The Knowable and Unknowable

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 30, 2006 8:33 AM

Michael Barone reflects on intelligence about Iraq and how that history can teach us lessons about Iran:

The precise facts were unknowable, and so decisions had to be made on the facts that were known -- all of which pointed to Saddam's developing WMDs. Intelligence agencies in the past overestimated the time it would take regimes -- the Soviet Union, China, India, Iraq -- to develop nuclear weapons. Under the circumstances, it was prudent to act on the assumption that WMDs would be developed sooner rather than later.

Fast forward to today, and Iran...

What to do in these circumstances? First, assume that Iran is bent on getting nuclear weapons -- and don't rely totally on estimates that it won't get them for 10 years. Second, understand that the case for military action is not as strong as it was in Iraq. Iran is a much larger country, and the nuclear program sites are widely dispersed and probably strongly fortified. Third, -- and most importantly -- there is every indication that the Iranian people hate the mullahs' regime and like the United States.