At first, I was not going to write about the Iranian agreement (JCPOA) with the U.S. and the “major powers” because so much has been written on the subject, so what more could I add? And then I spoke to a number of my friends and they confessed to being confused and unsure who or what to believe. After I sent details to one of my buddies in the States, he wrote back “The more I research, the more worried I am about this.” It was then I realized that I must articulate the real debate on the Iranian file versus all the noise, accusations and innuendo — especially since most of my friends and colleagues do not have the time to read the more than 300 articles on the subject (some linked to this blog for background) that I have up until this point.
I am not going to make this about Obama personally though many in the U.S. and Israel consider it quite insulting regarding what he has said about people opposing the deal…he sounds like his former “dear friend”, President of Turkey Erdogan, who also enjoys speaking of people who oppose his policies with similar invectives. It is so unbecoming for the President to engage in such accusatory, undemocratic and depreciative rhetoric to support a deal, that is at best, marginal. Obama knows, because he is aware of his original red-lines which have all been crossed during the negotiations with Iran.
I also will not spend time on Obama’s progressive ideology and how the Iranian deal fits snugly into this weltanschauung. For now, we should just accept that Obama is smart, ideologically driven and appears to be on the wrong side of history.
So what is the Iranian deal really about?
Why are the sides so opposed to each other? It really comes down to one fundamental issue with everything else but a sub-context to this central point — and it’s not the specifics of the agreement, though important and very tenuous at best (verification, snap back, etc. are all based on assumptions that flow from what I am about to say), but this core question and assumption: Is Iran similar to Russia or Nazi Germany? In other words, in negotiating a deal, even with a country we neither like nor trust, do we believe that — with inspections and verification — we can really understand how Iran will behave? Obama himself set up this contrast by comparing the deal to nuclear arms negotiations with Russia, though he is being hypocritical to even refer to this deal because SALT II was a treaty requiring Senate confirmation, which Obama is intentionally avoiding in Iran’s case.
Obama would have you believe that we are dealing with a situation similar to Kennedy and Regan during the Cold War with Russia. In fact, Obama argues that Iran’s leadership are rational actors as Westerners understand the concept and, therefore, their behavior is predictable by Westerners. In contrast, Netanyahu believes that Iran is fundamentally different from Russia and that the calculus of risk and return that we consider as Western values do not apply here.
This is the soul of the debate and the implications of being wrong are existential — for Israel for sure, but maybe even the U.S. (see, for example, the impact of a high altitude Electronic Magnetic Pulse (EMP) on the U.S.). Is an ideological Islamic theocracy and dictatorship that calls for the elimination of another member of the U.N. (Israel) a rational actor to negotiate any deal regardless of the verification scheme? Given that Iran’s leadership has a theology based upon “Twelver” eschatology means that ANY path to the bomb, even 10 or 15 years from now, assuming Iran does not cheat, creates a “nuclear threshold state” that will attempt to destroy Israel either directly or through their proxies.
Iran’s desire to destroy Israel and the details of this process was just published a few days ago under the authorship of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khameneni. Kerry is at a loss to really square Khameneni’s detailed strategy to destroy Israel with anything the U.S. has been saying up until now, as Jeffery Goldberg’s interview yesterday with Kerry confirms (typically Goldberg channels Obama to the Jewish community and no friend of Bibi).
Taking this one step further, one must be a real moron to believe that Iran’s current program is peaceful as is described in the JCPOA! (I was surprised to see that in the agreement) and advocated by pro-Iranian supporters for this deal — a contention no-one believes is so, and therefore, keeping Iran’s nuclear capacity intact is just as moronic. It feels like the U.S. surrendered all its integrity to get this deal done. Imagine if the SALT II agreement with Russia had a preamble that said that Russia never built nuclear missiles and nothing was pointing to the U.S.? That would be a strange agreement that reshapes reality — something has actually happened in Iran’s case.
Obama’s arguments demystified
Now Obama’s argument has always been — the alternative to this deal is war and that Bibi has not offered any other alternatives. Now that is not true — okay, let me say Obama is deeply misleading and misdirecting when he says this. The “alternative is war” argument is a classic false comparison to pressure people to agree to this deal. There is an alternative based upon continued strong sanctions — sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table to begin with — that will lead to a better deal for the U.S. and its allies. And any deal must include the complete elimination of the ability to refine weaponized uranium, build or deliver a nuclear warhead. This has NOT been prevented by this agreement.
