The deal hammered out over the weekend between the P5+1 powers and Iran in Geneva should have come as a surprise to no one. The White House’s dogged pursuit of some sort of diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, whatever the political and international-security cost, meant that an agreement — no matter how bad — was in the offing, unless the Iranians themselves decided it wasn’t in their interest.
Even so, the current agreement — which France’s foreign minister and countless others have called a fool’s bargain — is particularly pernicious, for a number of reasons.
First, it actually increases the chances of Iranian nuclearization, the very goal it is intended to stave off. The deal on the table in Geneva — although meant as just a preliminary confidence-building measure — still includes real, meaningful sanctions relief for Iran’s ailing economy. Just how significant is a matter of some dispute; estimates have ranged widely, but even the more modest figure of between $6 billion and $10 billion being floated by administration officials constitutes a major boost to Iran’s economic fortunes — and, more than likely, to its nuclear development.
This is all the more so because, as former under secretary of defense Doug Feith has rightly observed, sanctions, once rolled back even slightly, are much harder to reinvigorate than is nuclear development. Moreover, the additional time gained by Iran as a result of economic relief is bound to be spent by the Iranians in an effort to further sanction-proof their economy, which will make future efforts to apply economic pressure all the more challenging.
Second, the new deal actually increases the chances for armed conflict. Already, Saudi Arabia has resumed signaling publicly that it might be forced to procure a nuclear capability from Pakistan as a strategic counterweight to what it now sees as nearly inevitable. Other jittery Gulf states are sure to follow suit, leading to an inevitable proliferation “cascade” — and a multi-nuclear Middle East. So much for President Obama’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. The Israeli government, meanwhile, has made clear that a deal of the kind just signed by the U.S. and Europe makes the prospect of a unilateral military move against Iran much more likely.
Finally, the new deal is tantamount to a betrayal of the Iranian people. Remember, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected this summer on a platform of (mostly domestic) reform. All of those promises remain unmet, save for his effort to ameliorate economic pressure on Iran through negotiations with the West. A nuclear deal now, particularly one that leaves the human-rights issues within Iran unaddressed, is tantamount to a rubber stamp for the regime’s continuing domestic repression.
The White House has wasted no time in trumpeting its diplomatic “breakthrough.” The government’s official fact sheet, released late Saturday, declares that its Iran diplomacy has “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure.” But given the foregoing, we’re liable to find out, and soon, that just the opposite is true.
— Ilan Berman is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.