Obama-Friendly Think Tank Ponders a Nuclear-Armed Iran

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a 2008 visit to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran.

President Obama has said he will not let Iran get a nuclear weapon. So why did the Center for a New American Security, the think tank most closely associated with staffing Obama’s Pentagon, issue a report Monday called If All Else Fails: The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran?

Could it be that Obama’s red line against Tehran becoming a nuclear-weapons state is fading? Obama threatened Syria’s Bashar Assad not to cross a “red line” by using chemical weapons against the rebels seeking to overthrow him. But critics maintain that has been shown to be more bluster than blast after (admittedly squishy) evidence surfaced that Assad had done just that and the U.S. did nothing.

The question is piquant coming as it does from CNAS. After all, the think tank’s new top guy is Robert Work, who until March served as deputy secretary of the Navy. Its two new co-chairs are Michèle Flournoy, who served as the Pentagon’s No. 3 civilian until last year, and Kurt Campbell, until recently a top State Department official. They have both returned to the think tank they created in 2007.

CNAS’s latest report on Iran concludes:

Even if U.S. policymakers prefer prevention to containment, prevention could fail. The United States is not likely to acquiesce to the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, but Tehran may be able to achieve an unstoppable breakout capability or develop nuclear weapons in secret before preventive measures, up to and including the use of force, have been exhausted. Alternatively, an ineffective military strike could produce minimal damage to Iran’s nuclear program while strengthening Iran’s motivation to acquire the bomb. Under any of these scenarios, Washington would be forced to shift toward containment regardless of current preferences. The failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would be bad, but the failure to be prepared for that possibility would be even worse.

The study’s lead author is Colin H. Kahl, identified in the report as “a Senior Fellow at Center for a New American Security and an associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.”

But the more expansive bio on the CNAS website elaborates:

From February 2009 through December 2011, Dr. Kahl served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. In that capacity, he developed and implemented the U.S. Defense Department’s strategy and policy toward…Iran…During his tenure, he played a lead role in…shaping the Pentagon’s efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and destabilizing activities…”

Kinda makes you nervous.