In spite of Obama’s declaration from day-one that the only acceptable deal is the elimination of Iranian nuclear weapons capability, this deal does not deliver this any way. In fact, new revelations of secret negotiations show that the U.S. was already backing off significant red lines in 2011 and initiated the nuclear talks with Iran during Ahmadinejad’s term in office. So much for the White House narrative that the U.S. started its negotiations with Iran after their elections in 2013 since now the U.S. would be negotiating with a “moderate” Iranian regime to encourage moderation. It’s just not so!
Another part of Obama’s argument is that none of America’s allies will go back to sanctions at this point. This is an interesting theme — so why would any of the allies ever agree to these “snap-back” sanctions in the future? Once our allies are back and deep into commerce with the Islamic Republic of Iran, they would only go back to sanctions kicking and screaming! There will be a lot of political and psychological pressure to avoid reneging on the deal and enforcing any type of sanctions. Does anyone believe that evidence of Iranian bad acts will ever be that blatant to trigger an obvious and immediate “snap back” — this will not happen and the history international diplomacy is replete with many examples of delays and avoidance when it comes to decisions like this when attempting consensus among many countries with conflicting agendas?
But the real misdirection by Obama is more basic than this — Obama and our allies NEVER wanted sanctions (Congress and the French did) — so how did we get Russia and China, as extreme examples, to cooperate? It’s simple. America produces over 20% of the world’s GDP and is the largest financial power within the international finance and trading ecosystem. How the sanctions worked in the past was very simple. If you don’t play with the U.S., you cannot engage in the world banking system touching the U.S. And that is how the sanctions would work now and into the future. It makes no sense that snap-back sanctions will be straightforward but continuing sanctions at this point would not work.
So, if Iran cheats and goes for the bomb — like North Korea did after they signed their agreement with the U.S. (negotiated by the same Wendy Sherman) — Iran will probably be a few months from a bomb since they would have cheated beforehand to ramp up their centrifuges. If Iran does not cheat, they will be a nuclear power in 10, at most, 15 years regardless. If you believe that a terrorist supporting ideology calling for the destruction of the State of Israel is dangerous, then this deal is fundamentally flawed. Iran is not Russia.
Reliance on ineffective international organizations
Part of the intriguing aspect to the Obama deal is his administration’s continued reliance on international monitoring and verification — via the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) which will sign secret protocols with Iran — that cover certain aspects of the inspections regime and Iran’s confession of prior nuclear sins, otherwise known as Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its previous nuclear activities. Why PMD is so important? Without an understanding of where Iran is today BEFORE the agreement in terms of their nuclear weapons and military capability, there is no way to know what is cheating in the future. Without a full PMD confession now, when they will be caught, they will say — oh, that violation is prior to the agreement. What makes the whole pursuit of PMD so patently absurd is that, as I mentioned earlier, the agreement specifically says that Iran was always engaged in peaceful nuclear developments. So how can there be a PMD? My head is spinning.
Similar to Obama’s reliance on the U.N. for legitimization and implementation of sanctions agreements with the Security Council, he will use the IAEC same way even though it has been clear that the IAEC has had significant difficulty for at least 10 years to verify anything. When Obama says that Iran will never have a bomb that is because he is relying on Iran’s adherence in the future (after 15 years) to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) of which Iran is a signatory and has been violating for the past 15 years! So, when you hear Kerry and Obama say “we don’t trust them so we have the most intrusive verification regime ever” with no way to get to a bomb, I am not even sure what that means given Iran’s prior history with the same International organizations.
This is a classic example of self-referential logic — somewhat like a hall of mirrors. Most experts who have worked on the Iranian proliferation file for the last decade or so do not see any real change or effective enforcement going forward. Iran will be able to keep their nuclear bomb infrastructure intact for when they either cheat or adhere their way to the bomb.
