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 one — already 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.