The New York Times reports on a “secret three-page memorandum” that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent to National Security Adviser Gen James Jones in January, warning that “the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability,” according to unnamed officials who leaked the information.
The narrative line here which is presumably the line which was being fed to the New York Times‘ ever-obliging reporters, was that the there are gaps in the US strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It’s far from clear that this was actually the thrust of Gates’ memo.
[I]n his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.
To say that the US lacks a strategy here, is itself a statement so vague as to be meaningless. It lacks a strategy to prevent Iran becoming a virtual nuclear state? Or it lacks a strategy for dealing with Iran in such an eventuality? Or it lacks a strategy for dealing with the fact that it may not actually know whether Iran has acquired this form of nuclear capability?
There is no indication in this account that the New York Times reporters saw the memo (and it seems reasonable to infer that they did not), so as is so often the case, it’s likely that the most significant detail in this story is the one that will not be revealed: the identity of the senior official who is the primary source of the narrative.
Was it Dennis Ross? He’d certainly fit the profile of someone in the administration who probably feels like it’s time to change the subject and shift attention away from Israel and back to Iran. As another US official recently told Laura Rozen, “He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests.”