The Iranian government has been gloating about its recent nuclear deal, while many American foreign policy experts are despondent. Why? Because the provisions of the deal read like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s wish list. It gives Iran permanent sanctions relief in exchange for merely temporarily slowing of its nuclear program.
Tehran gets an immediate windfall of up to $150 billion in unfrozen assets and the right to uranium enrichment, the country retains its nuclear infrastructure, can evade disclosing past weapon development activities and dodge future inspections, can import conventional arms and resume work on ballistic missiles within five and eight years respectively, and can resume almost full nuclear activities within 10 to 15 years.
As former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have written, “negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability.”
Nevertheless, the Obama administration contends that it landed the best deal available. In response to critics, the White House argues that the choice is between this deal and war, or between this deal and a nuclear Iran. Nonsense. The real choice is between this very bad deal and a good deal.
Could a better agreement have been negotiated? Absolutely. Diplomacy is not just a synonym for “dialogue.” It is the marriage of dialogue with leverage. The White House could have had significant leverage over Iran but instead squandered it on multiple fronts. Consider:
– In 2009, Iran’s democratic Green Movement captivated the world while almost overthrowing the theocratic Iranian regime, but the Obama administration refused to support the protesters and instead doubled down on its outreach to Ayatollah Khamenei.
– President Barack Obama opposed Congress’ passage of economic sanctions on Iran — and only reluctantly implemented them after Congress passed the sanctions anyway.
– When global oil prices plunged by almost two-thirds, Iran’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy became acutely vulnerable, yet the Obama administration sought to alleviate sanctions, not increase them.
– The Obama administration could have made a credible threat of force against Iran if it became nuclear-capable, but instead the White House has consistently disparaged the use of force as inconceivable. If an adversary knows the United States will never use force, our deterrent credibility disappears.
– The Obama administration inherited a peaceful and stable Iraq with a pro-American government, but abandoned it to become a virtual satellite of Iran.
– While Iran supported Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons and slaughter of more than 200,000 of his own citizens, the Obama administration virtually ignored the entreaties of moderate Syrian rebels for American support.
– The Obama administration gratuitously alienated American allies in the Middle East such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, while encouraging Iran to become a leader in the region.
Think about how all of this appeared to Tehran. The Iranian regime watched the White House relinquish its leverage in every dimension — diplomatic, economic, military — and repeatedly signal that it was desperate for a deal. Iranian negotiators gleefully recognized this desperation and held a hard line.
Obama supporters are fond of citing Richard Nixon’s opening to China, or Ronald Reagan’s engagement with Mikhail Gorbachev, as historical examples of American negotiations with our adversaries. But those precedents just illumine how dreadful Obama’s Iran deal is in contrast. Nixon reached out to China only after it had turned against the Soviet Union, our principal enemy. Reagan reached out only after the United States had placed unbearable pressure on the Soviet economy and military, and Gorbachev had shown a commitment to reform.
In contrast, Obama has embraced an Iran that remains an unrepentant sponsor of terrorism, killed hundreds of American troops, continues to hold “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” rallies, denies the Holocaust, and has cheated on every past nuclear accord it has ever faced.
Congress should reject this lousy agreement, and the Obama administration should return to the negotiating table to cut a better deal. At a minimum, such a deal would require Iran to honor the six United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding the suspension of uranium enrichment. Otherwise, this agreement paves the way for future American presidents to face a nuclear-armed Iran.
William Inboden is an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, a Distinguished Scholar at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
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