Sy Hersh: No evidence of nuclear program in Iran, despite Obama administration assertions

Seymour Hersh, longtime and well regarded investigative journalist, has a new piece in The New Yorker about Iran. From the online teaser Abstract (subscription or print edition required for full article; my emphasis, elision, and paragraphing):

Iran and the Bomb
How real is the nuclear threat?

ABSTRACT: … Is Iran actively trying to develop nuclear weapons? Members of the Obama Administration often talk as if this were a foregone conclusion, as did their predecessors under George W. Bush.

There’s a large body of evidence, however, including some of America’s most highly classified intelligence assessments, suggesting that the U.S. could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq eight years ago—allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimates of the state’s military capacities and intentions.

The two most recent National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003. …

Obama has been prudent in his public warnings about the consequences of an Iranian bomb, but he and others in his Administration have often overstated the available intelligence about Iranian intentions. …

Israel views Iran as an existential threat. Nevertheless, most Israeli experts on nonproliferation agree that Iran does not now have a nuclear weapon. … In his recent interview, [Mohamed ElBaradei, a recent director-general of the I.A.E.A.] said, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”

I’ve seen reporting like this for years, going back to Cheney’s Bush II second-term push to drive us to war against them — the push for bombing, the appeal to manly posturing, which papers over all lack of evidence that Iran even has a program, much less a bomb. Cheney almost got us there, in my view; he did get Fallon fired.

In the face of this lack of evidence, the hawks have (1) insisted that their critics prove a negative, (2) tried to dominate the press with their single-minded point of view, and (3) tarred its opponents as unmanly, loony, or (in ElBaradei’s case) pro-Muslim. Evidence to the contrary can grab its hat and go home. On the press front (2 and 3 above) I think the hawks have succeeded.

This really matters. It would change the world. If we get this one wrong, we’ll be at war with someone who can bring the war back to us, to our Midwestern towns and suburban malls. The population of Iran is more than double that of Iraq (Iran is the 17th most populous nation on Earth). It has four times the GDP of Iraq. It’s not peopled by tribesmen and sheepherders alone, but contains a great many urbanized professionals.

Iran is a society that, if pushed to war against the West, will go. The secret services in Iran include groups like the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij. The last two groups alone are more than 200,000 strong. Ugly as they are in that spy-vs-spy way (are we more pretty?), they could easily bring the global war to our cities as a regular feature. Imagine Omaha or Moline getting the Tel Aviv treatment. There are lots of Molines. Is that a world you’d choose to live in?

Imagine the oil shocks after sabotage bombings in the Persian Gulf. Imagine oil priced in euros on an Iranian bourse. Imagine security checkpoints in every mall in America after the first couple of bombings. Imagine the eager, muscular overreaction of our national security protectors. Imagine the budget for war on steroids.

And please, let’s not imagine that if the Israelis bomb Iran for us, we won’t be blamed. If you were Iran, would you not strike at the source first, and the client after? We struck at Al Qaeda by taking down Kabul.

So what is Obama’s response to the article? A campaign in Politico sourced to “senior Administration officials” who say, in effect, “We think he’s wrong, and you can’t use our names. Just type it as we say it.” The article’s lead sentence announces (h/t Glenn Greenwald):

[T]he Obama administration is pushing back strongly, with one senior official saying the article garnered “a collective eye roll” from the White House.

They’re giving Sy Hersh the Noam Chomsky treatment. Loony.

The Politico person assigned to this task is a staff writer named Jennifer Epstein, a 2008 graduate of Princeton. She’s recently been writing about pro-profit colleges (which we cover here). Epstein needs to be careful — she could end up with a reputation as a stenographer.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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