There are no good options in Iran, according to the Defense Secretary's formerly secret memo to the President. George Will predicts that, in a post-Goldman-lawsuit environment, financial regulatory reform will pass with 70 votes. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner agrees. Still, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to "go back to the drawing board." And Michelle Bachmann agrees that calling the federal government a "gangster government" isn't an appropriate choice of words for the Tea Partiers.
The Gates memo broke too late in the news cycle to re-book guests for Sunday, so no one from the administration has been asked to respond on the record. (Coincidence? Probably.) A conventional reading of the Gates memo suggests that the Defense Department, in January, urged the National Security Staff to come up with more (read: military) options for preventing Iran for obtaining a viable nuclear weapon. But that's not precisely what the memo said, or at least not what the portions quoted by the New York Times says.
But in 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.
According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran's power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.
Since the memo was written in January, the administration has begun to tie Iran's non-compliance to a strengthened Non Prolfieration Treaty. Right now, the NPT's penalties for such a "virtual" weapons state are fairly weak. That's one reason why Gates expressed skepticism that the NPT regime could contain the threat. So the administration wants to significantly increase the penalties for non-compliance, which would provide the president and the world community with more options. It's hard to imagine that Gates is implying that the U.S. military has not planned for a military strike, or to secretly assist another country in a military surprise, or that the U.S. intelligence community isn't attempting to secretly undermine and sabotage Iran's efforts. Why? Because the Pentagon HAS such plans, IS working with other countries and the IC is doing what the IC does. Gates's memo ought to be read in the context of complaining or urging the administration to create the political will to legitimately exercise those options.