Why is Fox “bigging up” the threat posed by Iran?

One would hate to think Liam Fox was overplaying Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capability as a way of bigging up the importance of his own portfolio, writes Frank Spring.

As reported in the Telegraph, prime minister David Cameron appears concerned defence secretary Liam Fox has gone off-script with regard to Iran. Fox reportedly informed MPs recently that Iran could have a nuclear weapon next year, a claim disputed by the Telegraph’s sources, who said the official estimate is that Iran is four years away from developing nuclear capability.

The confusion on when Iran could produce a nuclear weapon is understandable; the clandestine nature of the program makes it impossible to know for sure, and CIA Chief Leon Panetta said in June of last year that Iran could have a weapon by 2012 – other estimates say it will take longer.

Fox is not completely off-base; both he and Panetta could be right, although one does wonder why Fox found his own government’s projection so unreasonable that he was compelled to use someone else’s.

Chronology, however, is not the real subject of this dispute. Cameron’s concern, apparently shared by foreign secretary William Hague, is that exaggerating the threat posed by Iran aggrandizes the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for whom there is political capital to be gained by appearing to be Iran’s defender and advocate against a hostile world.

The incident appears to have inspired Cameron to order a “new strategy for statements” on the subject, more in line with the government’s desire to frame the Ahmadenijad regime as corrupt, ineffective, and weak, while focusing specific criticism on its repressive political system.

This is not completely absurd; Ahmadinejad enjoys the role of international gadfly and is good at generating political heat out of remarks from the “axis of evil” school of rhetoric. Defending his government’s performance to his own people, however, is a less comfortable position for him.

None of this explains why, exactly, the prime minister, defence secretary and foreign secretary were unable to sing off the same hymn sheet before the cacophony went public. This is not the first time Fox has gone off-piste, and it is harder to tell what he hopes to gain on this occasion.

What can Fox have hoped to achieve by “bigging up” Iran, to borrow the prime minister’s phrase? (The derivation of which is anyone’s guess.) What were the MPs in question supposed to have done with this information (or misinformation)?

The truth is there is comparatively little Britain can do about Iran and its nuclear ambitions that is not already being done, short of drastic measures unworthy of contemplation.

Iran might get a nuclear weapon next year. It might get it in two years, or five, or ten. The government has a responsibility for planning changes, if any, to its security posture in the region based on when it thinks Iran will develop nuclear capability.

No part of that responsibility includes accelerating that timetable against the best analysis of Britain’s own intelligence services, nor does it involve making MPs’ flesh creep for reasons unclear; Fox would do well to recall that the public may be less amused than it once was by exaggeration of a Middle Eastern power’s access to weapons of mass destruction, and to explain the incident.

One would hate to think the defence secretary was overplaying Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capability as a way of bigging up the importance of his own portfolio.

14 Responses to “Why is Fox “bigging up” the threat posed by Iran?”

  1. njslea

    Why is Fox “bigging up” the threat posed by Iran?: The confusion on when Iran could produce a nuclear weapon is … http://bit.ly/hd69CE

  2. Abaris

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why is Fox "bigging up" the threat posed by Iran? http://bit.ly/g2G24l writes @FrankSpring

  3. pigreen

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why is Fox "bigging up" the threat posed by Iran? http://bit.ly/g2G24l writes @FrankSpring

  4. Anon E Mouse

    Frank Spring – Why do you think?

    This is childish lazy journalism at best. If authors on this fine blog have no clear idea of the situations they are “reporting” on then why are they given the space?

    Go away and read your history Frank and you may be able to answer your own question…

  5. Frank

    Generally speaking, I’m not inclined to engage with comments that clearly violate LFF’s Comments Policy (“We welcome discussion and debate but keep it nice. Comments should stick to the topic, any containing offensive language or personal attacks will be removed”) but it’s worth coming back on this because it’s such a model of its kind – insulting without being correcting, derogatory without adding to the debate, and closing with the policy-blog troll classic “read your history” without offering any context or insight at all. It’s absolutely brilliant, and I can’t help but admire it, actually.

  6. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why is Fox "bigging up" the threat posed by Iran? http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/03/liam-fox-bigging-up-iran-threat/

  7. Joseph Willits

    Why is Fox “bigging up” the threat posed by Iran? http://bit.ly/i3gyu0 #Iran #Fox #Cameron #10Esfand #IranElection

  8. Alan W

    Why is Liam Fox “bigging up” the threat from Iran?

    Because he wants to spend tens of billions of pounds on a fancy new batch of nukes, and he needs to find somewhere on the globe to point them at.

  9. Frank

    Absolutely, Alan – Trident, and general self-aggrandizement in equal measure, probably.

  10. Brian Moylan

    Even though the Atlantic Bridge website is currently under a reconstruction (as highlighted http://www.brianmoylan.info/blog.php?blogid=205) it did open for a little while and they carried the Iran scare story, but then it went back to the maintenence page.

    The Atlantic Bridge USA site is still going though, and has an editorial on Iran by Liam Fox and Amanda Bowman (http://www.theatlanticbridgeusa.com/iran.html.)

    If you want to know about the next few years’ foreign policy objectives, I guess you couldn’t go far wrong at http://www.theatlanticbridgeusa.com/forum.html.

    I thought it would be more appropriate for the Defence Secretary to talk to the people in the UK about it before publishing over in the USA, but I must be old-fashioned or something.

  11. Anon E Mouse

    Frank – Thank’s for the admiration. If you read this blog regularly you’ll understand most of the “rules” are broken by the authors of the articles especially where this “Evidence Based Blog” is concerned.

    As for explaining what I mean by “read your history” if you need to have that explained you may be better off at Labourlist or some of the other juvenile left wing blogs. And then read your history.

    (Not that I’m suggesting you’re juvenile personally Frank – the current Labour leader seems to have that department fully covered…)

    Regarding your final comment on Trident may I suggest that you read the coalition document of that system – the only government committed to renewal of the weapon (and as an ex-nuclear submariner I feel qualified to comment) was the last Labour one.

    But I’m sure as a Labour supporter you wouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good post eh…

  12. Frank

    On the point of Trident, here’s an excellent piece from this very blog on the subject of this government’s continuing commitment to it. http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/02/trident-coalition-pledge/

  13. Anon E Mouse

    Frank – The author is a member of CND. Do you not think that she may be biased a bit?

    Just a thought…

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