Yesterday, Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State who gave a key presentation to the UN as part of the Bush Administration’s efforts to justify its decision to go to war in Iraq, appeared on Meet the Press. The discussion covered a lot of current political topics, including the current effort to discourage Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program. That segment of the program provides some valuable food for discussion and thought. Here is the quote from the show transcript
MR. GREGORY: In Iran, a path toward confrontation is possible, and I wonder what you think is worth–worse: an Iran with a nuclear weapon or the fallout of an attack on Iran by either the U.S. or Israel to prevent it having a nuclear weapon?
GEN. POWELL: I don’t think the, the stars are lining up for an attack on Iran either by Israel alone, or Israel in concert with the United States, or the United States alone. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ve heard nothing to suggest that we would be interested in doing that or think it would be useful even though the option is always on the table. I think eventually we will have to deal with the reality that sanctions may not change the views of the Iranians on these issues; and, therefore, let’s see if we can find a way to see if Iran can have a nuclear program that is fixed on power production, low-level enrichment of their material, so that it’s not a track to become a weapon.
Now, people will say that’s naive. Once you know how to do that you can then enrich up to weapons capability. But I think if you take them at their word, “trust, but verify,” (emphasis added) Reagan’s old line, if you take them at their word, and they say they are not interested in a weapon, just power, then put in place a set of sanctions that would be devastating to them if they violate that agreement (emphasis added), and then put in place an IAEA inspection regime, the International Atomic Energy Administration, inspection regime that will keep them below that, and get Russia and China and everybody else to agree to it, then you might have to live with an Iran, and you might be able to live with an Iran that has a nuclear power capability, but rigid enforcement constraints have been put in so they can’t move up to a weapons grade program and the production of a nuclear weapon. Now, at the same time, what can they do with a nuclear weapon compared to what we could do in return? I don’t think it is–you know, they are interested in remaining in power. The easiest way for them to lose power is to seriously threaten or use such a weapon.
Having just retired from the Navy after three Washington DC headquarters staff tours in a row – starting in July 2001 and lasting until July 2010, I have a pretty good understanding of the long term effects that nine years of conflicts have had on our military establishment and our domestic economy. It looks like Colin Powell shares that view. Caution, talking, and enforceable agreements are far more advisable than any other alternatives that some might propose.