We now have a definitive answer to the oft-asked but hardly challenging question of whether President Obama wanted a deal with Iran so badly he would accept a truly awful bargain. The answer: Of course he did.
Iranian negotiators have triumphed on nearly every substantive point: They will get complete sanctions relief and U.N. legitimacy all at once, while keeping thousands of centrifuges, multiple nuclear sites, the right to develop new, more advanced enrichment equipment — even permission to continue nuclear research at a highly reinforced underground facility that was kept secret from international inspectors for years. In exchange, the West got promises of a new, tough inspections regime, even though there is already a long record of Iran’s developing nuclear facilities in secret. The White House says the deal pushes the time it would take Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon to a year, but widely respected arms-control experts have said, given the difficulty of performing good inspections and of building consensus around violations, that this is not enough.
The Iranians’ success has little to do with the ability of the Iranian negotiators and a lot to do with the Obama administration’s zeal for an agreement at any cost. The president wanted a deal because he has been desperate to forge an opening to the Iranian regime since the beginning of his presidency, and unenforceable international agreements that damage American interests are his favorite form of laurel. (Winning wars seems to rank a good bit lower.)
The White House has made it more and more clear that it believes an agreement with Iran, and the rapprochement presumed to follow, will create an Iran we can deal with and will be a big step toward solving many of the region’s problems, such as the rise of ISIS.
This idea is, of course, fantastical. The enemy of our enemy and all, but legitimizing and strengthening a totalitarian, terrorist regime that happens to appear to be loosely on the same side of one battle (in Iraq, Iranian-backed Shia militias aren’t really the answer to Sunni radicals) isn’t much of a long-term strategy. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s founding doctrine renders the United States its mortal enemy. This regime is never going to be a partner, and this deal is premised not just on the idea that we think they could be, but that we should give them just about every concession possible to make it happen.
#related#Obama’s plan is not necessarily a fait accompli. There are months until the final deal will be hammered out, and sanctions relief may not start for some time. The president suggested today that he will consult Congress about the deal, though it is almost inconceivable that he will voluntarily submit it for approval. It falls to Congress, then, to pass new legislation to set requirements for a final agreement with Iran and empower itself to vote a deal down, although it will take a veto-proof majority to get such a measure into law.
The situation demands serious resistance from Congress, in any case, and from our sometimes-wiser allies, France chief among them. Yet it is also quite possible that this charade will proceed, and that Obama, elevating strategic naïveté to an art form, has committed one of the great diplomatic blunders of our time. An emboldened Iran will be a very dangerous thing for the Middle East and Israel; the nuclear-arms race that this deal could spark would be even worse.
We hope the president and our allies will come to recognize the folly of the tentative deal before it is formally complete. If not, Congress must do everything it can to scuttle it, and show the world — and our allies — that U.S. policy has some adult supervision.