|Juan Cole writes:
Iran Can Now Make glowing Mickey Mouse Watches
DESPITE ALL THE SLOPPY and inaccurate headlines about Iran "going
nuclear," the fact is that all President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on
Tuesday was that it had enriched uranium to a measely 3.5 percent,
using a bank of 180 centrifuges hooked up so that they "cascade."
The ability to slightly enrich uranium is not the same as the ability
to build a bomb. For the latter, you need at least 80% enrichment,
which in turn would require about 16,000 small centrifuges hooked up
to cascade. Iran does not have 16,000 centrifuges. It seems to have
180. Iran is a good ten years away from having a bomb, and since its
leaders, including Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, say they do not
want an atomic bomb because it is Islamically immoral, you have to
wonder if they will ever have a bomb.
The crisis is not one of nuclear enrichment, a low-level attainment
that does not necessarily lead to having a bomb. Even if Iran had a
bomb, it is hard to see how they could be more dangerous than
Communist China, which has lots of such bombs, and whose Walmart
stores are a clever ruse to wipe out the middle class American family
through funneling in cheaply made Chinese goods.
What is really going on here is a ratcheting war of rhetoric. The
Iranian hard liners are down to a popularity rating in Iran of about
15%. They are using their challenge to the Bush administration over
their perfectly legal civilian nuclear energy research program as a
way of enhancing their nationalist credentials in Iran.
Likewise, Bush is trying to shore up his base, which is desperately
unhappy with the Iraq situation, by rattling sabres at Iran. Bush's
poll numbers are so low, often in the mid-30s, that he must have lost
part of his base to produce this result. Iran is a great deus ex
machina for Bush. Rally around the flag yet again.
If this international game of chicken goes wrong, then the whole
Middle East and much of Western Europe could go up in flames. The real
threat here is not unconventional war, which Iran cannot fight for the
foreseeable future. It is the spread of Iraq-style instability to more
countries in the region.
Bush and Ahmadinejad could be working together toward the Perfect Storm.