June 7, 2007
Christopher Hitchens’s smarter brother has been to Iran. When it comes to scare stories about Iran’s imminent nuclear threat, this Englishman is also from Missouri:
I am not equipped to judge such things technically. I could not tell uranium from plutonium or a centrifuge from a capacitor. But I have been subjected to enough state-sponsored panics about evil dictators and weapons of mass destruction to have become a little dubious when I am told that a Middle Eastern state is plotting my imminent death or a first strike on Tel Aviv. And I have become aware that many real, well-informed experts are highly skeptical about Iran’s ability in this field. The Tehran government appears to exaggerate the number of centrifuges it has in operation. Its capacity to enrich uranium is pitifully short of that needed to produce weapons-grade material. Its elderly nuclear reactor at Bushehr has yet to produce a watt of electricity after more than 30 years. Iran’s claim to need nuclear energy may not be false. This supposed energy superpower imposes frequent power blackouts, as I can confirm from personal experience.
The Iranian state is, in any case, famous among its own people for being very bad at delivering grand projects. Tehran’s new Khomeini Airport has just opened after 30 years under construction. A supposedly ultra-modern TV and telecommunications tower stands unfinished on the capital’s skyline after 20 years of work. Several cities, promised metro-rail systems years ago, have yet to see a single train run. Tehran’s metro, sorely needed in that traffic-strangled megalopolis, is operating a few lines, but they opened years late, and there are far too few of them.
Many Iranians privately fear that their government’s clumsy fumblings with the atom will subject them to a Persian Chernobyl long before it endangers anyone else. In any case, if you wish to become frantic about Islamic bombs, then there is surely a better case for worrying about Pakistan, which already possesses such a bomb along with the missiles to hurl it about the region. Yet Pakistan, mysteriously, is our friend and ally, despite being a lawless military tyranny and the only country on earth to have an army unit specifically trained to mount putsches against its (rarely) elected governments.
You can read the whole thing here.