Politics & Policy

Tim Kaine’s Claim that Clinton Destroyed Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Preposterous

Kaine and Clinton campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, September 5, 2016. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
Even defenders of the Iran deal don’t attempt to claim that it stopped the program.

On a night awash in lies — offensive lies and defensive lies, primitive lies (“He never said that!”) and sophisticated lies (“The Clinton Foundation . . . ”) — perhaps the boldest lie was this: Hillary Clinton “eliminated the Iranian nuclear-weapons program without firing a shot.”

So said Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, multiple times during Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate: “An Iranian nuclear-weapons program has been stopped”; Hillary “built the sanctions regime around the world that stopped the Iranian nuclear-weapons program”; “We stopped the Iranian nuclear-weapons program.” He made this declaration, in one or another iteration, eight times.

To steal a line: There are lies, damned lies, and what Tim Kaine said last night.

The Obama administration, eager to have its Nixon-in-China moment (Havana was nice, but a little down-market), is dedicated to the myth that by combining honeyed tones with a few firm glances, it persuaded the mullahs in Tehran to abandon their dreams of obtaining a nuclear weapon and endorse a peace-loving, cosmopolitan global order. In Barack Obama’s telling, John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif shook hands, and now daffodils are springing up through the sidewalk-cracks in Tehran.

In fact, the Iranian nuclear deal was a sham from beginning to end. The terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), let alone the way that the Obama administration has selectively interpreted (and downright ignored) them, were absurdly generous. The JCPOA allows for the continued enrichment of uranium, as well as the continued operation of more than 5,000 centrifuges — and includes permissions to build more-advanced ones. Iran is also entitled to continue operating a heavy-water reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. Furthermore, the monitoring regime that the Obama administration has touted is largely toothless, applying only to declared nuclear sites. And the quality of those “inspections” was on display last year, when Iranian officials were permitted to collect soil samples at the Parchin military base without any International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials present.

But even if the original terms of the deal had been agreeable, the administration has proved that it had no intention to abide by them. On January 16, “Implementation Day” of the JCPOA, John Kerry announced that Iran had “fully implemented its required commitments,” enabling Tehran to receive $150 billion in sanctions relief and other benefits. Nonsense. Knowing full well that Iran was not in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA, and desperate to avoid the embarrassment of Iran’s withdrawing from the deal if called on their violations, the Obama administration used the JCPOA “Joint Commission,” composed of representatives from Iran and the agreement’s six signatories (the P5+1 states), to quietly exempt Iran from certain requirements. Likewise, the U.S. acceded to Iranian demands to limit the IAEA’s reporting on Iran’s nuclear program — on the grounds that Iran had complied with the JCPOA, so it could be trusted. In other words, the U.S. did the foreign-policy equivalent of a judge’s announcing, before the trial starts, that a criminal defendant is innocent, so no witnesses need testify.

And, of course, this whole charade is temporary. It’s designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon within the next 15 years. What happens after that is anyone’s guess — but even if the JCPOA does what it’s supposed to, it’s not exactly difficult to predict what will happen when its terms expire. Even President Obama has admitted that, at the end of “year 13, 14, 15,” the time needed to enrich enough uranium for one nuclear weapon would shrink from 2 to 3 months  “almost down to zero.”

Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have opted to pretend that an entirely real threat simply isn’t.

So Hillary Clinton hasn’t “eliminated” a darn thing. At best, she’s delayed it. Far more likely, though, given Obama’s numerous derelictions of duty and Iran’s knowledge that it has the whip-hand in this arrangement, is that she has helped to reinvigorate a regime that was growing weak — as the 2009 Green Movement in Iran suggested. (Clinton and Obama, breathless about the the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, were largely unresponsive when tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election victory.) At a time when sanctions had put a decisive strain on Iran’s economy, the Obama administration offered Tehran a lifeline by relaxing sanctions, thawing out long-frozen Iranian assets, and facilitating Iran’s reintegration into the global economy. And it compounded a material victory with a psychological one, offering a $400 million ransom for the safe return of American hostages — whose release should have been an upfront sine qua non of any nuclear agreement. Will it be a surprise to anyone when the Swiss francs that the CIA flew into Tehran in crates in January end up purchasing arms for Hezbollah?

Meanwhile, Tim Kaine speaks about the threat from Iran as a thing of the past, the latest obsolescence thrown onto the ash-heap of history; Iran’s nuclear program has been “eliminated,” decisively, like the Soviet Union or the Nazi war machine.

American voters are not fluent in the details of the Iran deal. But they do have general impressions of the state of our national security — and those impressions are neither positive, nor wrong. They recognize that we are less safe than we were the day George W. Bush left office, and they know that Iran is not our friend.

#related#Donald Trump is not remotely prepared to address the intricate, complex questions that determine America’s national security. But his Chicken Little routine about the dangers we face at least acknowledges a real threat as real. By contrast, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have opted to pretend that an entirely real threat simply isn’t. If (Heaven forefend) Iran decides to upend this fantasy in the midst of a Clinton presidency, the damage to our politics will be incalculable — outmatched, perhaps, only by the damage to our security.

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