Deal With Iran? It’s In Allah’s Hands!

John Kerry is in Switzerland, negotiating with (or on behalf of) the Islamic Republic of Iran. On Friday, a reporter asked whether a nuclear arms deal can be reached by tomorrow’s deadline. Kerry’s reported reply: “Inshallah!” “Allah willing!”

God help us.


Over the weekend, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Duke advanced to what looks like an attractive Final Four in the Men’s NCAA basketball tournament. Once again, I will present all-time all-star teams for these programs.

I have previously done so for Wisconsin and Kentucky, who were in the Final Four last year. Wisconsin’s list will need to be redone.

As for Kentucky, the combination of (1) a phenomenal history, (2) current reliance on “one-and-doners,” and (3) current sharing of playing time, which depresses individual stats, means that Kentucky’s list can stand as is. Here are my selections:

First Team:
Kyle Macy (1977-80)

A transfer from Purdue, he’s sixth on the Wildcats all-time assist list and was a first-team All American as a senior. For his UK career, Macy shot 52 percent from the floor and 89 percent from the line. He was the starting point guard on the 1978 national championship team.

Kevin Grevey (1972-75)

Averaged 21.4 points per game (on 51.7 percent shooting) during his career, and 23.5 as a senior. That year, he led Kentucky to second place in the NCAA tournament. UK lost a close title game to UCLA in John Wooden’s final game. Grevey also averaged 6.5 rebounds per game for his career. He went on to have a solid NBA career, including a championship with Washington in 1978.

Jamal Mashburn (1990-93)

He’s number six on the Wildcats all-time points list with a career shooting percentage of 51.6. As a senior, Monster Mash was SEC player of the year and a first-team All-American. And why not? That season he averaged 21 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game.

Kenny “Sky” Walker (1982-86)

Because he fizzled as a pro, it’s easy for non-Kentucky fans to forget how dominant Walker was in college. A three-time all SEC selection, he’s second in career points, with a 57.2 career shooting percentage, and sixth in rebounds. “Sky” lived up to his name when he won the NBA slam dunk contest in 1989.

Dan Issel (1967-70)

They don’t come much better than Issel. Despite playing only three years for the Wildcats, he’s number one in both career scoring and rebounding. Issel made first-team All American as a senior, when he averaged just under 34 points and just over 13 rebounds per game. As a pro in the ABA and then the NBA, his career averages are 22.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Second Team:
Dirk Minniefield (1980-83)

He easily tops the UK career assists mark and is tenth is steals. Minniefield lacked a good outside shot and thus was a “pass first” point guard. By picking his spots, he compiled a 52.4 percent shooting percentage for his career.

Tony Delk (1992-96)

Delk starred on the 1996 championship team. That year, he was a first-team All American and the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. Delk is fifth in career points at Kentucky; second in career steals; and first in three-pointers made (at a success rate of nearly 40 percent).

Tayshaun Prince (1998-2002)

One of the best defensive forwards ever (with four NBA all-defensive team selections to prove it), Prince ranks number eight on the Wildcats all-time scoring list. Twice, he was first team all SEC and once he was SEC player of the year.

Cliff Hagan (1950-54)

As a senior, Hagan averaged 24 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. He was a two-time first team All American. As pro, Hagan made six NBA all-star teams while playing for the St. Louis Hawks alongside another SEC legend, Bob Petit (LSU).

Anthony Davis (2011-12)

Davis played only one season for the Wildcats, but what a season. He was National Player of the Year, National Defensive Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. More importantly, he led his team to a national championship. Not bad for a freshman.

Third Team:
Ed Davender (1984-88)

Eleventh on Kentucky’s career points list, eighth in assists, and fourth in steals.

Louis Dampier (1964-67)

Dampier was the star of the 1966 all-white Kentucky team that lost in the NCAA final to a Texas Western team that started five blacks. He averaged 19.7 points per game for his Kentucky career on .508 shooting. Later, he lit it up in the ABA.

Ron Mercer (1995-97)

Star of the 1997 national runner-up team. That season, Mercer was SEC player of the year and a first team All American. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game.

Jack “Goose” Givens (1974-78)

As a senior, Givens was National Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. He led Kentucky to its first national championship in 20 years. Givens’ performance in the championship game against Duke — 41 points — was one of the best in NCAA tournament history.

