Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Evidence? We don't need no stinking evidence!

The latest meme on the Iranian nuclear program is that Iran's admission of the centrifuge facility near Qum is but the tip of the iceberg. The Times has a nice "man bites dog" piece on U.S. intelligence taking a cautious line on the Iranian nuclear program after the Iraq debacle. The story argues that European intelligence agencies are much more hawkish on the Iranian program than their American counterparts (although, this is not, as the Times reports, a mirror image of the Iraq debate). The even handedness of the Times story falls apart at the conclusion when they quote Graham Allison: “How likely is it that the Qum facility is all there is? Zero. A prudent manager of a serious program would certainly have a number of sites.” Of course, this comes from the same nuke alarmist who bet Nicholas Kristof that terrorists would explode a nuclear bomb by 2014. Over at Foreign Policy there is similar hand-wringing over the implications of the Qum facility, although the article focuses on the fact that President Ahmadinejad's statements following the disclosure of the facility are at odds with IAEA rules (insert mock shock here!). What unites both the ominous Allison quote and the equally ominous FP piece is a general aversion to providing actual evidence for their contentions. For Allison the rationale is that any descent nuclear program should have more sites. In the FP article the rationale seems to be that Iran does not follow the rules and thus there must be other facilities. Instead of relying on evidence for their claims, these authors can instead rely on general distrust of Iranian intentions to support their arguments. It is too easy for those following Iran to simply take every piece of new evidence about the nuclear program as further "proof" that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The real story is the cautiousness of U.S. intelligence on Iran, despite the cries of the nuclear alarmists. We will have to see how long evidence-based intelligence wins out over doomsday theories.