Would the U.S. Nuke Iran?

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Over the past week, both Seymour Hersh and the Washington Post have published reports that the Bush administration is considering various plans to attack Iran—plans that may or may not include using “bunker-buster” tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear sites. It’s a bit alarming, to say the least, and there’s been shockingly little follow-up in the media. Unfortunately, both pieces are frustratingly vague, so here are two follow-ups worth reading.

Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk looks at Iran’s main centrifuge plant in Natanz and says that, setting aside the rather obvious insanity of dropping a bunker-buster on Iran, there’s no technical reason to use nukes to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. The facility just isn’t deep enough underground—conventional weapons will do. (Indeed, you could make an argument that “bunker buster” tactical nukes are never needed to destroy underground facilities, and that the entire program should be discontinued.)

Meanwhile, a while back William Arkin took a peek at Pentagon war games from the early 1990s, when the military tried to figure out what would happen if Iran went nuclear, allied itself with a breakaway Shiite republic in Iraq, and tried—for reasons unknown—to conquer the Middle East. Basically, the United States would have no trouble stopping it, so long as it had troops permanently based in the region (hint, hint), and didn’t need to use nuclear weapons to do it. In fact, military leaders found that it was nearly impossible to incorporate the nuclear arsenal into their war plans.

Perhaps it’s naïve to be (very slightly) comforted by these sorts of things, but both analyses sure make it seem like dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran is unlikely, whatever the chances of a conventional attack might be. (A conventional bombing raid against Iran would be a horrible idea, of course, but a nuclear attack would be catastrophic.) On the other hand, Billmon wonders what would happen if we did use nukes against Iran. The Bush administration is insane enough to do so, the corporate media is brainless enough to go along happily (mushroom clouds make for good ratings), and the country might be so jaded and used to watching unimaginable violence over TV that really, it’s entirely possible we could turn parts of Iran into glass and no one would care.

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