There is no doubt that a good agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program and support for anti-American and Anti-Western violence around the world would be ideal for the United States and its allies. At the same time, no deal with Iran would be better than a deal which empowers Iran to significantly advance its harmful influence in the region and become a nuclear weapons possessing nation.
So with that, two major questions need to be addressed.
1. Is the agreed upon deal a good deal?
2. Could a better deal have been achieved?
While there are a number of concerns to be specifically addressed in a discussion of any agreement with Iran, the following is the basic litmus test for a good deal:
Is Iran more dangerous in relation to America and our friends in the region because of the agreement?
A good deal would see an Iran verifiably less dangerous in the short and long terms. Not only would Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb be curtailed, but the threat of conventional warfare against American allies, Iran’s support of regional proxies like Hizballah, and its support for terrorism would all be reduced prior to the lifting of sanctions that would allow it billions of additional dollars to advance those activities.
A very bad deal would see Iran more dangerous in the short term and long term with most alternatives to a good deal being some degree of “bad,” not meeting the essential requirements of a good deal.
We should be talking about both the short term, a year from now, or a decade from now, and about the long term, two or three decades from now. Without a significant change in the nature of the regime governing Iran and its policies toward the US and our allies, an agreement in the short term could easily shepherd the danger down the road or even allow it to flourish unchecked.
The primary purpose of the negotiations has been to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. There seems to be significant disagreement as to whether or not Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has been cut off to the extent that the United States and its allies would like it to be. It may well be that Iran’s “breakout time,” the time that it would take to create a nuclear weapon, has been extended. That would be good if so.
If there are sunsets to provisions instituted to prevent Iran from advancing with processes necessary to create a nuclear weapon, then obviously at the point that those sunsets occur, Iran could without restraint move forward. Of grave concern then are any provisions that simply end based upon dates rather than behaviors. A good deal would have provisions kept in force until the threat changes, not simply until an anniversary date is reached.
Yet, there are very reasonable concerns about the nature of the monitoring regime to ensure that those provisions are kept. The absence of snap inspections or even anything close to snap inspections could enable Iran to violate terms of the agreement, especially in the realm of research and development, which could be done on a smaller scale and therefore much more easily in a clandestine manner. Snap inspections are necessary to prevent Iran from hiding violations and then simply removing the evidence before inspectors may visit a site.
That residual radiation would be present would allow for some major violations to be discovered, whenever inspectors arrive, but other violations that do not involve radioactive materials might be impossible to discover without snap inspections.
That the agreement allows Iran 24 days to respond to a request for a site visit and then allows for appeals would seem to provide more than ample opportunity for mischief. President Obama has argued, however, that Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb will indeed be “cut off.” Without snap inspections, one could argue that the best that could be said is that they “might be cut off” or “hopefully will be cut off” as long as Iran plays by the rules of the agreement.
Now, let us for a moment simply assume that Iran, which has acted in violation of previous nuclear commitments in the past, follows the rules in the agreement, and neither seeks to evade the restrictions imposed in the short term or even pursues the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the long term, what of Iran’s non-nuclear related behavior?
The agreement reached with Iran appears to have addressed its nuclear program as if it were in a silo, pardon the pun. As David Horovitz of Times of Israel pointed out, many issues that we might consider vitally important were not addressed at all in the agreement and others were not settled in such a way as to meet the requirements of a “good deal.” See also Robert Satloff’s excellent summation of concerns regarding the deal for the Washington Institute in this regard.
For me, the biggest issues center around Iran’s behavior. Why are we allowing a nation which has faced sanctions because of its bad behavior beyond its nuclear program, including its support for terrorism and insurgency against US allies and its suppression of democracy, to simply create a nuclear weapons program and then offer to slow the program in exchange for the removal of sanctions placed upon it because of its behavior?
The idea that rogue regimes can invest in nuclear weapons programs and then concede them so as to remove sanctions levied for their other bad behaviors is at best troubling and will encourage similar behaviors by other nations.
Furthermore, what happens if Iran’s behavior necessitates the imposition of additional sanctions? The agreement appears to make punishing Iran for that behavior all but impossible. On page 3 of the Iran agreement, we find in section viii.:
The E3/EU +3 will refrain from imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by this JCPOA.
Should Iran behave badly in the region against the US or its allies, if my understanding of this statement is correct, the US could not unilaterally reimpose sanctions similar to the existing ones or impose new ones on Iran because of its behavior without ending the agreement altogether. This is all the more problematic considering that President Obama himself said in regard to the agreement just yesterday that the US hopes that Iran will change its “nefarious” behavior “but we’re not counting on it.”