Alex Groza (1944-49)

The brother of football’s Lou “The Toe” Groza, he led Kentucky to back-to-back national titles in 1948 and 1949, and was Most Outstanding Player in both Final Fours. He also was the leading scorer on the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team that won the gold medal. His point total in 1949 ranks tenth in Kentucky history. Unfortunately, Groza later was implicated in having shaved points that season.

The honorable mention list could go on almost forever. I’ll name just these few:

Rajon Rondo: The game of this smooth point guard is best enjoyed to classical music.

Wayne Turner: The starting point guard on two national championship teams (1996 and 1998).

John Wall: Like Anthony Davis, Wall was National Player of the Year in his freshman season. Unlike Davis, he stumbled in the tournament.

Keith Bogans: The Washington DC area’s own (out of DeMatha), he’s fourth on Kentucky’s career scoring list.

Rex Chapman: One of the premier shooters in Kentucky history, he was all SEC in his sophomore (and final) year at Lexington. Chapman averaged 40 percent from three-point territory.

Cotton Nash: Averaged of 22.7 points per game for his Kentucky career and ranks fifth on the career rebounding list. Played in three professional sports leagues — the ABA, the NBA, and baseball’s major leagues.

Frank Ramsey: Averaged nearly 13 rebounds a game as a sophomore on Kentucky’s 1951 national championship team. Later an outstanding “sixth man” for numerous Boston Celtic championship teams.

Antoine Walker: Led Kentucky to the national title in 1996, averaging 15.2 points and 8.2 boards per game.

Sam Bowie: Had a great sophomore campaign but then sat out two seasons due to injury. Returned as a senior to help propel UK into the 1984 Final Four.

As I said, no one from the current team makes the list. However, if Karl-Anthony Towns plays the way he did on Saturday against Notre Dame and leads Kentucky to the title, he will deserve at least honorable mention even if he goes to the NBA after this, his freshman year.

The Virginia bar continues to disgrace itself

As we reported here, the Virginia State Bar (VSB) cancelled its midyear legal seminar trip to Israel. In response to stinging criticism of this decision, including from the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, VSB president Kevin Martingayle sent this letter trying to justify his decision:

Dear Fellow Members of the Virginia State Bar,

On Friday March 27th, we canceled the Virginia State Bar’s planned Midyear Legal Seminar trip to Israel. The decision was based primarily on a U.S. State Department advisory:, “Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements.” We were forced to conclude there were potential difficulties some of our VSB members might face in obtaining entry to Israel. Additionally, we were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed.

President-elect Edward L. Weiner, chair of the Midyear Legal Seminar Committee, communicated with the Israeli Embassy. An embassy official expressed a desire to facilitate the trip but acknowledged that security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

In the face of this information, we felt it necessary and appropriate to forego this trip. This was not a political decision and is not a “boycott.” We are an inclusive organization and do not discriminate against any religion.

Unfortunately, some mischaracterized this decision as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, even going so far as to mislabel it as a “boycott.” Although the message was sent over the president’s signature, we jointly drafted and approved what was sent Friday night. Apparently we could have done a better job of explaining the situation and decision. We are writing now to provide further clarity.

Our decision was not based on any political factors or influences. We understand that Israel is in a difficult position when it comes to security. We are not expressing opinions regarding Israel’s border security measures. We are merely recognizing the reality that our very large and diverse membership, consisting of well over 40,000 members, includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.

You may recall that on March 25, 2015, we sent a message urging VSB members to sign up for both the Israel trip and the Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach. We very much wanted the Israel trip to be a success and were trying to reach the required number of participants for it to be a go. We deeply regret that a combination of circumstances led to the trip’s cancellation, and we also regret that our good faith efforts and decisions may have been misinterpreted and misunderstood.

We remain committed to the core objectives of the VSB: public protection, access to justice and improvement of the legal profession. Thank you for reading and thank you for allowing us the privilege of serving.

Kevin E. Martingayle, President

Edward L. Weiner, President-elect & Chair, Midyear Legal Seminar Committee

Note that Martingayle is now claiming that “a combination of circumstances” led to the trip’s cancellation. He cites alleged difficulties in getting enough VSB members to sign up for the seminar.

However, his cancellation letter cited only allegedly discriminatory entry policies and practices by Israel. Thus, Martingayle’s revised rationale, concocted under duress, should not be credited.

