Are the central tenets of the Iran Deal both wrong? - analysis

The original 2015 Iran Deal was the crowning foreign policy achievement of then secretary of state John Kerry.

RALLYING AGAINST the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, 2015. (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
RALLYING AGAINST the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, 2015.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
The Iran Deal crowd is back in the news after having been largely silent since the end of the Obama administration. Recent strikes – reported by foreign media to be by Israel – on an Iranian ship and an incident at Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz, combined with a new push by the Biden administration to open talks with Tehran, have galvanized support for a new deal with the Iranian regime.
At the heart of the support for this deal is a devotion to two central tenets: It prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and it is necessary to avoid a new conflict in the Middle East.
The original 2015 Iran Deal was the crowning foreign policy achievement of then secretary of state John Kerry – a deal with a regime that has spread chaos, extremism and terror across the Middle East and which threatens the US and allies, and is viewed by some as being on the level of religious dogma. It was called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a name that evoked its complexity.
Under the deal, Iran was supposed to cut its stockpile of enriched uranium and keep enrichment to only 3.67 percent for fifteen years. A multiplicity of other parts of the deal virtually guaranteed that Tehran would be able to continue its path to nuclear weapons after the fifteen years, unencumbered by sanctions and with the wind at its back from claims it had adhered to the deal.
During the era leading up to the deal, it was sold to people as a way to “block all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon” and prevent “another war” in the Middle East. The threat of war was used to encourage US support for the deal. It was not clear, and is still not clear, what evidence there was that a “war” would break out if there wasn’t a deal.
Why would there be a war if there was no deal? No other country in the world requires a special “deal” in order to not develop nuclear weapons and not go to war with America: only Iran.
While pro-Iran deal supporters sold it to the US by threats of war, they didn’t use this threat when dealing with China and Russia, two other signatories of the JCPOA. Instead, the deal with them was presented as a pragmatic way to postpone Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This is likely because there was no need for Iran to convince the public of fellow authoritarian states of why a deal was necessary.  

THE TRUMP administration walked away from the deal in 2018, which gave Iran an excuse to begin enriching uranium to pressure the US. This nuclear brinkmanship has now become baked into the Iran-deal paradigm, which functions like a belief system. It is a belief system because you have to have total faith in its tenets without questioning its authority.  
Iran’s use of nuclear enrichment is a kind of mafia approach to foreign policy: Do a deal with us or we might burn down your business and start a war. Iran’s response to the Trump administration showcased how flawed the deal was. It showed that if Iran doesn’t get everything it wants, it will enrich uranium to threaten the world. It will also conduct proxy warfare.
Since 2018, the other signatories of the deal have done nothing to stop Iran enriching uranium, illustrating that the Islamic Republic can do whatever it wants with or without the deal without any consequences. Iran recently said it is now enriching uranium to 60%. 
Seeing this reality, it is worth wondering what the cult is all about when it comes to Iran. Why does this one country cast such a spell over some policymakers in the West? The talking points about war are still being used, and we hear once against about Iran’s “breakout time” to a bomb. How can international relations be held hostage to a country constantly threatening to build a nuclear weapon? That is never clear in discussions about why a deal is necessary. If Iran can use nuclear enrichment to get things, won’t it do that again in the future?

A KEY question revolves around the concept that argues there will be “war” if there isn’t a new Iran deal. War between whom?
Iran has already sent proxies in Iraq to carry out dozens of attacks on the US and has killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. On April 14, pro-Iran militias in Iraq used a drone to strike at US forces in Erbil. Iran has sent drones and missiles to proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, carrying out attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel. In recent months, it was accused of three attacks on Israeli-owned ships. Tehran has also blamed Israel for attacks in Iran.
There is already a kind of war taking place. Iran can’t afford a real conventional war, which is why it has never launched one and is careful to only escalate using proxies. So the argument that there must be a deal to avoid war appears to rest on faulty foundations.
Similarly, the deal doesn’t prevent Iranian enrichment toward a bomb, as is evidenced by the fact that the Islamic Republic continues to enrich even with numerous countries remaining in the deal. Even under the 2015 deal, Iran would eventually get to enrich uranium: it just had to wait ten to fifteen years to do so.  
The central tenets of the Iran deal relate to a threat of war and a threat that Iran will build a bomb. Both tenets deserve some re-appraisal, six years after the original deal was signed. Even with the US outside the deal framework, Iran was supposed to not enrich uranium and the concern about “war” was supposed to have increased. However, Tehran has largely shown that it is afraid of a major conflict and that it will enrich uranium anyway, mostly as a way to get concessions.
It is not clear if Iran is closer to an actual nuclear device. Enriching uranium is only one aspect of creating a nuclear weapon. Without those central pillars of the “deal,” some of the reasoning behind it appear flawed. However, Iran appears to have sold the deal differently to China and Russia and it may be worth understanding what those countries think they get out of it.