David Albright has played an influential role in the proliferation debate concerning Iran’s nuclear program. A former IAEA inspector who founded the Institute for Science and International Security, Albright has a reputation as a sober-minded analyst of Iran’s nuclear program. But his approach has been harshly criticized by Iran analysts like Muhammad Sahimi, who wrote:
Albright relies too heavily on speculation and, quite often, baseless guessing. Moreover, he has…publish[ed] analyses that seem to serve one and only one purpose: adding dangerous fuel to the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear program. Given that the War Party and Israel are looking for any excuse to provoke and justify military attacks on Iran, anything other than scientific analysis, backed by legitimate documents and credible sources, is extremely dangerous.
An analyst of Iran’s nuclear program and the president of a supposedly scientific institution cannot consort with AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby in the United States and the prime force behind practically all the anti-Iran rhetoric, and, at the same time, present himself as an objective and impartial analyst. But on March 5, 2006, Albright spoke to AIPAC, making a presentation entitled, “Nuclear Countdown: What Can Be Done to Stop Iran?”
…When talking about Iran’s nuclear program, Albright usually tells half the story…[He] and the ISIS continually publish analyses in which they insinuate preordained conclusions based on totally unrelated facts.
As a former IAEA inspector who has close relationships with Israeli sources, Albright is a perfect possible go-between. Many journalists and analysts have noted that the material offered in IAEA reports, though credited to intelligence agencies of various nations, appears to come mainly from the Mossad. Though Israeli intelligence could convey this material to the IAEA in many ways (including directly), Albright’s views are consonant with the Israeli pro-war camp and he would be a useful asset to it.
I note this because Albright has just released a new report, U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East (full report, pdf), on Iran’s nuclear program which contains alarming findings and which urges further harsh measures be taken against Iran. The report was drafted by five “experts” with extensive nonproliferation experience. At first glance, their bona fides appear impeccable. Till one examines their affiliations. Besides Albright, another study author, Mark Dubowitz, is the executive director of the neocon think-tank, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. A third author, Orde Kittrie, is a Fellow at FDD. Given FDD’s decidedly right-wing pro-war ideology, there is no possible way this report can be considered as anything other than a brief for escalation of the conflict against Iran leading up to, and possibly including war.
In a cursory review of the 154-page report, I noted among other things that the authors announce their support for acts of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear program:
…Sabotage has been used to slow the Iranian nuclear program, including through infiltration and disruption of procurement networks and cyberattacks designed to inflict physical damage to the program. Judicious use of this tool should be included in continued U.S. efforts to constrain the Iranian nuclear program.
I find it astonishing that an individual who was an IAEA inspector and who counts himself as a non-partisan analyst would justify the violation of Iran’s national sovereignty implied by such a recommendation. Not to mention that sabotage may mean cyber-terrorism such as the Stuxnet virus while it may also mean the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists. The very idea that a U.S. scientist would write a sentence even remotely justifying the murder of scientists of another country is revolting.
Even more alarming is Albright’s championing of the war option. He says :
“…[The] military option [must be] sufficiently credible to persuade the Iranian leadership now that, at some point between the present day and their acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, the United States will intervene militarily to prevent that outcome.
a. Undertake additional overt preparations for the use of warplanes and/or missiles to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities with high explosives, so as to reinforce the credibility of this threat. Iran must be made to understand that the United States is ready to implement this option, if…Iran’s nuclear capabilities continue to progress. To be effective as a means for increasing pressure on Iran, this threat must be credible.
In this passage, the study authors outline “red lines” that should activate a military response from the U.S.:
…The president of the United States should explicitly declare that he will use military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if Iran takes additional “decisive steps toward producing a bomb.” Possible triggers could include producing weapon-grade uranium or separated plutonium, expelling IAEA inspectors, construction of additional covert nuclear facilities, or undertaking significant additional weaponization activities.
These lines in the sand are quite remarkable. They’re saying that if the world discovers another secret facility like Fordo, this ipso facto should be considered a causus belli. If Iran undertakes unspecified activities that might be construed as progressing toward a nuclear weapon–again a causus belli. If this policy recommendation had been followed when we did discover Fordo, we’d already be in the middle of a regional war with likely thousands of dead and facing years worth of intense hostility and warfare, both symmetric and asymmetric.
Let’s be clear: what Albright is calling for here is essentially an ultimatum. He’s not saying that Iran should be attacked if it shows that it’s clearly intent on building a nuclear weapons, which is current administration policy. He’s advocating that Iranian actions that are far short of this marker should cause an American attack. This is significantly reducing the threshold for war and bringing its likelihood closer (at least, if anyone in the policymaking community pays attention).
This passage further underscores the authors’ complete obtuseness when it comes to understand the thinking of Iran’s leadership:
The specific use by the president of an unambiguous phrase such as “I will use military force if necessary to stop Iran from taking the following steps toward acquiring a nuclear arsenal…” would contribute to the credibility of the military option vis-a-vis Iran’s nuclear program. In making such an explicit statement, the president would enhance the likelihood of Iran peacefully complying with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations, by sending a crystal clear message to Iran’s leaders that it is futile for them to seek nuclear weapons because the U.S. military will ultimately prevent them from succeeding.