Martingayle’s initially-stated rationale — potential entry problems for some members — doesn’t hold up well either. He appears to have based his decision on a petition by anti-Israel members and outsiders, coupled with a statement by someone at the Israeli embassy that Israel’s security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

It’s hardly a scoop that Israel has strict entry procedures and that it can’t guarantee entry to every member of a large organization. Martingayle surely understood this when the VSB selected Israel.

What changed after the VSB made the selection? The answer is the petition by a small number of anti-Israelis.

As Martingayle said in his initial, more honest letter, he was advised of “some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security” and upon review he concluded that there were enough legitimate concerns to warrant cancellation. However, Martingayle declined to say which of the concerns cited by the anti-Israel petitioners were “legitimate.”

In his follow-up letter, Martingayle doesn’t say anything about “discrimination.” He simply points out that the VSB “includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.”

But this “may” also happen to people entering the United States. If you get the chance, look into the area at Dulles Airport where people trying to enter the U.S. are being detained for questioning. You won’t see a random cross-section of ethnic groups.

In fact, as William Jacobson points out, CAIR has lodged the same kind of complaint against U.S. entry procedures that the anti-Israel petitioners presented to the VSB.

The key questions regarding Israeli security procedures are those posed by Prof. Jacobson:

How many people are questioned more intensively? How many are barred? In how many cases did Israel have legitimate security concerns such that more extensive questioning was reasonable?

How many of those complaints were real, and how many were used to create a pretext for the Israel boycott movement? Are those rates higher than for people entering the U.S.?

Have people attending other bar association trips to Israel been barred?

How is it that so many groups and so many millions of tourists visit Israel, yet the Virginia State Bar almost alone has decided that a de facto boycott is in order?

These questions become particularly important because Israel-haters commonly present false claims about border security procedures — claims intended to dupe people like Martingayle into steering clear of Israel. Jacobson observes:

At the Modern Language movement in 2014, a resolution was introduced condemning “arbitrary” Israeli denials of visas to academics wanting to visit the West Bank. That language was removed when the accusation was revealed to be false at an open debate at the MLA’s annual meeting, and data were presented showing the Israeli visa denial rate for U.S. academics was a small fraction of the U.S. visa denial rate to Israelis.

In the case of the VSB, there was no open debate. The Israel haters presented a petition full of complaints, the most inflammatory of which came from the Arab American Institute, a virulently anti-Israel group. The other side appears to have had no say, except that the Israeli embassy confirmed what, as noted above, Martingayle surely understood all along.

In reality, Israel welcomes and accommodates tourists, including Arabs. According to Prof. David Bernstein:

The American Bar Association has recently held meetings in Israel, for example here and here [update: along with hundreds of international conferences that are held in Israel every year, including, for example, a conference on Arabic literature with Muslim attendees from abroad.]

Israel strongly encourages tourism from Muslim countries, to the point that Hamas attacked an Israeli efforts to encourage tourism to Jerusalem from Islamic countries. It called this a “dangerous Zionist plot.”

Hamas would have nothing to fear if Israel were persecuting Arabs who want to visit.

It’s unfortunate that Martingayle has made the VSB an instrument of the boycott Israel movement. I doubt that Martingayle and other VSB leaders are anti-Israel in any strong sense. After all, they initially set the seminar in Jerusalem.

Instead, Martingayle appears mindlessly to have subscribed to trumped up grievances cast in the kind of politically correct language that causes a certain type of person to respond like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s through such disgraceful knee-jerk reactions that the leftist, anti-West rot spreads.

“Genderflect” With Pep Boys!

I’m too old to stay up for Saturday Night Live any more, but I wish I had been able to monitor the outrage on social media among the Social Justice Warrior set this last weekend, when SNL took down both Starbucks and the whole swollen transgenderism fetish in one fell swoop. If you missed it too, it is definitely worth two minutes of your time for this: (more…)

The Peerless Pitfalls of Peer Review

Back finally to an old topic leftover from the climate inquisition a few weeks back. One of our lefty commenters thought it important to raise the issue that I don’t publish “peer-reviewed” articles about climate issues in the academic literature, which is true. It’s something I have in common with Al Gore. (Heh.) Besides, I prefer to write in plain English for human beings rather than the 10 people who read most academic journals.

Actually, it is not quite true: I have published a couple of peer-reviewed articles about science and policy a long time ago that I had completely forgotten about, one of them in an otherwise mostly left-wing academic journal, Social Research. (I also once got an article in Mother Jones and wondered whether I should cash the check or frame it when it came in the mail. But I didn’t wonder long: I cashed it before they could figure out their blunder and send a stop payment order to the bank.)

