Nuclear Iran & Polls

One who participates in polls can quickly become confused. At least that is the most obvious conclusion that comes out of a March 14-16 Zogby International poll of 4,824 Americans concerning Iran.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

  • 88.1% of those asked believe that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is to develop nuclear weapons. 5.5% believe that the purpose is to generate electricity.
  • To break down the 88.1% who believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, 39.3% said Iran is developing nuclear weapons for its own use, 18.4% said Iran is developing “a weapon to sell to terrorist organizations,” and 30.4% said Iran is trying to balance a nuclear threat from other nuclear powers.

The balance rubric seems strange. How does it change the facts of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons for military purposes? Is it more acceptable for Iran to threaten to use nukes against nuclear powers such as the U.S., France, and Israel than to use them to bully Turkey and Iraq?
Middle Eastern Nuclear Arms Race

  • 88.2% of those asked answered that if Iran developed nuclear weapons, then it was very or somewhat likely that other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would race to develop their own weapons, leading to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

This would lead to the nightmare of the Three Conjectures scenario.

Living with a Nuclear Iran

  • 29.5% answered the U.S. could live with a nuclear Iran, 26% were not sure, and 44.5% said the U.S. could not live with a nuclear Iran.
  • At the same time, only 25.2% said the U.S. should work to change the Iranian government. 63% answered that the U.S. should not work to bring about regime change in Iran, but that Iran should determine its own future.
  • Approximately 66% said the U.S. should support “reformist elements” in Iran.

Given that I referred to the three conjectures scenario above, it should be clear what I think of living with a nuclear armed Iran. I am pessimistic that it will end up in the destruction by nuclear fire of at least one Western city, perhaps of all Israel, and eventually result in the nuclear annihilation of all Muslim countries.

The Boy who Cried WMDs

  • Apparently responding to, or prompted by, the lack of verified WMD development in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, 57.1% said that a hypothetical future U.S. claim that Iran had developed nuclear weapons would not be very or somewhat credible. 40.2% said that such a claim would be very or somewhat credible.

I didn’t think this many people believed that U.S. Intelligence about Iran was good enough to believe.

Iran nukes threaten Israel

  • A whopping 78.9% of those who answered the poll believe that Israel is the most threatened country if Iran develops nuclear weapons. 5.5% believe the U.S. is most threatened. 1.9% believe Saudi Arabia is the most threatened.
  • 62.7% of those asked said that Iran would “try to attack Israel if it acquired nuclear weapons.” 17.2% said that Iran would not attack Israel in that circumstance.
  • Asked if the U.S. should retaliate if Iran attacked a U.S. ally in the Middle East, 50.3% said the U.S. should, 23.7% said it should not, and 26% did not answer one way or the other.

Of course the basis of understanding for the balance of terror that kept big wars to a minimum during the Cold War was the knowledge that either side would retaliate overwhelmingly with nukes if attacked with nukes. If the West takes that off the table then the West has unilaterally disarmed itself, and that is equivalent to surrender. Thus the U.S. has to retaliate against those who would nuke its allies, or the alliance is utterly worthless.

Israel’s Nukes

  • 48.8% agreed strongly or somewhat that Israel has a right to nuclear weapons, while 41.5% disagreed strongly or somewhat with that statement.
  • 49% agreed strongly or somewhat with the statement that Israel should be prepared to give up its nuclear programs if it would help an agreement for a nuclear-free Middle East. 36.6% disagree.

Israel has never confirmed that it has nuclear weapons, though many suspect it is so armed. This kind of agreement is suicidal if Israel agrees and follows through, and it is futile otherwise for Iran would never disarm once armed with nukes. Treaties between Iran and Western powers are not even worth the paper they are written on. See how Iran treats borders and embassies for proof.

Iran Sanctions Ineffective

  • 54.2% believe that the international community (presumably meaning the U.N. and E.U.) could unite to enforce economic sanctions against Iran.
  • 57.6% believe that economic sanctions will not convince Iran to stop nuclear weapons development. 34.5% believe that economic sanctions will be effective.
  • Opinions appear to be split over whether diplomacy will be effective in convincing Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons. Poll results were incomplete in the report I read so I’ll leave it at that.

This makes no sense. A majority believe that economic sanctions won’t have any effect on Iran. What effect will diplomacy have if it is not backed up with a credible military reality? It will have exactly the same effect as economic sanctions.

