What to Think of the Iran Deal?
Readers, I’m kind of at a loss here. I’m not sure exactly what to think of the Iran deal.
For the most part, the Republicans seem to be predicting worldwide nuclear Armageddon if this deal is allowed to continue. Mike Huckabee, in a transparent bid to gain attention, said that the deal would bring Israelis to “the door of the oven.” Charming. And of course there’s been the usual, lazy comparison to 1938, which has always been ridiculous whenever its invoked by politicians who don’t even know where the Sudetenland is (and for the record, if Chamberlain took Britain’s military to war in 1938, it would have been an even worse disaster than the near-one it faced in 1940-41).
Part of me suspects this is due to the deal being brokered by the Obama administration, as a similar deal achieved by a Republican president would probably be seen as a sign of wise caution and restraint. With 2016 fast approaching, the GOP will want as many potential failures to pin on the Democrats to further their chances of winning the Presidency (and hold onto both houses of Congress). And while it’s true that nothing of interest is being said by liberals, the conservative reaction seems to do little more than help Bill Kristol sell magazines.
But do the Neo-Cons have a point?
Iran is still ostensibly run by the Ayatollah’s, whose ideology falls outside the realm of self-preservation and deterrence on which the peace was maintained between the Soviets and the West during the Cold War. Say what you will about the horrors of Marxist-Leninism, but at least it’s end goal was an ideal, classless society on planet earth, not an afterlife to be achieved through martyrdom and sacrifice. And it’s true that Iran is still a sponsor of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and has an terrible record in regards to human rights and freedom of expression. But is that a reason not to broker a deal with it? After all, we still hold formal alliances with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two countries whose own royal family and secret police (respectively) hold ties to Al-Qaeda.
What does the Iran Nuclear deal actually entail, and what benefit does it hold for the United States? Writing for The American Conservative, Scott Mcconnell describes the deal as follows:
Under the agreement, Iran will be stripped of 98 percent of its enriched uranium, all of its plutonium producing capacity, and 2/3 of its centrifuges, and will be placed under the most rigorous inspection regime in the history of nuclear proliferation negotiations. The cartoon image of Iran racing toward the bomb—presented last year by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the United Nations—may not have been reality-based, but if that’s what Israel is worried about, it can relax. Iran will not be racing toward the bomb.
But of course Israel is not pleased at all, and many of its volunteer spokesmen and politicians in the United States are railing against the deal as virtually the worst thing to happen in history. Netanyahu has let no one outdo him in hysteria. Iran is seeking to “take over the world,” he told an Israeli audience last week. (As the leaders of Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain signed onto the agreement, one wonders how they all managed to miss the world takeover threat Netanyahu sees so clearly.)
After exploring some further points about US-Israeli relations, Mcconnell touches on a point I’d flirted with last year, that of pivoting America’s Middle East strategy towards Iran and away from our unreliable “allies” in the region:
President Obama and his foreign-policy establishment want, I believe, at least to explore the possibility that Iran can fit into the roster of American diplomatic options in the region, where reliance on our traditional allies has run into a dead end. The obvious comparison is to Nixon’s trip to China, which turned out to be an effective way of mitigating the disaster of the Vietnam War and actually ensured that the aftermath of that war was far from unfortunate for the United States. The chaos which has been ignited in the Sunni world in great part by George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the aftereffects of a losing war in Afghanistan might be partially offset in Iran.
The turn to Iran was foreshadowed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11—when Tehran was the only city in the Muslim world in which there were public and spontaneous displays of sympathy for the United States, and shortly thereafter there was some considerable on-the-ground cooperation in Afghanistan with Iranian intelligence on the overthrow of the Taliban. Of course this cooperation was short-circuited by the neoconservatives in the Bush administration, who persuaded the President to include Iran in the “axis of evil.”
And one can easily see why Iran would be included there, as it would serve a clear political advantage for the Bush administration to capitalize on Americans’ memories of the 1979 hostage crisis. But we cannot let those memories allow the issue of Iran to stagnate forever. Likewise, we cannot simply let our political leadership use it in the same way Israel’s own leaders do. As The National Interest writes:
Netanyahu surely does not want to see an Iranian nuclear weapon, but his own behavior and positions indicate that neither does he want to see the issue of Iran’s nuclear program resolved. It serves his purposes to let the issue fester indefinitely, and to have tension with Iran continue indefinitely. To the extent that the new agreement does resolve the nuclear issue—and even worse from Netanyahu’s point of view, to the extent it leads to the United States and Iran doing worthwhile business on other topics—all of the aforementioned advantages to him of endless enmity with, and endless rogue status for, Iran are undermined. And so he is doing everything he can to kill the agreement even though the agreement is in Israel’s broader and longer-term interests.
But there are still a number of other objections raised by critics of the deal. “What if Iran manages to enrich uranium to the point that it could send a ‘dirty bomb’ overseas?” Well, someone within the Pakistani leadership could easily do that if they wanted to, and considering the horrendous opinion of the US there due to the drone war, they would have no shortage of potential volunteers. “But what if Iran is lying and has a super-super-secret facility underground that no one even knows about!” Well…then no deal and no amount of bluster from an American president could do anything about that anyway.
At Reason magazine, the always insightful Shikha Dalmia writes:
They’ll say that it won’t prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon — and they’ll be right. They’ll say that it’ll help Iran build its conventional weapons program – and they’ll be right. They’ll say that Iran will never fully honor its word — even as the West lifts sanctions against it, and they’ll probably be right about that too.
But here’s the bottom line: This option is better than anything they’ve put on the table.
America and Israel et al will have a far stronger hand at that point to persuade the world to either reinstate the sanctions regime or join them in launching a military strike. Right now, if the deal falls apart, America/Israel will be isolated while the world slowly but surely restores ties with Iran. Obtaining international cooperation is not about trying to show the world that we are the good guys. It’s vital to the success of any effort to contain Iran.
So the best case scenario with the deal is that it’ll give the world 10 years of a nuclear-free Iran, during which, who knows, may be the country will make some small headway toward abandoning its mullahocracy and embracing democracy (which might make its possession of nuclear weapons somewhat less problematic). And the worst case scenario is that the whole thing will fall apart because of Iran’s duplicity, which will renew the world’s will do so something about it.
Right now, even if we had a “tough” President ready to threaten a unilateral airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities (or one insane enough to threaten a US-led invasion of Iran), that President would not be able to use that as a piece with which to negotiate a better deal.
I am of course open to being proven wrong in this case. If you think you have the answer, feel free to leave it in the comments below.