President Obama said yesterday that:
My hope is that, building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we’re not counting on it. So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.
Why are we not demanding it? Why are we not making this agreement contingent upon it? We are going to “hope” to “have conversations?”
Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in regard to the aforementioned behavior by Iran that it is inconceivable that the financial windfall received by Iran will not swiftly benefit the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian proxies, including Hizballah. This deal will significantly increase Iran’s ability to threaten Israel and America’s Sunni Muslim allies.
It would appear then that this deal may delay the production by Iran of a nuclear weapon, but in both the short and long terms it will make Iran far stronger and more dangerous. In other words, the specific impact of this agreement on the nuclear issue does not make the overall impact good. This deal could, in fact, have a catastrophic impact upon America’s allies in the Middle East in both the short term and long terms, as well as having a substantially negative impact on America’s own strategic position in the long term, making this agreement appear to be a very bad one.
It is no wonder that not only Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but the opposition leader, Buji Herzog, as well have condemned this agreement. Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Chief of Intelligence, said that the deal will, “wreak havoc in the Middle East.” If you’re wondering what kind of impact this deal will have on US relations with its Sunni Arab allies, consider this statement by Bandar:
I am convinced more than any other time that my good friend, the magnificent old fox Henry Kissinger, was correct when he said ‘America’s enemies should fear America, but America’s friends should fear America more’. People in my region now are relying on God’s will, and consolidating their local capabilities and analysis with everybody else except our oldest and most powerful ally.
Regarding snap-back sanctions, as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute noted, this agreement seems to annihilate the sanctions regime currently in place, cripple the possibility of snap-back sanctions, and potentially prevent the imposition of new sanctions even by the US Congress. If the last point is true, I believe that this agreement should actually be considered a multi-lateral treaty subject to Congressional approval as such. That is a point that I believe should be addressed by Congress as it considers this agreement because it changes the nature of what Congress can and must do. If this is a treaty, then Congress must approve it for it to be valid, rather than voting to invalidate it. That is a big difference.
Finally, there has been a very ugly debate concerning alternatives to this agreement. David Horovitz explained the situation in a scathing rejoinder today that is well worth reading. President Obama has argued that the alternative to this agreement is war and that Israel desires that there be no agreement; i.e. that Israel wants war. Horovitz proves clearly that both of these statements are untrue in his article, “No, we don’t want war. Yes, there was a better deal.”
Horovitz concludes his article with harsh words:
That, of course, is the tragedy of this unconscionable, wrongheaded agreement. It is an act of unwarranted accommodation with a dark, dangerous and unreformable regime, and it is going to cost the free world dearly. To see ourselves being misrepresented and unjustly criticized by disingenuous leaders as this tragedy plays out, while we in Israel brace to battle against the repercussions of their insistent incompetence, is a contemptible case of adding insult to looming injury.
It would appear that should the US move forward with this agreement, substantial additional military assistance will be required for Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies who will all come under increased threat from an emboldened and empowered Iranian regime. Far from bringing peace to the region, this agreement almost ensures increased violence. With the failure of the United States to even bluff the threat of military action so as to influence negotiations in a better direction, America’s allies in the region are feeling abandoned by their best friend to face the very enemy that they see this agreement strengthening substantially and they are irate about it.
No one wants war.
Let me state that again to be clear. No one wants war.
Those who are arguing that opponents of THIS DEAL want war are attempting to stifle the discussion of the merits of THIS agreement.
If indeed this is the best achievable agreement under the circumstances, it is because we have failed to change the dynamics of the negotiations, diplomatically, economically, and militarily, in order to enable a better one to be possible. Instead, we may well have been left with a choice between being beaten at the negotiating table or faced with options, military or otherwise, in which everyone knew we had no willingness or ability to engage. It is difficult to bluff when your cards are face up on the table.
A better deal could potentially have been achieved and could possibly still be achieved by changing those cards, which is what critics of US policy in the region have been stating and what opponents of this deal are arguing. Without doing that, we are left with an agreement that will result in the greatest threat to our interests and the security of our allies in the Middle East being substantially better equipped to do harm than they have been. No one should be cheering this agreement.
One good thing may occur because of it, however, is that cooperation between Israel and Sunni Arab nations threatened by Iran will become essential.