Hayden: Iran Breakout capability ‘worse than detonation’

Former CIA chief Michael Hayden told a Washington think tank a few weeks back that Iran was not seeking to build a nuclear weapon, but merely acquire a so-called breakout capability — a nuclear program advanced enough that a bomb could be assembled in a matter of months.

An Iranian breakout capability would be “as bad as a detonation. In fact, in some ways that’s worse than a detonation,” he said, speaking at the Stimson Center. “That gives them all the effects of having a weapon.”

Hayden recently said on CNN that war with Iran “seems inexorable,” though a spokesperson later walked the comment back. Nonetheless, his comment was used by liberal hawks as a launching pad for drawing plans to attack Iran.

In his most recent appearance, Hayden said that even an Iranian breakout capability might spur a Saudi-Pakistani alliance.

At Fox News‘s website, Lee Ross reports:

Hayden expressed concern that whether Iran actually develops a weapon or is simply capable of doing so presents security challenges to the country’s regional neighbors. Saudi Arabia, Hayden suggested, might be forced to seek a military alliance with Pakistan to counter the Iranian threat. That alliance and others could rapidly escalate tensions leading to significant problems.

It sounds a bit conspiratorial and alarmist. Extremists in Pakistan are already awash with Saudi cash, and this seems to irk the Pakistani leadership, at least insofar as making a moderate amount of war with someone is a sign of that. If Pakistan were to share its nuclear program with Saudi Arabia, I can see how that might put the fear in Hayden, but Islamabad isn’t exactly handing its nuclear trigger codes to Riyadh yet. And I’m not so convinced that such an alliance would actually make much difference. Both countries are ostensible U.S. allies who are, nonetheless, both epicenters of extremism.

That aside, it’s also worth noting that hawks — Jennifer Rubin, for onealready see the status quo (of Iran in the relatively early stages of a nuclear program) as unacceptable. (A strong Saudi-Pakistani alliance might make her head explode!)  So if no advanced program is acceptable, and no break out ability is acceptable, and a bomb is certainly not acceptable, then that leaves us just where Rubin wants us: at war.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. MY SNARK: Of course, I’m certain Michael Hayden’s interest in selling the services of the Chertoff Group to prospective clients would in no way affect his objectivity on these matters!
    Frankly, Hayden has always reminded me of Brigadier General Jack Ripper astride the nuclear missile in Dr. Strangelove (and obsessing about his “precious bodily fluids”).

    FROM WIKIPEDIA: …On July 1, 2008, Hayden retired from the Air Force after 41 years of military service and continued to serve as Director of the CIA until 12 February 2009.[2] He is currently a principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy co-founded by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.[3]…
    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Hayden

  2. Actually Dickerson it was Slim Pickens, playing a colonel, who rode the nuclear bomb down from the plane. General Ripper was played (curiously enough) by another Hayden,– Sterling (no relation).

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