But the results of such studies are not part of the public debate about Iran policy. They ought to be. The Bush administration was criticized for its lack of transparency leading up to the invasion of Iraq and for politicizing intelligence. To avoid similar charges, the Obama administration should present the American public with credible evidence about the status of Iran’s nuclear progress and engage in a robust debate about what ought to be done about it, and when. To enable such reasoned discussion the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Iran Task Force — led by former Sen. Charles Robb and retired Gen. Charles Wald, along with former members of Congress, military leaders, and diplomats from both parties — recommended creating an independent, government-appointed study group that would regularly report on how close Iran is to a nuclear weapons capability.
The House of Representatives is voting on, and the Senate is discussing, a similar provision that is perhaps one of the most important, yet overlooked, elements of bipartisan legislation: the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, championed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y. In addition to important measures that further tighten sanctions against Iran, this legislation directs the president to report to Congress every 60 days on Iran’s progress toward break-out capability. Such reporting would allow the public to intelligently consider the urgency of the Iranian threat and what to do about it.
In the end, public debate might be the most important tool for convincing Iran to accept a negotiated settlement to their nuclear standoff. If, when presented with the evidence, the American public supports the administration’s determination to use every means necessary to prevent a nuclear Iran, Tehran might be persuaded that America does not bluff, that Iran’s evasion, defiance, and recalcitrance will not pay off. But for that debate to occur, the public requires more than just the raw technical data provided by the IAEA. It’s about time we had a credible assessment of Iran’s nuclear timeline.
Blaise Misztal is the acting director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Foreign Policy Project.