National Security & Defense

Don’t Try Trusting Iran

(Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/Getty)

After years of broken promises, missed deadlines, and ready concessions, President Obama got what he wants: a deal with Iran. He doesn’t care that it is a dangerous, unenforceable deal, but Congress presumably does, and needs to do all it can to stop it.

The agreement’s details are troubling: It will be significantly weakened within ten years, Iran gets to retain significant nuclear infrastructure without any good justification, etc. But the real problem is its fundamental structure.

President Obama compared today’s deal to past agreements with another adversary, the Soviet Union. But the agreements bear almost no resemblance to each other. First, of course, the Soviet treaties were, well, treaties — approved by two-thirds of the Senate. Second, Reagan entered into them when he judged, correctly, that the U.S. campaign of military, economic, and moral pressure had brought about a fundamental change of attitude in the Soviet regime. Finally, the treaties involved reductions in and limits on arms from both sides. If the Soviets stopped complying, we could too.

This deal works differently: We give money to an unreconstructed Iranian regime in return for its promise to limit its nuclear program. But if it doesn’t limit its nuclear work, we can’t take the money back. The U.S. and other countries will be handing Iran more than $100 billion in freed-up assets and eliminating all sanctions long before we have much evidence of compliance. For instance, the money will likely arrive in Iran’s hands before the deadline for the country to disclose its past nuclear work, deadlines it has simply ignored in the past.

Without leverage, all we’ve got is trust — trust in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The president claims the deal is based on verification, not trust. But without leverage, all we’ve got is trust — trust in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If the U.S. can persuade the other Western parties that Iran has broken the rules at some point, sanctions can be automatically re-imposed — but only U.N. Security Council sanctions, and their re-imposition will dissolve the deal. Further, violations can only be uncovered via a tortuous process of controlled inspections, not the “anytime, anywhere” regime the Obama administration had promised. And a serious sanctions regime cannot be rebuilt quickly or automatically, so there is no way, under this deal, to punish Iran seriously and quickly. If it wants to cheat, or exit the deal altogether, the costs are, at worst, low.

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Ten years from now, even that weak enforcement mechanism will expire. Five years from now, an embargo on conventional arms exports to Iran — imposed for reasons unrelated to nuclear non-compliance — will expire; in eight years, an embargo on ballistic-missile technology expires. We wouldn’t bet that Iran’s regional rivals will wait until then to begin arming themselves in response. And immediately, the deal will strengthen Iran’s proxies, as Bashar Assad has boasted. The limited purview of these talks — ignore all of Iran’s other odious behavior in exchange for a weak nuclear deal — ensures that we are about to offer legitimacy and succor to an evil, dangerous actor.

The Obama administration risibly maintains that the only alternative to the agreement would be war. The alternative would have been tightening the screws on Iran until it came to the table willing to sign a reasonable deal and forswear its terrorist activities across the globe. Other powers may be itching to undo the sanctions regime now, but the Bush and Obama administrations had managed to get them on board, pushing Iran close to economic collapse in 2013 — before President Obama let the mullahs off the hook with an interim deal.

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Unfortunately, once this deal is in place, there are indeed few good options. A number of Republican presidential hopefuls have said they would terminate U.S. participation in the deal on entering office, but it’s not clear how much this would accomplish. While it would extricate us from this sham, it would barely weaken an Iran restored to good standing in the international community.

That is why Congress needs to do its best to block the deal. Under the imperfect legislation Congress passed, it has 60 days to muster a veto-proof majority against the agreement. That is a very tall order, and effectively reverses the usual process of approving treaties, but it is not an impossible one. Details — there are annexes in addition to the public text of the deal – will continue to leak out, and we doubt they will flatter the White House negotiators.

#related#Israel’s government will vocally oppose the deal; our Sunni Arab allies will lobby against it behind the scenes (when they are not busy checking out Pakistan’s nuclear inventory). To go against their president, Democrats will need to be persuaded that failing to stop the deal endangers our national security, the stability of the Middle East, and the safety of Israel. Thankfully, there are signs a number of them already understand this.

Fundamentally, the president believes in this agreement because he thinks extending our hand to an implacably anti-Western regime with the blood of more than a thousand American servicemen on its own hands will turn it into a reputable regional power, even a partner.

This is folly. The president clearly considers it the capstone of his foreign policy, and, unfortunately, he’s right.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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