The Shape of Things

  • 68.1% believe that the U.S. should first try diplomatic negotiations with Iran. 15.7% believe that the U.S. should first try military actions.
  • 41.1% believe that the U.S. will first try diplomacy. 28.3% believe that the U.S. will first try military action.
  • When choosing a primary partner to lead effective negotiations with Iran, 21.1% preferred an Arab nation, 20.2% preferred the U.N., 14% preferred the U.S., and 12.1% preferred the European Union.
  • If military action is required, over 40% said the U.N. should take the lead. 20% said the U.S. should lead. 11.1% said that Arab nations should lead.

The plan seems to be for Arab countries to lead the negotiations, with Un-Security Council military forces ready to do something about it. In reality, this means the U.S. would do all the work and have plausible claims that everything is being directed by the Un-Gnomes of Geneva.

Iran at War with U.S. in Iraq

  • 72.5% of those asked believe that Iran is providing military assistance to jihadists who are fighting U.S. troops in Iraq.
  • 55.7% believe that Iran is directly involved in attacks on U.S. troops.
  • 63.2% believe that the U.S. should negotiate directly with Iranian leaders to stabilize Iraq, while 22.8% believe the U.S. should not negotiate directly with Iran.

Summing up, respondents believe that the U.S. should negotiate directly with Iran while Iran is waging war against the U.S. in order to get out of the situation. Iran would see this as the U.S. suing for terms of surrender. So would all the Middle East. And so would I, along with any observers who thought about it without imposing an “Amerikkka=Imperialist Bully” mental filter.

Nuclear Weapons Enforcement

  • 78.9% of those asked agreed strongly or somewhat with a statement that the international community should decide which nations can develop nuclear weapons.
  • 42.8% agreed strongly or somewhat with a similar question that asked if the United States should make those decisions.
  • Finally, 64.4% agreed strongly or somewhat that the U.S. has a responsibility to impose limits on the nuclear capability of some countries.

Summed up, the majority position appears to be that the U.S. should not determine the world’s nuclear weapons policy, but should enforce the world’s nuclear weapons policy. The UN Security Council would presumably set that policy, just as it did with the Iraqi resolutions. Then action would be taken under UN leadership, as happened in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Effects of U.S. Action Against Iran
In an poll question that seems from the available evidence to have been worded in an interesting way, Zogby asked if U.S. military action against Iran could have “great impact” on the threat of a terror attack in the U.S, on the security of U.S. troops in Iraq, and on oil prices.

  • 34.5% said that U.S. actions could have great impact on the threat of future terror attacks in the U.S.
  • 49.3% said that U.S. actions could have great impact on the security of U.S. troops in Iraq.
  • 46.6% said that U.S. actions could have great impact on oil prices and supplies.

Great Impact doesn’t say whether the impact is for good or ill, especially when the oppositeof “Great Impact” is “No Impact”. So… put on your mind-reading hats and try to guess what the respondents thought the question was asking.

U.S. Troops in Iran

  • 68.3% are against a full U.S. ground invasion of Iran. 25.4% are for a ground invasion.
  • 55.5% are against U.S. air strikes on Iran. 38% are for air strikes.
  • 65.7% are for U.S. special forces operations against Iran, including intelligence gathering, sabotage, and sponsorship of internal rebellions. 30.2% are opposed to U.S. special forces operations in Iran.
  • 59.5% said that if military action is called for, congressional authorization must be given first.

There wasn’t a question to ask whether special forces operations count as military actions requiring congressional pre-authorization. Nor was there any question about the constitutionality of such an arrogation of the president’s war-making powers to congress.


Today Iran announced that it has moved from a research phase of nuclear fuel enrichment to an industrial phase. This means Iranian scientists are now, and perhaps have been for some time, enriching nuclear fuel. So the questions raised in the poll now have more immediacy than they did when they were asked.

Poll respondents want to continue with diplomacy until the West is attacked with military force, apparently while thinking that diplomacy hasn’t yet been tried. Has UN-led diplomacy, including the IAEA that failed to detect the nuclear programs of North Korea and Pakistan until they had produced nuclear weapons, had any effect on the Iranian nuclear project? Has EU-led diplomacy had any effect? Has U.S. reluctance to take military action against Iran had any effect?

One common definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing that you have been doing, without success, in the hope that it will turn out differently this time. How insane is the West willing to be? The poll would suggest that two thirds of the U.S. is willing to take it to the extremes, only embracing military options if Iran uses the nuclear option against a Western or Israeli target.

For those who wish to be able to use military force before the situation has become quite as dire as a nuclear attack on a Western or Israeli city the interesting question to answer is whether minds are changing, given changing facts on the ground.

Will today’s announcement have any effect on the opinions of respondents and the U.S. populace at large?

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