For Conservative Media, Iran Is Always A Year Away From Having Nukes

Recently, conservative media have been pushing for Israel or the United States to launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, in some cases justifying an attack by claiming that Iran is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon. In the context of Fox's efforts to beat the drums of war, Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland distorted comments by Secretary of Defense and former CIA director Leon Panetta to claim that “Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a year or sooner.” (Panetta actually said, “The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon.”)

Contrary to what conservatives claim, however, there are significant questions about whether Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons at all. Indeed, 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimates found no conclusive evidence that Iran is even trying to build a bomb. In January 31 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reiterated the fact that the U.S. intelligence committee does not have evidence to say that Iran is trying to build a bomb.

But there is another good reason to have some skepticism when conservatives warn that Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon: they have been warning that Iran is months, a year, or at most two years away from the bomb for years. Here are some examples:

2005: Iran Is “Months” Away From The Bomb

  • In December 2005, both Rush Limbaugh and a Washington Times editorial repeated a distortion from the Drudge Report of comments by International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohamed ElBaradei regarding how soon Iran might have a nuclear weapon; the Times claimed ElBaradei said Iran was “a few months” away and Limbaugh claimed ElBaradei said Iran was “months away.” ElBaradei actually said that Iran may be able to produce a nuclear weapon “a few months” after it becomes capable of enriching uranium to a grade suitable for making weapons, which, according to the IAEA and news reports on U.S. intelligence at the time, was at least two years away.

2006: Iran Will Have The Material For The Bomb In “Six Months [To] Two Years”

  • On the April 15, 2006, edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, Gigot and Stephens addressed the “urgency” of the “crisis” regarding Iran's attempts to enrich uranium and reported pursuit of nuclear weapons. Gigot noted comments by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and asked Stephens if there were “any doubt in your mind that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon and is making real progress in doing so.” Stephens answered, in part: "[O]ur estimates that the Iranians are 10 years or five years away from making a bomb were wildly exaggerated. They're going to be able to enrich uranium in the next year or two. So, it adds urgency to the crisis."
  • In March 2006, Fox News contributor and Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke falsely claimed that “depending on who you listen to,” it will take Iran “between six months and two years” to produce “the material that they need for a nuclear weapon,” and cited unnamed “experts” to baselessly allege that Iran “will be able to have enough fissile material of their own making for a bomb some time next summer, summer 2007.”

2007: Iran Will Have Nuclear Capability In One To Two Years

  • During the May 26, 2007, edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, Wall Street Journal editorial writer Bret Stephens said, “The IAEA has now come out with a report that says Iran has 1,300 centrifuges. It's going to ramp up to about 3,000 centrifuges perhaps as early as next month. That puts them within range of a nuclear capability in two or even just one year.” Host and editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Paul Gigot later added, “This is very different than what we heard even a year or so ago when it was leaked -- the national intelligence estimate, which is the best guess of the consensus view of the American intelligence community, said that they were five to ten years away.”

2008: Iran Will Have The Bomb In Two Years

  • On the December 12, 2008, edition of Fox News' America's News Headquarters, KT McFarland said, “Iran is probably two years away from a nuclear weapon. Now, that's really frightening. But that's two years.”

2009: Iran Will Have The Bomb In About A Year

  • During an interview with Fox News analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters on the September 15, 2009, edition of his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly stated: “Iran, they say, is about a year away from getting a nuclear weapon.”
  • During the September 11, 2009, edition of his Fox News show, O'Reilly said: “Everybody says [Iran is] about a year away from having a nuclear weapon.” (Accessed via Nexis)

2010: Iran Is Months Or “About A Year” Away From The Bomb

  • On the April 12, 2010, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, McFarland said, “In a couple of months time -- 6 months, 9 months -- we're going to be faced with this choice: bombing Iran or letting Iran get the bomb.”
  • On the September 7, 2010, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, guest and former adviser to Dick Cheney Scooter Libby stated, “In June, of this year, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, I think on one of these shows, said that two things. One, the Iranians are about a year away from the bomb.” Guest host Monica Crowley responded, “Right.” In fact, Panetta said that were Iran to decide to fully enrich its uranium, “it probably would take a year to get there,” adding: “Probably take another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.”
  • On February 19, 2010, Fox News' Special Report aired a video clip of James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, saying, “Iran may only be months or a few years away from a nuclear weapon. So the sooner sanctions are ratcheted up, the better.” (Accessed via Nexis)

2011: Iran “May Be Less Than One Year Away” From The Bomb

  • During a December 15, 2011, Republican presidential debate, moderator and Fox News anchor Bret Baier said that “many Middle East experts now say Iran may be less than one year away from getting a nuclear weapon.”

2012: Iran Will Have The Bomb “In A Year Or Sooner”

  • KT McFarland: According to Panetta, “Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a year or sooner.”
  • During the January 17, 2012, edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Fox News contributor John Bolton stated: “I think Iran continues to make very steady progress toward getting a nuclear weapon. Defense Secretary Panetta said just last month they could do it within a year. I think they could do it well within that.”