Best cases fall short for Iran Agreement

In my last post, I came out against the Iran Nuclear agreement partly because there is nothing Iran or the US agrees on. A contract that is entirely dependent on its minutia is useless. At least during the SALT treaties with the Soviet Union both sides could agree on MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction as something to be avoided. Iran like North Korea or Yasser Arafat seems prepared to say whatever we may want to hear in exchange for money but I don’t see an Iran that wants to engage the world on anything but Tehran’s terms and their terms require the export of terrorism. The agreement looks more like administration legacy building than a good deal. As we know, presidents like to shoot dice for legacy at a craps table called the Middle East. A friend pointed out Secretary of State John Kerry has delayed the opening or the Cuban Embassy by a month so he could attend and make a historic speech. Thinking about future text books and history books is job one but they also have a case to make on Iran.

Iran has been compliant in the interim agreement, while good is closer to not messing up a first date than a prediction of marital bliss. John Kerry was emphatic that inspections are worthwhile and it is better to have inspectors on the ground than not to -- a great point. We would have to rely on other intelligence to know how far along Iran is toward having nuclear missiles and while inspectors could fail us they are less likely to do so than other kinds of intelligence. However, this is a glorified security camera but with more blind spots and sometimes actors like Iran and North Korea either don’t care about being seen or will “turn off the cameras” by kicking the inspectors out. Kerry argued we would know if Iran violates the agreement, this is less true. We will know if they obviously violate the agreement but it’s a large country and some things that are illegal like designing nuclear war heads will probably never be known to us should Iran choose to violate.  We would certainly know if they begin illegal production at existing facilities but if Iran keeps building new nuclear power plants as they announced after the agreement they will do then we may have a game of whac-a-mole. Kerry also repudiates the 28 delay on inspection by stating the clock starts ticking within 24 hours and 28 days is a maximum delay but he did not go further and say more than a day might be treated as contemptuous of the agreement but did mention radioactive materials could be found even 6 months after usage. I don’t see much victory or usefulness in an agreement that lets inspectors find trace amounts of radiation 24 days much less 6 months after the damage is done. Ultimate security is with Iran seeing the agreement as in their interest, if we don’t have that then the inspectors are of little use and we really don’t have real agreement. The Ayatollah thinks having nukes and exporting terror are well within his rights and his nations rights and the rest of the world just gets in his way.

Kerry declared additional sanctions would not stop the nuclear program, true we don’t really know if delaying the onset of nuclear weapons until Iran has an improved ballistic missile system is to our advantage. It seems like we are being delayed more than Iran is. Another very important point is sanctions relief are phased in based on compliance and can be ‘snapped back.” Much has been made of “snapback sanctions,” Secretary Kerry points out that once a breech is determined snap back sanctions are automatic unless the UN votes to delay them and the US can veto such a vote. A fair point but the UN can’t enforce sanctions and it is fair to assume Russia, Iran and China and perhaps Turkey will be off sides for the snap and the sanctions will be fumbled. Also mentioned, the IRGC is against the agreement because it wants a nuclear cover for the Iranian expansion of power and influence. That may be true, but a policy like this cannot just be determined or defended by making the IGRC unhappy. The US and our allies really need to know this is in our best interest and not in Iran’s perceived worst interest and being in their worst interest bodes poorly for willing compliance.

Secretary Kerry also renewed his, ‘support our play’ pitch stating that overturning the agreement would harm US credibility and lose assistance with current sanctions. While true, it is the administration that put our back to that wall, supporting them when it is not in our best interest is a bad precedent. Supporting a bad idea is also a blow to our credibility with our allies.  Whether the agreement is worse than overturning the agreement in terms of US credibility is probably only contingent on the quality of the nuclear agreement. Whether the negative repercussions of overturning the agreement are unacceptable and do both sides benefit from this agreement and can Iran be trusted can all be answered with “no.” Iran’s nuclear program only serves aggressive purposes, they do not yet have the delivery system to make good on a bomb so they benefit from the lifting of sanctions and the US loses because we get a more difficult Iran that we are less effective in fighting plus we get a worse nuclear problem down the road. The consequence of congress sobering up the White House campaign to a legacy are likely to fill our allies with confidence rather than undermine US credibility. Overturning a bad deal cannot be so terrible a blow to our prestige.  

There are two basic objections. The “agreement” is not a sign the US and Iran actually agree on anything. We have a contract with lots of rules can and the US doesn’t seem prepared for the consequences of this contract.  The Ayatollah is like Arafat in that he is willing to accept anything the West wants to concede but hasn’t really come to terms with anyone on anything, being agreeable is not the same thing as reaching an agreement. We are willing to trade sanctions on Iran’s activities for delaying Iran going nuclear but the immediate problem of Iranian expansion is both made worse and goes unaccounted in US policy much less what to do when Iran has an arsenal of nuclear missiles in 8-10 years. If we had an aggressive containment strategy that rolls Iran and its proxies back into Iran then maybe some kind of agreement would be in our best interest but I don’t see a US that is ready to deal with Iran much less make a deal.

President Obama has said that getting Iran into the world economy and into the thick of international diplomacy will alter Iran for the better. While that is a fine ambition, a noble statement and certainly a truism for societies not run by a “Supreme Leader” we have no indication that Iran wants to integrate into the world community or that increased trade with countries like Turkey will actually constrain Iran from exporting terror against the Gulf States, against Lebanon, Syria and Israel. We may be more in danger of radicalizing nations like Turkey than deracializing Iran.   The US needs deep vision and a long term strategy in dealing with problems like Iran, this agreement shows how weak we are on both items. Congress needs to take this agreement apart, see if anything can be salvaged, help the White House determine how we deal with Iranian expansion going forward with or without an agreement and be more than ready to force a veto and override it if the agreement can’t be repaired.  Frequently, President Obama asks the question, “What is the alternative to an agreement” meaning the West would need to bomb Iran’s program to delay Iran going nuclear but this agreement doesn’t really change that need. The alternative is containing Iran which we need to do anyhow, let sanctions strangle Iran’s economy and if necessary take out sites including missile production sites to set Iran’s nuclear clock backward. I hope the US Congress will be more sober than the Whitehouse, when is Secretary Kerry’s flight to Cuba? Will be able to open his flight snack just by talking to it, he seems to thinks he can talk nuts into opening up.