What Albright is really advocating is a game of nuclear chicken to see whether the U.S. or Iran will blink first. He believes that faced with the certainty of a U.S. attack on its soil that Iranians would “think rationally” and capitulate to western dictates. This is the same bankrupt thinking that got us into the war in Iraq and other misadventures in U.S. history. While it’s true Iran might react this way, it might just as well react with defiance. Then where would that leave us? With a U.S. president boxed into a war he may never have wanted. All because he laid down the gauntlet at the behest of a bunch of neocon chicken hawks.
The document also advocates “regime change” in Syria as a means to bully Iran into compliance with western wishes. But the assumptions and premises of their analysis concerning what will happen inside Syria once the Assad regime is toppled, and the effect this will have on Iran border on the preposterous:
The collapse of the Assad government and its replacement by a Sunni-dominated, Saudi and Qatari-backed anti-Iranian government in Damascus would be a grievous strategic setback for Tehran. As the United States attempts to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program by means of intensified sanctions, covert operations, and the possibility of future military intervention, Iran’s loss of its key ally could contribute to a tipping point that forces it to accept restraints on its nuclear endeavors.
The number of unsupported, flying leaps of logic in this passage is breathtaking. There is absolutely no guarantee of what sort of government will replace Assad. It could be a Sunni-majority government that is quite pragmatic, independent, and seeks to maintain reasonable relations with Iran. It could be an Islamist government influenced by Al Qaeda that sees Israel and the U.S. as even more hostile than the current government in Syria does.
As for the fall of Assad being a “grievous strategic setback,” that seems overstated. Of course it would be a setback. For example, it would significantly alter its relationship with Hezbollah and possibly (though not definitely) downgrade that group as a potent Israeli enemy. But would Assad’s fall seriously threaten the Iranian regime or cause it to lose confidence in the nuclear path its chosen? On the contrary, if Iran sees the west is seeking to further hem it in by toppling the Syrian regime through “regime change,” it might escalate its nuclear preparations, thus emulating the North Korean example. As for the loss of Syrian support being a “tipping point” for Iran, again, this makes little sense. Rather, this is yet more of what Sahimi called Albright “guesswork” and hunches. Unfortunately for him, Iran’s leaders will likely not be taking their lead from his prescriptions, and any western leader who follows these recommendations is likely to crash on the Rocks of Disappointment.
Here are some additional delusional passages from the report which indicate its authors have been drinking Israeli-brewed Koolaid (or possibly just a neocon-brewed concoction). In this passage, they list reasons Iran would be likely to use a nuclear weapon:
The Iranian leadership’s apocalyptic messianism and exaltation of martyrdom may make it less possible to deter Iran’s leadership from using nuclear weapons.
This is such an old-saw argument advanced by anti-Iran alarmists, I’d think Albright could come up with propaganda more persuasive than this. It could’ve been excerpted from one of Bibi Netanyahu’s UN speeches (and may have been). Others before me have refuted these asinine claims so I won’t waste my time here. I only offer this quotation to show the gutter level of argument offered by this paper.
In the following, the authors speak of Iran’s leaders as if they were delusional and mentally deficient (which they are anything but):
The United States cannot count on nuclear-armed Iranian leaders, as they view the world through their particular ideological prism and bounded rationality, to fully understand every action by the U.S…
Do they think that Iran’s leaders are retarded? And what does “bounded rationality” mean? Might we just as easily question the bounded rationality of Bibi Netanyahu or even David Albright is issuing such tired, racist clichés about Iran and its leaders?
Here the report disputes the validity of the containment doctrine, which Israel too has denigrated, regarding an Iran with nuclear capability:
…Containment strategies seem even less likely to be effective with a revolutionary, non-status quo power such as Iran…
The value judgments in such labelling are astonishing. This statement posits a revolutionary Iran. Yet what revolution is it exporting and where has it succeeded? As far as being a power that destabilizes the status quo, it seems Israel fits that bill as much or more so. Even as mainstream a figure as Shimon Peres told Ronen Bergman in this week’s NY Times Magazine that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict allows Islamist enemies to foment hatred and violence against Israel. In other words, the fault Dear Brutus lies not in the Islamists, but in ourselves.
In short, this report is a little short of a sham. It essentially rehashes arguments advanced by the neocon war camp over the past few years. It also takes a decidedly Israel-oriented approach to proliferation-related matters in the region. For example, it embraces the Israeli formulation that it should not be pressured to join either the NPT or talks about a Middle East nuclear free zone. Despite the fact that Israel is far and away the most aggressive proliferator in the region, and the one most defiant about accepting international monitoring or safeguards.
What’s also striking about this report is how completely out of sync it is with the consensus developing in Washington against attacking Iran; a consensus which seems to be moving toward a diplomatic, rather than military solution. With the nomination and likely approval of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and an internationalist like John Kerry as secretary of state, it seems unlikely Pres. Obama is going to be tempted by the siren song of military escalation. All this means, that Albright and his partners are whistling in the wind. They’re making a feeble effort to turn the tide back to the era of confrontation, mutual recrimination and suspicion.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.