More to the point, I am currently a regular peer reviewer for one of the leading academic journals in the energy and climate policy domain, though I shouldn’t say which one since peer reviews are supposed to be anonymous. And finally, about ten years back I was an invited peer reviewer for the EPA (!!) on one of their larger data analysis projects, though it had nothing to do with climate change. So it turns out that I have infinitely more peer review experience than Al Gore (“infinitely” since his peer review record is precisely Zero).

It is probably generous to paraphrase Churchill’s phrase about democracy to suggest that peer review is the worst form of academic quality control except for all the others that have ever been tried. First of all, how does “peer review” actually work in practice? Journal editors send out queries to academics asking if they’d agree to referee a submitted article. Even journals with lots of editors may not be intimately familiar with everyone working in a specialized subfield of science, so how do they know whom to query? Often the authors of the submitted articles suggest people—their friends and allies—as peer reviewers. (That’s how I got my first peer review assignment from a journal, and now the editors seem to like my reviews sufficiently that they are asking me to referee papers from people I’ve never heard of; right now it is two Chinese authors.) Even though their peer reviews will come in anonymously, helping to select at least some of your peer reviewers will increase the chances of a partially favorable review panel. And even if the articles are sent to you with the author or authors’ names stripped out, you can usually guess who the authors are easily enough from a careful reading of the bibliography.

Second, keep in mind that peer reviewers are not paid for their reviews. They are done strictly on a volunteer basis, though it can look good on an academic CV to say you’ve been a peer reviewer for the Journal of Irreproducible Results or some such. Maybe some referees re-run the regressions in a quantitative article, but do you think any referees actually check the quality or accuracy of the raw data in article submissions? Most of the time an editor merely wants a referee on hand to see that the author is familiar with the main literature on the topic, and that the article at least purports to make an original contribution. Hence a lot of peer reviews are really bibliography reviews (“the author hasn’t included Jones [2009] on this point”), which is why the bibliographies of many articles are longer than the articles themselves, even though few articles ever engage in any sustained discussion of the existing literature. (Those rare articles that actually engage the existing literature in a serious way are called something else. They are called “books.”)

Third, a typical peer review process only asks referees for one of three choices: Accept, Accept with Changes, or Reject. In all three cases, the referee is supposed to attach a short explanation (in the case of “Accept” or “Reject”) or suggestions for revision in the case of “Accept with Changes.” I don’t know whether there are any statistics kept in how peer reviews come in on the first pass, but it seems like nearly every scientific article I read says that the article has been revised before final acceptance. I am guessing very few articles get recommended for acceptance without revision; what peer reviewer isn’t going to split hairs about something? (In my case, I typically flag things for clarification or additional information, but this is chiefly because so many academics are such bad writers, and journal editors are hoping the referees will do some of the heavy lifting to fix the problems of clarity in many submissions. If that’s their hope, the process is failing badly.)

These problems don’t even get to the deeper problem of the extent to which peer review is an insider’s racket. One of the more damaging revelations of the “Climategate” email scandal in 2008 was the admission of Phil Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University, that he would seek to keep contrarian or skeptic climate literature out of the IPCC process “even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” Nothing says confidence in science like manipulating the article inclusion process.

Then there’s this, from the Washington Post a few days ago:

Major Publisher Retracts 43 Scientific Papers Amid Wider Fake Peer-Review Scandal

A major publisher of scholarly medical and science articles has retracted 43 papers because of “fabricated” peer reviews amid signs of a broader fake peer review racket affecting many more publications.

The publisher is BioMed Central, based in the United Kingdom, which puts out 277 peer-reviewed journals. A partial list of the retracted articles suggests most of them were written by scholars at universities in China, including China Medical University, Sichuan University, Shandong University and Jiaotong University Medical School. But Jigisha Patel, associate editorial director for research integrity at BioMed Central, said it’s not “a China problem. We get a lot of robust research of China. We see this as a broader problem of how scientists are judged.”

Meanwhile, the Committee on Publication Ethics, a multidisciplinary group that includes more than 9,000 journal editors, issued a statement suggesting a much broader potential problem. The committee, it said, “has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review processes of several journals across different publishers.” Those journals are now reviewing manuscripts to determine how many may need to be retracted, it said.

