Bill Keller on the Bomb Iran Debate

The former executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, has seriously entered the to bomb or not to bomb Iran debate that was invigorated by Foreign Affairs after its publication of Matthew Kroenig’s hotly contested “Time to Attack Iran“.

Keller, now an op-ed columnist for the newspaper, supported the U.S.’s war on Iraq and expressed regret over his actions years later (whether it was enough is debatable). But his article and accompanying blog post are important additions to a discussion about Iran that has been dominated by militaristic agitators in prominent news publications for too long.

Keller’s pointed sarcasm in the beginning of “Bomb-Bomb-Bomb, Bomb-Bomb-Iran?” echoes arguments (which are not referenced) by analysts like Paul Pillar and Stephen Walt about the absurdity of Kroenig’s pro-war case. He also counters alarmism by pro-war hawks, especially neoconservatives, by acknowledging that the Iranian leadership is “not suicidal”, and defies claims that the administration has been soft on Iran by reminding us that President Obama’s policy has in fact been “consistent” with George W. Bush’s and “promises to be tougher”. Keller excludes discussion about the role of the Israel lobby in pushing punitive measures in Congress and fails to consider how crippling sanctions could result in a cornered and hopeless Iran acting out on its threats, but he ends his article by highlighting a central flaw of all bomb Iran arguments:

That short-term paradox comes wrapped up in a long-term paradox: an attack on Iran is almost certain to unify the Iranian people around the mullahs and provoke the supreme leader to redouble Iran’s nuclear pursuits, only deeper underground this time, and without international inspectors around. Over at the Pentagon, you sometimes hear it put this way: Bombing Iran is the best way to guarantee exactly what we are trying to prevent.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. Iran’s uranium hexafluoride – the feedstock for the centrifuges at Natanz and Fordor – is so contaminated with vanadium and other impurities that the country’s inventory of LEU could never be upgraded to bomb-grade HEU, a minor technical point missing in the hysteria about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The UF6 facility at Isfahan was built by the Chinese; in 1997 Clinton convinced the Chinese to withdraw their technical support and the Iranians have failed in their attempts to produce pure UF6. Based on UF6 samples taken by the IAEA one nuclear scientist made a pithy assessment – “It’s garbage.”

  2. Scott: Paper by Carnegie Endowment, Nucleonics Week, and the magazine Science. The first I’ve read and it references the other two that seem to be behind a paywall as I recollect. NB: Articles a few years old so I don’t know the current status of Iran’s UF6 purity, not something IAEA reports go into. Just making the point this might be something to clarify; IF they are still having this problem all the hysteria about Iranian nukes it totally misplaced.

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