Sunday, August 2, 2015

Some Extended Thoughts on the Iran Deal

I had a spirited exchange with a good friend yesterday about the Iran deal over Facebook.  Such exchanges tend to get my Irish up, mostly because I like having those kinds of conversations in private, without creating my own little CNN "Split Screen" effect for others to pile onto.  But it had to be done, and it inspired me to put some of those thoughts down here for you to evaluate.  So here are some of my thoughts in no apparent order, some of which attend to the deal itself, some of which attend to how the deal is discussed and argued.

1.  From the very beginning, I will grant that for me, no deal is better than a bad deal, or even a "less good" deal.  Iran not getting a nuclear weapon is for me, simply not worth what was given up either at the negotiating table or in the instructions to our negotiators.  It strikes me as interesting that the Administration's single-minded desire to create conditions designed to slow Iran's attainment of a nuclear weapon seems to dramatically outstrip the desire of the State of Israel for the same goal.  Like Israel (I think I've read this right), a deal that potentially slows their nuclear program but which leaves them in a significantly better position economically (with greater resources to continue to mastermind their worldwide terror activities), with no restrictions on their conventional missile program, with our four hostages still in Iranian prisons, and which does not recognize Israel's right to exist is worse than the status quo.  And by the status quo, I grant that means Iran gets the bomb at some point (two months was the figure put forward yesterday--though I have no reason to believe or trust that figure), but it does so as an international pariah with a hobbled economy.  The Administration wanted this halfdeal so badly that it dealt away much of what could have made it meaningful.

2.  A point often made by supporters of this deal is that it wasn't a deal about Israel, and it wasn't a deal about conventional weapons, it wasn't about prisoners, and it wasn't a deal about their terror activities.  Such a deal would have been--in their words--"impossible".  Like my old CO Jake Ross used to say, "you want it bad, you get it bad".  They wanted the limited objective of slowing Iran's quest for the bomb so badly that they walked away from anything bigger, and then allowed themselves to be whittled down even there as to the objectives that they sought connected even with this limited goal.  Supporters tell us that all of these other "side" issues would have muddied the water--and then don't have an answer for all of the places within the ACTUAL negotiation where we backed down from public statements.

3.  The "what is your alternative?" play.  This -- like the "Strawman Comparison" is a favorite rhetorical tactic of the Obama Administration and its supporters.  For the longest time, the President has been telling us that the alternative to his plan was "war".  Until the negotiations got tough, at which point he told us that he was "willing to walk away".  To war?  I mean, because that was the only alternative, right?  A derivative of this approach is the 'what is your alternative" question, which for supporters of the deal, means that irrespective of how relevant or insightful one's criticism of the ACTUAL deal is, unless you can come forward with something to replace it, your views are somehow without weight or value.  I made the comparison on Facebook yesterday thusly:  you are an infantry platoon leader, and your company commander is laying out his plan for taking "that" hill.  It is a very, very tough objective.  You don't have a plan of your own--but the plan he lays out has gaping holes in it that you believe could lead to mission failure.  Should you sit there and say nothing because you don't have a better idea?  My interlocutor did not agree that this was an apt analogy.  I did not agree with him.

4.  The "the deal has much of what the Bush Administration was negotiating" in it.  So what.  It wasn't a "deal" then.  It was a negotiation.  Conducted largely in private.  Most bothersome of all though, I am unfamiliar with the Bush Administration's plan to force a multi-nationally agreed upon framework upon the American people as an Executive Agreement, rather than as a Treaty.  You are free to question my honor if you wish, but I am here to tell you that if GWB had reached this deal and was trying to bring it into force the way THIS Administration is doing, I would have rejected it just as strongly.

5.  The "critics haven't read the deal" play.  Well, I have.  All of it. And while I believe it has the potential to slow or delay Iran's nuclear weapons program, I continue to believe "the juice wasn't worth the squeeze".  One highly placed friend used this as his opening gambit yesterday, and when I responded that I had read it, he cited classified experiences/dialogues that he couldn't discuss as further evidence.  Nice try.

6.  So--what IS my alternative.  Well, even though I don't believe my criticisms to be any less weighty without one, I did in fact have one--which I laid out briefly on FB and will do so in more detail here.


1.  Continue to exert world leadership to isolate the Iranian regime.
2.  Continue to exert world leadership to deprive them of the components of a nuclear weapon -- counter proliferation and other (clandestine) methods.
3.  And finally.....and this is taken directly from an unpublished paper I wrote in 2006....

