Nuclear Iran

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(HOST) This week, Iran claimed to have moved closer to becoming a nuclear power. This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore examines a new report that the U.S. military is planning air strikes to prevent that from happening.

(DUNSMORE) I was not particularly alarmed by the first short news items last weekend that the Air Force was drawing up plans for an air attack against Iran. The military always has contingency plans for war against everybody. Somewhere in the Pentagon, I am sure there is such a plan for the invasion of Canada. But the full story in the New Yorker magazine by the tenacious investigative reporter Seymour Hersh goes far beyond contingency plans. Quoting current and former American military and intelligence officials, Hersh has laid out a scenario that could well involve American tactical nuclear weapons in the effort to totally destroy Iran’s incipient nuclear weapons program.

Given that goal – and the lack of reliable intelligence on the ground – American planes and missiles would have to knock out hundreds of potential targets. Hersh writes that one such target would be a plant two hundred miles from Teheran that reportedly could house thousands of centrifuges capable of producing enough enriched uranium to build twenty nuclear warheads a year. However, this facility is buried under seventy five feet of earth and rock and possibly reinforced concrete – leading some military planners to argue that only a bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapon could destroy it.

Reporter Hersh has been on the talk show circuit this past week, and it’s clear this isn’t just an officially leaked story designed to scare the Iranians – because nearly all his sources are opposed to the plans, particularly the use of nukes. Hersh claims the Joint Chiefs of Staff tried to take the nuclear option off the table – but the White House insists on retaining it.

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush dismissed such reports as “Wild speculation.” But given this administration’s record in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the President has a serious credibility problem. Mr. Bush said he is focused on diplomacy to prevent Iranian development of nuclear weapons. But we now know that when he was supposedly seeking a diplomatic solution with Iraq through the United Nations the plans for Saddam’s overthrow were already cast in stone.

One of the more troubling aspects of the New Yorker story deals with the President’s purported frame of mind on this issue. Bush is described as being absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb – and is said to believe Iran’s President Ahmadinejad is another Hitler who is a lethal threat to both Israel and America. That said, one source thinks Bush has decided that “saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

Bombing Iran – for whatever reason – could set the entire Middle East ablaze – as well as persuade the world’s billion-plus Muslims that the United States was indeed their true enemy with all the consequences that implies. I profoundly hope this crisis can be resolved diplomatically. But it’s become evident that going to war with Iran – which used to be considered unthinkable – is now being thought about and, apparently, very seriously.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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