Accuracy in Media

In order to devote further analysis to the threat level posed by a nuclear Iran, the Heritage Foundation recently convened a panel of speakers to discuss a recent jointly authored paper, entitled “Iran’s Nuclear Threat: The Day After.” The talk was moderated by James Jay Carafano, Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.

In his brief introduction, Carafano described the central purpose of the paper and the question it aimed to answer. “This project actually started with a very simple premise and a single question,” Carafano said. “What happens if we all get it exactly wrong…what do we do the day after?” In addressing this question, the overall tenor of the panel’s discussion was pessimistic, though there were spots of optimism.

Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, the sole member of the panel who had not also been a co-author of the paper, took a relatively neutral stance, suggesting that much of the current coverage of Iran was inaccurate. “What has struck me in a lot of the press reporting of the recent events in Iran, particularly in Tehran, is the idea that particular rifts in the regime are new,” Katzman said before detailing a list of Iranian government officials who had been assassinated or otherwise removed from office. “We often forget that serious rifts have occurred through the history of the Islamic Republic.”

Because of these “serious rifts,” Katzman argued, Iran was more concerned about maintaining internal stability. “They fear that if it completely gets out of control…some outside group will emerge and take power,” Katzman said, citing the Red Guard and figures with connections to the former Shah as potential rivals to the ruling regime.

Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council took a more guarded position in his talk, warning of potential areas where Iran had already exceeded its neighbors technologically. “Iran is the first space-faring Muslim nation,” Berman said, adding that the “takeaway” from the paper was that “Iran’s program is mature and proceeding very quickly.” So quickly, Berman said, that “at some point there’ll be an assumption that Iran is nuclear.” Moreover, according to Berman, Iran’s rush to nuclear power was a dismal sign for its people, as “the pace of the Iranian nuclear program and the pace of freedom in Iran go in opposite directions.” What this all meant, Berman concluded, was that America should avoid the perception of helplessness. “Iran shouldn’t think there’s a day after America,” he said.

Heritage Senior Research Fellow James Phillips was the most pessimistic of the speakers, though his talk also included a more clearly-defined plan of action. “Once Iran opens this Pandora’s Box, there will be a cascade of nuclear proliferation in the region,” Phillips warned. As a result, “the U.S. Navy needs to be ready to deploy missile defense cruisers,” Phillips said, adding that the U.S. should “make clear its willingness to block Iranian oil exports.” However, Phillips also argued for a strategy which eschewed overt hostility to all of Iran, suggesting that the Iranian people were potential sources of pro-U.S. sentiment. “The administration should launch a public diplomacy program,” he said.

The following question and answer session became quite dramatic, as one attendee, an Iranian émigré, continually heckled the presenters for being too soft on the Khameini government. “You cannot deal with this nasty, criminal regime,” he said. Yet these fireworks contributed more heat than light, as one area which was not addressed by the speakers was the prospect of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States, which would effectively wipe out all electricity in the country. This is a prospect so dire that, as Brian Kennedy of the Claremont Institute has argued, it would “effectively throw America back technologically into the early 19th century” and is “certainly attainable” for Iran. And depending on how threatened Iran is feeling, it could come as soon as “the day after.”

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