Know Comment: Snapback, anybody?

The notion that if Iran violates the nuclear accord all sanctions could be swiftly reimposed is claptrap that insults the intelligence of any observer.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on clean energy after a tour of a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base, Utah (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on clean energy after a tour of a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base, Utah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
All the delusions and deceptions embedded in the emerging P5+1 nuclear accord with Iran can be summarized by one newfangled, disingenuous phrase that US President Barack Obama has been using to defend his pact with the ayatollahs: Snapback.
According the White House document titled “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program,” US and EU nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. But “If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.”
In another place, the document says that “The architecture of US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.”
In his now-infamous New York Times video interview with Tom Friedman, Obama repeated that if Iran violates the accord, the US “preserves the ability to snap back the sanctions.”
See the latest opinion pieces on our page
With or without a hyphen, written as one or two words, snapback is sheer fantasy.
It took 15 years of extraordinarily hard work, mainly by Israel and by Congress and by some dogged American officials (who were not appointed by the Obama administrations) to build the international architecture of economic and political sanctions against Iran that forced Tehran to the negotiating table. The sanctions effort has been one of the toughest political battles in modern diplomatic history.
It required heroic efforts to overcome mega-big-business interests in Europe and Israel.
It was close to impossible to achieve. It required layer after layer of hard-fought legislation (almost all of which was opposed at first by the Obama administration); hundreds of government experts working on monitoring, implementation and compliance; and tens of thousands of hours of trans-Atlantic negotiations with the French, British and Germans, and so on. Getting the Russians, Indians and Chinese partially on board was a Herculean effort, as well.
Now, under the terms of Obama’s deal with the devil, the sophisticated, nitty-gritty architecture of sanctions is being dumped. It is basically being done away with, almost overnight. (According to many reports, Iran will get a signing bonus of $50 billion to $150b. in released assets, immediately upon conclusion of the nuclear deal.) The signal has clearly been sent to the global business community: Iran is kosher once again as a business partner. The big energy and infrastructure firms already are buying airline tickets for Tehran.
The notion that if Iran overruns its enrichment limits or uses super-sophisticated centrifuges instead of old-generation centrifuges, then “all previous UN sanctions could be reimposed” – as the White House document claims – is claptrap that insults the intelligence of every observer with half a brain.
It would take another 15 years of overwhelming international determination and effort, bought with diplomatic blood and tears, to piece together another biting round of effective sanctions against Iran, if at all. I doubt that it would ever be possible to again craft a globally comprehensive sanctions regime against Iran, even if the cause and will were there. There will be too many vested big business interests arrayed against a return of sanctions.
So it strains credulity to believe Obama when he says that “If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved...” sanctions would “snap back.”
Or as Obama said this week in his flippant, cavalier and colloquial way: “Some sort of action would potentially be triggered if they’re in violation.”
Yeah, “some sort of action,” potentially.
Presto. Pronto. Magic. Easy. Sanctions would supernaturally snap back.
Only if they believe in the tooth fairy, could the Iranians truly be shaking in their Persian boots from such a threat.
Another inanity embedded in Obama’s accord with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani is the notion that US (but not UN) sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal, even after the nuclear-related economic and political sanctions are lifted.
This provision reveals that fact that the accord completely ignores Iran’s destabilizing and aggressive moves in the region.
In effect, it acknowledges these Iranian crimes, and assumes that Iranian terrorism and subversion will continue. Well, what can you do? The most that Obama has to say about this is that he hopes that “if the nuclear issue is put in the box” (there’s that arrogant colloquialism again), and “if Iran sees the benefit of sanctions relief,” then “what’s possible is you start seeing an equilibrium in the region, Sunni and Shia, Saudi and Iran start saying, ‘Maybe we should lower tensions...’” The naiveté and strategic sightlessness entrenched in this last sentence is astounding. The notion that America can be the convener of a grand negotiation between Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni powers is insane. The belief that Iran will abandon its religiously rooted, ideologically motivated revolutionary zeal, and put aside its embedded rivalry with Sunni Islam (or with Israel) because of economic benefits proffered by the soon-to-be ex-president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama – is indeed whimsical drivel that only the narcissistic Obama could divine.
The hope that, as a result of this softy accord, Iran will put aside its militaristic drive for regional hegemony and “not engage in a whole bunch of proxy wars around the region” (there’s Obama’s glib colloquialism again) – has no basis in reality. There is zero reason to believe this would become the case.
The truth is just the opposite, and I strongly suspect Obama knows this. This accord paves the way for Iran to become “an extremely successful regional power” and a “powerhouse in the region”– Obama’s own words.
But it will be a revanchist, radical, greatly strengthened and emboldened Iran; not a Santa Claus-like, cuddly bear Iran. Alas, that doesn’t seem to truly bother Obama much at all. He has put an end to containment of Iran as a guiding principle of American Middle East policy, and acted to demote all of those allies (especially Israel) who perceive a rising Iran as their primary security threat.
This leaves us with the following big question: After Obama, what will be left of America’s position in global foreign affairs? What will the next US president have to do, if this is at all possible, to reverse perceptions of the US as a retreating, conflicted and confused power? Is it realistic for Israel to hope for a prouder and more assertive US role, once again, in defending Western (and Israeli) security interests in this region? Dare we dream of American “snapback”?