This is not an isolated incident. There’s a whole website,, that follows the increasing number of retractions of bad articles.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

But perhaps the most revealing retraction of recent years was The Lancet finally, in 2010, acknowledging that the 1998 Andrew Wakefield article linking vaccines to autism was phony. This article was the principal justification for anti-vaxxers for several years. Following a long investigation, the British Medical Journal called Wakefield’s findings “an elaborate fraud,” and a British court found that “there is now no respectable body of opinion which supports [Dr. Wakefield's] hypothesis, that MMR vaccine and autism/enterocolitis are causally linked.”

Just how did this article pass peer review? I think the editors of The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals, ought to explain that in detail.

But notice something else about the Wakefield article pictured nearby: The article lists 12 co-authors along with Wakefield. This seems to be the typical mode with scientific articles: casts of thousands sign on as “co-authors” of an article even if they did little work on the actual research. You almost never see a long cast of authors in social science articles (three or four seem to be the outer limit), even when a professor may use a large team of graduate students to conduct field research. In purely scientific publishing it seems to be a way of casting science as a majoritarian enterprise—a means of granting false authority and certainty. (And it’s an easy way of listing another publication on your CV.) I’ve come to adopt a rule of inverse judgment: the more authors listed on a science article, the more skeptical I am. How many co-authors did Einstein have for his breakthrough paper on general relativity?

Meanwhile, as Washington Post reporter Jim Tankersley pointed out last week, the most devastating critique of the Thomas Piketty hypothesis about income inequality, currently setting the entire controversy on its head within the highest reaches of academic economists, has come from an MIT graduate student who published his 459-word critique . . . on a blog. Heh.

Not bashing Bashar

Charlie Rose interviewed Bashar al-Assad last week. 60 Minutes broadcast a portion of the interview last night (video below, transcript here). Rose reported that the interview was conducted “under the conditions that we use Syrian TV technicians and cameras.”

Assad inherited the Syrian regime from his father, who took it over via a coup in 1971. Syria is of course engaged in a bloody civil war that has become a battlefront with ISIS as well. The Assad regime is, moreover, a cat’s paw of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I found much of interest in the interview, all of it evoking frustration with the interviewer. Rose appeared to be poorly prepared, for example, as demonstrated here near the outset of the interview:

Charlie Rose: There is another number that is alarming to me. It is that 90 percent of the civilian casualties [numbering some 200,000 to date], 90 percent come from the Syrian army.

President Assad: How did you get that result?

Charlie Rose: That was a report that was issued in the last six months.

Well, okay. He read it somewhere.

Rose appears in the interview to be a “cow’rin’, timorous beastie” (to borrow Robert Burns’s formulation). I wonder if those “Syrian technicians” might have had a deterrent effect. What is he afraid of?

Here, for example, is Rose touching gingerly on the dubious legitimacy of the Assad regime:

Charlie Rose: Why do you think that they– people in the West, question your legitimacy?

Assad commented with some acuity on one of Obama’s best friends:

Charlie Rose: What about Turkey?

President Assad: Turkey– let’s say it’s about Erdogan. His Muslim Brotherhood fanatics.

Charlie Rose: And you–

President Assad: It doesn’t mean that he is a member. But he’s a fanatic.

Charlie Rose: President Erdogan is–

President Assad: Is a Muslim Brotherhood fanatic. And he’s somebody who’s suffering from political megalomania. And that he thinks that he is becoming the sultan of the new era of the 21st century.

You can see where Obama and Erdogan might be on the same wavelength. But do we really need Rose simply to elicit the views of the ruthless dictator sitting in front of him as though they should be taken at faee value? Prime Minister Netanyahu wouldn’t get an interview this respectful from Rose, who turned in a pathetic performance.

Losin’ in Lausanne (5)

Omri Ceren emailed two reports from Lausanne overnight. Here is the first:

The P5+1 meeting with Iran got out a little while ago. Total running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes.

Functionally nothing happened this weekend from a news perspective – very little came out of talks, foreign ministers were still en route, etc. – which gave people plenty of time to muse over the Iran talks debate in the broadest terms. Short version: a 1 year breakout time is too short, and what the P5+1 are agreeing to won’t even be a 1 year breakout time.

