So now we have a choice to make.
Earlier this morning, and after years of negotiations, President Obama announced the successful and historic conclusion of a nuclear arms deal with Iran.
“I strongly believe that our national security interest now depends upon preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which means that without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. president would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it,” Obama told his fellow Americans. “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”
If anything, Obama understates that reality.
If for some reason the United States rejects or undermines the deal with Iran, our sole remaining option to keep Iran from going nuclear would be another destabilizing war in a region already destabilized by ill-considered war. If we reject the deal that has been negotiated in good faith not only with Iran, but with our closest allies and with China and Russia, we will be blamed for its collapse; we will forfeit the international support that would be needed to reinstitute sanctions on Iran, leaving the military option as our sole remaining recourse.
So which path do you choose?
Here are the major provisions:
- Iran agrees not to acquire, seek or possess highly enriched uranium or bomb-grade plutonium for a minimum of 15 years;
- It surrenders 98 percent of its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium, a step that significantly extends the time frame it would need to “go nuclear”. As Obama described it, “Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon.”
- Iran agrees to remove two-thirds of its current nuclear centrifuges, including its most modern technology, and allows the remaining centrifuges to be monitored constantly by inspectors.
- Iran agrees to full-time monitoring of every aspect of its nuclear program, from uranium mines through processing.
Many of those who will oppose this deal have opposed even the attempt to get a deal. When Obama said back in the 2008 campaign that he would be willing to talk with Iran without preconditions, they howled in anger. They predicted that Obama would never be able to win international agreement for serious sanctions against Iran, and after those sanctions were approved, they predicted the sanctions would never be effective. When those sanctions did prove effective in forcing Iran to accept an interim agreement that allowed serious negotiations to take place, they insisted that Iran would never honor its provisions. They proved wrong about that too, as some have even acknowledged.
A lot of the critics will focus on the things that the deal does not do. For example, it does not permanently guarantee that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon. However, no conceivable deal could meet that test, and neither could a military option.
Let’s say we choose the war option — let’s say that we agree to absorb the casualties, expense and blowback that such a war would entail — what would that approach do to Iran’s “breakout” time another 10 or 15 years down the road?
It would do nothing. To the contrary, war would harden Iran’s resolve to eventually go nuclear, because only with such weapons would it be immune to such attacks in the future. The only possible means to ensure that Iran doesn’t go nuclear would be to invade and permanently occupy the country, a task that would make the occupation of neighboring Iraq look like a picnic.
In short, if you judge the war option by the same standards that opponents are judging the deal option — the long-term guarantee of a non-nuclear Iran — the war option fails miserably.
Critics of the deal will also point out, correctly, that it doesn’t end Iran as a potential source of terror, as a threat to Israel and the Gulf States, or as a regional competitor to the United States. Nor does it remove Iran’s theocratic government. However, while those may be worthy goals, they are all well outside the realm of a nuclear arms control negotiation.
The goal of the negotiations has been to halt Iran’s nuclear program, to force Iran to undo much of the progress that it had achieved toward a nuclear weapon, and to open its program to long-term international inspection. Those goals have been achieved.
If the deal falls apart down the road — if Iran fails to abide by its terms or balks at necessary inspections — then sanctions “snap back” and the military option is again on the table, and we are still ahead of the game because of the nuclear fuel that Iran will have surrendered by then.
It’s also important to note that a certain number of people, most of them conservatives, just don’t trust the concept of negotiation and agreement with those they view as enemies. It is a visceral reaction, and it occurs regardless of the merits of the specific deal, and regardless of the era. Perhaps the best example came in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan negotiated and signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty with the Soviet Union. To conservatives, that was an outright betrayal by Reagan.
National Review, which calls the current Iran deal a disaster, likewise condemned the INF as “Reagan’s Suicide Pact.” George Will haughtily described the INF treaty as a sign of American weakness, claiming that “The Soviets want victories; we want treaties.” And in the Republican primaries to replace Reagan, every GOP hopeful with the exception of then-Vice President George Bush campaigned against the treaty’s ratification.
And if that’s how conservatives reacted with the sainted Ronald Reagan as president, responding to what many believe became the most successful arms-control treaty in history, imagine what their successors will do with Obama in the White House.
But of course, you won’t have to imagine the howling; we’re all about to witness it.