It may well be true that this deal is the best agreement the Obama administration could achieve under the circumstances. However, that is like asking a painter why he has paint on his shoes after painting himself into a corner. He had no choice but to walk on the paint. Much of the circumstances impacting the relatively weak US negotiating position in relation to Iran were created by the administration. Others could have been addressed by previous administrations. For example, the Bush Administration should never have approved the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 which, against vigorous and correct Israeli intelligence estimates, argued that Iran was not developing Nuclear Weapons Capability. See the article that I wrote in 2010 concerning the “Linkage Theory.”
Here are a few of the ways a better deal could have been achieved and some ways that one still potentially can:
1. To have made the statement, “All options remain on the table” believable. One possibility would have been to use strategic military force against a limited number of targets or even one to demonstrate a real willingness to use additional military force. The election to avoid any use of military force undermined the threat and created a dynamic in which military escalation seemed laughable. You can’t threaten something at the negotiating table only to have your opponent laugh and yell, “BS!”
The likelihood that Iran would have even considered military escalation in response to a limited strategic attack against a military facility is virtually nil. The threat of further attacks would have changed the dynamic of negotiations.
This option is no longer possible for a number of reasons. Such an action now would be taken in a completely different way by everyone involved.
2. The United States could have threatened to dramatically increase military aid to and cooperation with Israel and its Arab allies, making Iran’s strategic situation in relation to them much worse. This BTW, still can be done and now may well need to be done in the aftermath of this agreement.
3. The United States could have threatened to sanction companies whose subsidiaries violated US sanctions. This would have prevented a large percentage of the potential undermining of sanctions.
4. The US could have implemented sanctions against companies that insured any vessels violating US sanctions.
5. The US could have sanctioned banks that worked with any companies dealing with Iran.
Legislation was even introduced that could have produced additional pressure and improved the US negotiating position. See The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 (S. 269).
Rather than enact the provisions of The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, the administration chose to operate without its additional pressure in the hope that the threat of ratcheting up the pressure might help. It appears that the administration’s bargaining position needed to be improved in order to achieve a better deal.
For a detailed analysis of the agreement, please read “Good Deal or Bad Deal with Iran?“