1 year breakout not enough – Last week I sent around an email on this, which had the Hayden/Heinonen/Takeyh overview on why a one-year breakout time is too short to prevent an Iranian dash across the finish line. . The theoretical scenarios saying that the US could act in a year don’t work when you introduce real-world constraints: how long it takes the IAEA to detect cheating, how the IAEA referral process works, how the U.S. intelligence community would go about confirming a breakout, how the diplomatic debate would play out, etc. And even if the U.S. could mobilize in a year, there wouldn’t be any options available short of military action, because sanctions take much more than a year to being to work. So: detection time plus action time equals more than one year

It won’t even be 1 year – Then over the weekend Olli Heinonen – former IAEA deputy director-general – published a primer on how breakout calculations work (posted here). You should read the whole thing – it’s tightly written, and as good an explanation of this issue as I’ve read. He expands on the original argument that 1 year breakout time is inadequate, and gets into the nitty-gritty of IAEA detection and action. But he also adds the second part of the argument, about how the breakout time won’t even be 1 year. Given all the concessions that are likely involving centrifuges and R&D, it’s no longer tenable to suggest that it would take the Iranians that long to break out or sneak out. The way he describes the sneakout scenario is particularly specific.

Here is the second of Omri’s two messages, referring to the proceedings today:

It’s probably a make or break day in Lausanne. Technically the deadline is tomorrow night, but the parties should know by today whether they’ll get to an agreement in time. The full P5+1 met last night – Lavrov and Hammond didn’t get in until fairly late – and there’s a full meeting going on right now between the P5+1 and Iran. If things proceed the way they’re supposed to, they’ll get out of that meeting, then there will be a series of bilateral meetings, then they’ll be able to announce they’ve made it by tonight – in which case everyone will head off to Gevena for the announcement either this evening or tomorrow morning (and incidentally, look out for an email in a few hours on “why Geneva,” because that actually has the potential to become a Thing).

The NYT has the scoop driving the morning here. The Iranians appear to have pulled a very heavy-handed, last minute bait-and-switch. They bargained up their centrifuge numbers for months by saying that they’d ship out whatever material they enriched, the assumption being that who cares how much uranium they enrich to 3.5% as long as they don’t have it physically available to enrich further. Now that they’ve ratcheted up the number of centrifuges to over 6,000, they’re saying they won’t ship out the material.

In addition to being disastrous from a policy perspective, because it makes securing a 1 year breakout time almost impossible, it’s going to be a political problem: it looks like the administration got outplayed by Persian negotiators… again.

The NYT says the administration is doing damage control by floating that the Iranians will “dilute” their stockpile. Usually that implies they’ll commit to downblending their enriched stock – e.g. taking 20% enriched uranium and make it into 5% – but that doesn’t seem right in this context. The Iranians shouldn’t be enriching above 3.5% under a final deal, and what would downblending look like in this scenario anyway? The Iranians would enrich uranium, then dilute it, then enrich it, then dilute it? It’s the equivalent of digging a hole and filling it back up. How would they justify running the centrifuges?

Instead, “diluting” might mean that the Iranians will commit to turning the new uranium into uranium oxide, a form in which it can’t be enriched further. But that’s a chemical process that takes at most a couple of weeks to reverse, which means the Iranians would be making multiple nuke bombs’ worth of enriched uranium and putting it on the shelf. The debate over reversal has the potential to get mind-numbingly technical (right after the JPOA was announced, supporters of the deal tried to argue that Iran can’t reverse the oxidation process because of a hurdle involving piping technology; I ran the argument by one of the IAEA guys, who responded by literally laughing out loud and saying “how do they know what the Iranians have?”) But the debate isn’t really a close one. Here’s one assessment by Mark Hibbs, who is one of the top supporters of an agreement with Iran:

“Yadlin, cited as having told the Institute for National Security Studies that in Iran the reconversion of U3O8 to produce bomb fuel could be ‘completed in less than a week,’ walked back this estimate in a subsequent radio interview to ‘between one and two weeks.’ That’s more realistic. Experience from the uranium conversion industry and R&D sector outside Iran would suggest that Iran might be able to convert about 100 kg of U3O8 to UF6 in about two weeks–provided, however, that the work was carried out in a small facility using a dry process without purification, whereby perhaps three batches would be consecutively processed.”

Either way – downblending or oxidation – makes it difficult to see how the parties could stretch Iran’s breakout time to a year. Combine this new position with the Iranians’ demand to keep their fortified underground enrichment bunker at Fordow open, and the administration’s sales pitch on the Hill becomes that much harder.