America's Damaging Obsession With Iran's Centrifuges

The Iran nuclear debate has been derailed by an obsession over centrifuges. In my latest piece for The Atlantic, I explain why this obsession threatens the nuclear talks and our goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb. 

Over the past two years, dozens of politicians and prognosticators have drawn various red lines that Iran should not cross lest it be “a screwdriver turn away from having a nuclear weapon,” as Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican, said last week.

Mostly they focus on centrifuges, the water-heater-sized machines used to enrich uranium. You can understand why. Centrifuges are part of the elaborate process used to turn uranium ore into the metal core of atomic bombs. They are perhaps the most quantifiable part of the process. They are discrete objects that can be numbered. 

And that is what we do. We count things. It is one of the first skills we teach our children. It helps us put a little order in the universe. How many kids in the classroom? How many votes to elect a president? How many stars in the sky?

We can easily count centrifuges. Anyone with a computer can come up with an estimate of how many centrifuges Iran needs to make the material for a bomb. Just search Google for “Iranian centrifuges.” The very first hit is an article produced by the publication Iran Watch that “estimates how soon Iran could fuel a nuclear weapon.”

Read the full piece at The Atlantic