Sen. Inhofe Is Spending August Recess Misrepresenting Intelligence
Speaking at a luncheon in Oklahoma City earlier in the week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) warned that Iran "will have the capability of delivering a weapon of mass destruction to western Europe and the eastern United States by 2015." According to the Tulsa World, Inhofe, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, made the comments while pushing for "the need to rebuild the military that in turn will help the nation's intelligence operation."
Inhofe is both misleading his constituents and misrepresenting the intelligence. As Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association and a former staffer with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, explains:
According to the Congressionally-mandated assessment of Iran's ballistic missile program, issued by the Pentagon in April 2010: "With sufficient foreign assistance , Iran could  probably  develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015." This triple-hedged, worst-case conclusion is far from Sen. Inhofe's unqualified assertion that Iran will have an operational ICBM (with a WMD warhead) by 2015.
Outside experts give us a clearer understanding of Iran's probable long-range missile trajectory. An International Institute of Strategic Studies net assessment in May 2010 concluded that: "...a notional Iranian ICBM, based on No-dong and Scud technologies, is more than a decade away from development."
The United States should be prepared to counter any and all threats from Iran. But much of the debate about that country's nuclear capability is fraught with hyperbole and wild speculation, which do nothing to make us or our allies any safer. For years, hawks have insisted that Iran is on the cusp of acquiring a nuclear weapon. In 2007, for example, it was reported that Iran was just "2 to 3 years away from building a nuclear weapon."
While the hawks aren't always united in strategy, with some pushing for war and others for costly weapons systems, they all say that the country is close to acquiring the bomb and that the we must do something to stop it. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for one, agitated for a military strike during the Bush administration, a recommendation that President Bush "ultimately decided against."
As Thielmann notes, the report Inhofe cited to back up his statement set 2015 as a worst-case scenario, not a definite time when Iran will have a weapon. And even that date seems like a stretch, since Iran probably won't be getting "sufficient foreign assistance" from other countries, especially given its support for the Syrian regime. "By abandoning the subjunctive case used by the U.S. intelligence analysts," Thielmann adds, "Sen. Inhofe engages in the same type of malfeasance, which characterized the Bush Administration's pre-war statements about Iraqi WMD."
Also, the unclassified report Inhofe cites contradicts the idea that the Iranian government is an irrational and apocalyptic actor, as many hawks believe. Last month, for instance, Rep. Allen West (R-FL) told a crowd that the idea of mutually assured destruction is "out the window with Iran." The intelligence assessment says the opposite:
Since the revolution, Iran's first priority has consistently remained the survival of the regime. Iran also seeks to become the strongest and most influential country in the Middle East and to influence world affairs. The theocratic leadership's ideological goal is to be able to export its theocratic form of government, its version of Shia Islam, and stand up for the "oppressed" according to their religious interpretations of the law. In recent years, Iran's ideological goals have taken a back seat to pragmatic considerations.