A deal with Iran has just been announced. What has been disconcerting is the seeming inevitability of this deal — not least because the momentum of the negotiations, blowing through deadline after deadline, took on a life of its own — but also because, based on initial analysis of the agreement, this could be a bad deal.
This perception of inevitability is also reflected in a question that has come up repeatedly, from many who have responded to some of the concern and hesitation being raised about this agreement: What’s the alternative?
Why is it so hard to accept that sometimes there may be no good recourse or options to resolve a bad situation?
Yet somehow many seem to have bought into the idea that a deal with Iran is the only way to make progress and, therefore, we just have to do it. This desire for “forward motion” can be dangerous — and is the opposite of how negotiations are supposed to happen — i.e., we have met criteria A, B and C, and so, therefore, a deal becomes warranted.
Given how much everyone seems to believe that a deal is the only way forward in terms of shaping relations with Iran and modifying (supposedly) behavior, it is astounding how few key details seem to have been agreed upon the first time a deal was announced. If the main issues were truly aired and sewn up — which one would think is the prerequisite for announcing an agreement — why all the drama extending deadlines and struggling to resolve what seem to be key issues?
One logical explanation is that this earlier announcement was designed to raise expectations and increase momentum behind a deal, even though there was really very little that was agreed to at that point. As a result, negotiators created a self-fulfilling prophesy — we’ve let the world know that we’ve agreed to a deal…so therefore we better deliver a deal!
This sense of inevitability is also a problem, shifting the focus of negotiations from substance — i.e., curtailing the means, motive and opportunity for Iran to develop nuclear weapons — to delivering a solution. Namely, the need to deliver an agreement.
It is like we are watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with constantly shifting lines in the sand. We know how this story ends…with a fall off a cliff (i.e., by Yosemite Sam crossing every next line until he falls off that cliff. Note that he misses the mattress upon landing and then comes out shooting)
Another key question that raises concern: Who wants a deal more? The United States was in a position of strength, where sanctions were working and brought Iran to the table. Now we seem to have given up whatever leverage we had while letting Iran off some very important hooks — including the need to own up to previous efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, being subject to real-time inspections and verification without restrictions, and curtailing its ballistic missile and terrorist programs.
If Iran really wanted to reach an agreement, why would these issues be so problematic, and why would it have taken so long to get to an agreement? What is there to hide?
It is a truism that peace is made between enemies and that trust is hard to come by. But, both sides have to want it equally. Instead, we seem to be chasing this peace while the Iranians are being coy.
The fact that several other world powers are also signing onto this agreement might add to its perceived inevitability, but that doesn’t assure a good deal. They’re too eager to sell ships and weapons to Iran, or to buy oil and ink other economic deals. The nature of these agreements already being planned should give us all pause.
There is one other consideration that should be examined here. President Obama has made the argument that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. i.e., we should settle for what we can get in today’s reality, rather than hold out for a more desirable but unattainable future. That mantra works in some circumstances, particularly in a domestic political arena where red lines to hold and otherwise it would be impossible to get things done. However, this should not be a guiding principle when dealing with others who don’t necessarily share our values or democratic system.
We should know better than to sign onto a bad deal just because it seems inevitable, and in this part of the world we should also learn from past mistakes where expedient choices turn out to be more harmful and dangerous in the long run.
Bottom line — sometimes there is no easy answer or solution. Just because there is a path forward does not mean it is the best path or should be taken. And, in this case, given questions about the process and the potential consequences, no alternative may be better than the seemingly inevitable one.