the work that would need to be done by nuclear scientists to develop a bomb has been completed. They merely lack sufficient HEU (highly enriched uranium). They have even praticed machining a hollow sphere of metal, such as would need to be made once they have enough HEU. So it is too late to effect Iran’s nuclear program by killing key scientists.
Third, Iran’s nuclear program will soon reach a point — within the next few months, if not already — whereby surgical strikes on particular facilities will not stop them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. They have already researched and obtained or manufactured all of the necessary components, except enough HEU. Those components may be dispersed throughout the country and may be in locations that cannot be bombed (mosques, schools, hospitals).
Fourth, Iran has already moved many of its uranium centrifuges to a facility under a mountain, near a holy city. That location is resistent to surgical bombing attacks. Only an extensive bombing campaign could close that facility, but such an attack would easily be misrepresented by Iran as an attack on the holy city of Qom itself, and therefore as an attack on Islam. The political repercussions of such an attack would be prohibitive.
At this point in time, only a very extensive bombing campaign could prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. But in response to such a campaign, China or Pakistan or North Korea might sell Iran a nuclear weapon, or give them sufficient HEU to build one.
And, in my view, Iran will obtain and most probably use a nuclear bomb well before the next Presidential term begins. So these GOP Candidates are essentially making empty promises. If President Obama or the Israelis do not undertake a major military operation against Iran within the next several months, Iran will have a nuclear bomb by the summer of 2012.
More analysis on this topic in my book:
Notes on the Apocalypse: 2012