“This deal is not built on trust — it is built on verification.”
President Obama, July 14
Finally, after many flexi-deadlines, President Obama has a nuclear agreement with Iran. And to be fair: This deal does have some positives. It reduces Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium and ships that material to Russia. It restricts the Iranians’ centrifuge capacity and redesigns their heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak. It extends Iran’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon.
But these things alone do not a good nuclear deal make. In terms of U.S. strategic interests, this deal concedes far more than it gains.
First off, the deal ignores the nature of the Iranian regime. As I’ve noted many times, Iran’s political strategy is not vested in verified reciprocity or respect. Iran focuses on the physical and ideological expansion of Khomeinism throughout the Middle East. Be under no illusions: Iran’s blackmail of Iraqi politicians, its murder of Lebanese government officials, its support for separatists like the Houthi rebels of Yemen, and its commitment to isolating U.S. influence from the Middle East will all continue. But now those efforts have received a huge cash infusion. And we know where Iran will spend a good deal of this money: on chlorine gas, whose effects include “respiratory failure, pulmonary edema, likely acute pulmonary hypertension, cardiomegaly, pulmonary vascular congestion, acute burns of the upper and especially the proximal lower airways, and death.”
Iran’s political strategy is not vested in verified reciprocity or respect. Iran focuses on the physical and ideological expansion of Khomeinism throughout the Middle East.
Put another way: Iran will spend much of the cash infusion on supporting Bashar al-Assad as he continues to gas, barrel-bomb, and starve hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. The murder fuels the politicization of sectarianism now tearing the Middle East apart. This deal is our acquiescence to this murder. Indeed, just last week, Iran gifted Assad another grant of cash to continue his mayhem.
Still, this deal is also profoundly flawed in its parsed language surrounding inspection protocols. As I recently outlined, Iran has fought hard to ensure that it can maximize the bureaucratic obstacles facing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And today, President Obama implicitly admitted Iran’s success in that regard. As he put it, “the IAEA will have access where necessary, when necessary.” The operative words here: “when necessary.” You can bet — and hold me to this — that Iran’s definition of “when necessary” will fundamentally deviate from ours.
But this “clarification” also means that Iran is very likely to continue its covert weaponization research. When the IAEA requests inspections at those sites, Iran will prevaricate at first, in order to go to work hiding the evidence of its activities, and then allow the inspectors access. That game will allow Russia and China to say that Iran is living up to its agreement and therefore should not face a sanctions “snapback.”
And that leads to another major problem with this deal: Iran will ensure that a sanctions snapback is near impossible. Iran will stretch the seams of this deal as far as it can. It is enabled by its belief that China, Russia, and even elements of the EU are desperate to pursue lucrative contracts inside the Islamic Republic, and that President Obama will be desperate to preserve his legacy dream.
#related#But most critical of all is what this deal means for balance-of-power calculations in the Middle East. I guarantee you that it will fuel the sectarian fire. Hyper-paranoid about Iranian expansionism, the Sunni Arab monarchies will look on this deal as Iran’s coronation as the regional superpower. Already perceiving themselves surrounded by Iran, the monarchies are now liable to loosen their restrictions on support for Salafi-jihadist groups, such as al-Qaeda, in a desperate effort to check Iranian theological power. Most problematic here is the deal’s lifting of ballistic-missile-trading sanctions on Iran after eight years. Facing this looming challenge, in the next few years you can expect the Saudis to increase its trips to Pakistan. With bundles of their own cash.
Ultimately, President Obama sought this deal because he believed it would serve the interests of peace in the Middle East. As he put it today, he believes that “we must continue to test whether or not this region, which has known so much suffering, so much bloodshed, can move in a different direction.”
That’s a noble hope. But it’s also delusional, because the Middle East is now consumed by political fear and paranoia. As it stands, this deal will be a catalyst rather than a coolant for that toxicity.