Eight Ways You're Wrong About Iran's Nuclear Program

"Let's examine some of the current false Iran nuclear memes before we’re led down the yellow-cake road again."

Oft repeated but false assertions about Iran's nuclear program—and the recent deal to tamp it down—may end up being more dangerous than the program itself. These wrong statements reinforce each other, get amplified in the media, and are fueling a march to military action.

Such use of force would further inflame the Middle East and could push Iran to start a full-scale nuclear weapons project. US national security would further erode as a result—just like it has with the Iraq debacle. The 'aluminum tubes', 'mobile biological-weapons labs', and 'yellow cake from Niger' memes fueled the march to that war. Let's examine some of the current false Iran nuclear memes before we’re led down the yellow-cake road again:

Meme 1: “If the world powers fail to reach a deal with Tehran the alternative is bombing.”

An incarnation of this shopworn meme appears in Matthew Kroenig's recent piece in Foreign Affairs. He states “A truly comprehensive diplomatic settlement between Iran and the West is still the best possible outcome, but there is little reason to believe that one can be achieved. And that means the United States may still have to choose between bombing Iran and allowing it to acquire a nuclear bomb.” Er, no. That's a false choice. Iran is not acquiring a nuclear bomb—the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has a “high level of confidence” that no decision to weaponize has yet been taken in Tehran. This conclusion of the DNI is not based on an absence of evidence but on actual information that whatever weaponization research Iran may have been doing up to about 2003 has been wrapped up a decade ago.

The P5+1 nations—the five permanent members of the Security Council: the US, UK, France, Russia and China, plus Germany—are not negotiating with Iran to stop it from making a nuclear bomb. They are negotiating with Iran on how to continue to keep its nuclear program peaceful. The discussion is about the methods used to verify that Iran continues its peaceful nuclear program. Even if the nuclear talks fall apart the IAEA inspectors would still continue to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities.

If we—or our allies—bomb Iran the IAEA inspectors would most certainly be expelled, Iran would likely leave the NPT, and Tehran would likely kick off a full-blown nuclear weapons development project. Iraq's nuclear weapons project also started in earnest after Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981.

To sum up: The negotiations with Iran are about the methods to use to continue to make sure Iran's nuclear program is peaceful. Not reaching a deal is not the end of the world. And if we do bomb Iran, it is likely to bring about the very thing the bombs were trying to prevent: a full-blown nuclear weapons program.

That said, a deal is still the best outcome: it would give even more reassurance about Iran's nuclear program, and it would end the sanctions which are punishing the weakest of the Iranian civilians while enriching the Revolutionary Guards who profit from busting sanctions.

Meme 2: “Sanctions forced Iran to the table and extracted concessions from Iran.”