The framework for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not as emotionally satisfying as bombing Iran into a parking lot or strangling Iran’s economy with sanctions, but it is the option most likely to permanently stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.
This framework does not provide absolute certainty, but no option will eliminate the potential for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The best we can do is perpetually prevent Iran from actually acquiring nuclear weapons, which this deal does with greater certainty and more likelihood of success than scuttling the deal and either increasing sanctions now or taking military action.
The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, rid itself of ballistic missiles, stop terrorism, or end domestic repression. However, Fred Kaplan reminds us that “the U.S.-Soviet strategic arms treaties, signed throughout the Cold War, didn’t require the Soviet Union to disavow communism, end its support of Third World insurgencies, or institute Jeffersonian democracy,” but they did cap and eventually reverse the nuclear arms race. Would you rather have an Iran vowing to destroy Israel in possession of nuclear weapons or without nuclear weapons?
In Politico, Sandy Berger explained that “the idea of a better deal is a chimera, an illusory option, and it should not lull us into thinking there is another agreement to be had if only we were to bear down harder.”
In The New York Review of Books, Jessica Mathews wrote that the “lesson of sanctions — from Cuba to Russia and beyond — is that they can impose a cost on wrongdoing, but if the sanctioned country chooses to pay the price, sanctions cannot prevent it from continuing the sanctioned activities.”
Between 2003 and the start of current negotiations, sanctions cost Iran nearly $100 billion and Iran grew its number of centrifuges from 3,000 to 19,000. Iran is now only a few months from nuclear breakout. Even the strongest sanctions would not work quickly enough to stop Iran from producing what it needs for a nuclear bomb.
Our allies would not join us in further sanctions if they believed we were jettisoning a reasonable framework. If a deal falls through, multilateral sanctions will fall apart. Moreover, we cannot unilaterally enact sanctions that have extraterritorial reach, as we have previously done.
Military action would only delay Iran’s progress for between two and four years, much less than the length of the proposed deal. Iran would end inspections, we would know far less than we do now about Iran’s facilities, and Iran would be convinced that it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself.
The deal is not based on Reagan’s “trust but verify” dictum but on John Kerry’s “distrust and verify” principle. Nevertheless, many are concerned that Iran will cheat. But that is an argument against any deal, and if we have no deal, we will have a nuclear Iran. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy says that President Obama is right:
One of the arguments being voiced against the continuation of the talks is that Iran has a history of lies and cunning, and can thus be expected to breach the agreement and deceive the world. True, the Iranians have a tendency to deceive, but they could do so even if they agreed to zero centrifuges, the closure of all their nuclear facilities, and supervision on the part of the Mossad itself. Loopholes can always be found, so there is no such thing as a “good agreement.” The Iranians will uphold an agreement only if it is worth their while.
The silliest argument against a deal is that Obama is trying to stave off an Iranian bomb until he leaves office so that he will leave with a legacy of no bomb. Do you not think that Obama realizes that if Iran goes nuclear after he leaves office because of a flaw in the deal he negotiated, his legacy will be forever tarnished?
Obama came into office as a strong proponent of nuclear non-proliferation. If his legacy motivates him to ensure that Iran never gets the bomb, that is fine with me. That is what he means when he says “not on my watch.”