Nothing is what it seems
We also need to keep in mind that there is a lot at play here. Malcolm Hoenlein, a top American Jewish communal leader with strong international connections, just wrote that European Foreign Ministers who participated in this agreement have deep reservations, but they have allowed the U.S. to take the lead. If you add to this clear economic motivations by Russia and China to get any deal, you can almost feel that the U.S., Russia and China boxed out the Europeans during negotiations. I have no proof of this but I would not be surprised to discover that China and Russia (especially Russia) would be back-channeling important negotiating information to the Iranians. Let’s not kid ourselves, the European Powers, Russia and China are not of a single mind when it comes to Iran and they each have different political and economic interests. The Iranians, for sure, used this divisiveness to their advantage during negotiations.
Iran’s support of terrorism and regional hegemony
Finally there is the issue of Iran’s support of terrorism and destabilization to enhance their regional hegemony throughout the Middle East and the world in general. Here, for example, is an op-ed piece by Prince Bandar, former longtime Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. and former chief of Saudi intelligence among other major positions. Most of my friends are completely unaware that Iran and its proxies have terror cells placed in South and Central America as well as throughout Europe. (Step back and consider this issue as it relates to the illegal immigration challenge facing the U.S. — there are a number of experts who believe that Hezbollah has already used this transit channel to move terror sleeper cells into the U.S.) Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, which takes its orders straight from Iran, have directly engaged in terror acts and mass murder from Argentina to Bulgaria during the past 25 years.
Recent congressional testimony from Walter Mead makes it clear that one cannot view this nuclear deal in a vacuum no matter how much Obama and Kerry want to tell us that this deal needs to be considered in isolation. Hogwash! Forget centrifuges, snap back sanctions and verification capabilities for a moment. Think more broadly. Is the proposed Iran deal good or bad for America in enough ways to support it or think it a disaster? Mead states: “The JCPOA on its own strengthens Iran’s hand in the region by reducing its isolation and adding significantly to its economic resources. Unless this effect is offset by a much more robust policy of containing Iran, centered on a focused drive for regime change in Damascus, the JCPOA will make the Middle East as a whole less secure, and increase the prospect that the United States will be forced to choose between war and strategic setbacks that gravely undermine America’s global strategy and our peace and prosperity at home.”
One other part of Obama’s Progressive fantasy — and I am amazed every time I hear him say it — is that this deal may bring about moderation in Iran. This is so counterintuitive; Iranian experts and expats are in near universal agreement that the opposite will be the case. This deal will strengthen the theocratic and dictatorial regime and the powerful support of the Revolutionary Guards who control major parts of the military, its terrorist proxies and have deep tentacles into Iran’s economy (they are reported to be the 3rd largest “business” in Iran). You will see attempts by the Ayatollahs to tighten the screws even further in Iran as the country “opens for business”. Got to keep the restless natives under control!
Now, there are many issues in the details of the deal — the verification scheme, how one goes about dealing with violations, how sanctions will really “snap back”, if at all. In fact, Americans cannot even be part of the inspections teams since Iran considers the U.S. to still be an enemy state. Not for nothing did the Obama administration keep the Pentagon out of the Iran negotiations. President Obama and Secretary Kerry were seeking a political — not a military — deal. The JPCOA is not an arms control agreement.
Anti-Semitism on the rise
And finally, let’s face it that, as Jews, we are living through the worst period of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East (and growing, though more slowly, in the U.S.) since the 1930’s in Europe. It is so beyond a hatred of Zionism — this is clear as day for anyone who wants to open their eyes — this is really all about The Jews. You should read this remarkable article by David Goodman about Iran and its obsession with Jews — simply brilliant.
So for the President of the U.S. to play into this issue: claiming Israel is the only country to be against the deal, that Bibi is just wrong on the facts of the deal and is part of cabal of people who brought us the war with Iraq, that the deal-killers are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars in nasty lobbying and other “influence peddling” — an accusation that smacks of charges of Jewish dual loyalty — Obama is playing with fire. Just look at the accusations and innuendo against Chuck Schumer with Progressive Democrats, some of whom are literally called him a traitor to the U.S. and being more loyal to Israel on the Internet and on talk shows.
Obama promised 6 years ago to put political “daylight” between Israel and the US and so it is.