     "The United States must come to grips with the fact that while counter-proliferation strategies have certainly slowed the spread of nuclear weapons around the world, they have not stopped it, nor does it appear to be a winning strategy for the long haul.  Continuing to create the conditions to discourage nuclear weapons proliferation must remain a part of the overall strategy, but a new emphasis must be placed on managing the consequences of existent proliferation.  To that end, and in harmony with other like-minded first generation nuclear powers, the United States must seek to encourage (to the extent possible) debate within the governments and the people of emerging nuclear powers about the responsibilities that flow from their possession.  The most effective way of doing so would be to clearly state what the consequences of both the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons would be.
What does this mean?  At a minimum, it means that we must once again engage in an open discussion as to what would be acceptable retaliatory measures to be taken in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States or one of its allies.  Furthermore, we must continue to field and deploy appropriate defenses against ballistic missiles.  In this new form of deterrence, a robust missile defense system (including forward deployed sea-based defenses) would necessarily cause a more in-depth calculation as to the effectiveness of a nuclear attack enabled by this greatly proliferated delivery platform.   Additionally, consideration must be given to the ramifications of nuclear attacks on nations not necessarily friendly to the U.S.
More specifically, the Administration should issue the following statement, reminiscent of President Kennedy’s statement at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis:  “It will be the policy of the United States Government to regard any nuclear attack by the nations of Iran (or other third generation nuclear powers) as an attack on world civilization, requiring an overwhelming and disproportionate response, to include the use of nuclear weapons already targeting all major cities of those nations.”
What would be the desired effect of such a statement?  First and foremost, it would provide the impetus for a healthy debate within those countries, at least within their leadership structures, as to the true responsibilities of a nuclear power.   In Iran, a well-educated populace who has thus far been steadily fed a diet of the privileges associated with nuclear status  would suddenly have to confront the wisdom of possessing such weapons given the near-certainty of the destruction of their ancient civilization in the event of those weapons use.  Secondly, even if these third generation powers were to persist in their desire to possess such weapons, they would now be forced to consider the kinds of issues that dominated the early days of first generation nuclear development, specifically, weapons command and control, and the development of use doctrine.
Ultimately, nuclear weapons will continue to spread.  The technology associated with nuclear weapons development is well into its eighth decade of existence, and to continue to rely primarily on counter-proliferation strategies leaves us dangerously unprepared for the inevitable rise of additional nuclear powers.  We must move toward a strategy that offers third generation powers the respect they seek by expecting of them the responsible approach to nuclear weapons that has characterized the first generation.  In other words, “Welcome to the club, now here are the rules.”

There you go.


Chris Rawley said...

Great post. It is impossible to separate Iran's nefarious actions from the details of the nuclear deal. My thoughts:

The Conservative Wahoo said...

And I just finished reading your piece there, Chris. Wonderfully done.

"The Hammer" said...

War wouldn't necessarily be required but if they insist on a war I'd try to oblige. We should still be able to muster enough juice in the region to bloody their noses a little. With Israel's contribution and the other regional partners like Saudi Arabia (who are scared to death of Iran) it wouldn't be a bad idea to take out a few facilities up to and including some residences, party headquarters and prominent government building in Tehran. Nothing focuses the mind like an up close and personal experience with good ordinance.
That horse has already left the barn however. I think the world would have been surprised at how accommodating the Iranians would have been had we pursued such a policy. They just needed a little encouragement.

TigerHawk said...

A few thoughts to irritate everybody:

1. Whether or not this deal is an improvement on the status quo ante, it is definitely not the "best deal" that might have been possible. However, it might have been the best deal available to the Obama administration in 2015, the president having spent the previous six years talking about how awesome it would be to get a deal with Iran. See, e.g., his first big foreign policy speech in 2009, when a rapprochement to Iran was front and center. If you walk in to the dealer loudly proclaiming to your wife that "you're gonna go home in a sweet ride today," you're not getting the best deal.

2. Given the soft-signalling since 2009 at least, which I believe to have been a fatal error, it may well have been the case that we needed to do a deal now. The answer to that question depends on the practical sustainability of sanctions against Iran. When president Obama says that "war" is the alternative, the charitable explanation is that he believes that the sanctions are unsustainable so therefore war is the alternative. There is reason to believe he is right. First, because history. The invasion of Iraq was necessary because the sanctions regime was collapsing under the weight of world opinion and pressure from other countries who wanted to make money trading with Iraq. The status quo was unstable, and the post 9/11 Bush White House felt that it could not permit Saddam to go unrestrained, which is where things were headed. Second, sanctions naturally lose their force over time. The U.S. had imposed severe sanctions on Iran since 1979, and as a result there is nobody in Iran that depends on business with the United States. We therefore have the least leverage among the major powers who had imposed sanctions, not the most, and those other powers are not really worried about Iran because, well, the threatened countries in the region (Israel, the Gulf States, Saudi) are our allies, not theirs.

3. As much as we wish we got our hostages back, or that the Iranians would stop waging proxy wars, both are extremely small beer compared to slowing the nuclear program. So, standing alone, it is perfectly reasonable to exclude these things if that is what it takes to shut down the nuclear weapons program. Anybody with a brain would take that deal. The problem is not that we failed to deal with these collateral issues, but that we (meaning the critics) have no confidence in the nuclear deal.

4. Let's be honest. The main reason we have no confidence in the deal comes back to the fact that we have no confidence in Obama to negotiate it. Why? Because he has so overtly wanted it for his entire presidency, and because he has in the last eight months gone in to "legacy mode" in such a big way. Deep down, we just think that Obama wanted it too much, and -- more importantly -- that the Iranians understood that he wanted it too much.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

You are of course, entitled to your opinions, but my trust and confidence--or lack thereof -- in this President is not the "main reason" for opposing this deal. Again, it is because I consider a hobbled, nuclear Iran a better deal than an enriched, near-nuclear Iran. And while the sanctions regime may be "crumbling", there is NO DOUBT it has dealt them a tremendous blow.

TigerHawk said...

OK, "main reason" was a poor choice of words. I suppose the question is whether "hobbled-nuclear" is less destabilizing in the region than "enriched-near nuclear". Not sure which scenario most relieves the security dilemma faced by the Israelis and the Saudis.

Vero said...

I associate myself with your 2006 views.

The deal shows some level of accomplishment, however slight. However, "Trust but Verify" seems to have given way to the shibboleth "Hope and Change." In that sense the so-called 'deal' was entirely predictable. They seem to naively HOPE the deal, weak as it is for the U.S., will somehow cause Iran to Change and become a more responsible member of the world community, thus allowing their bulging, under 30 population to turn to the West. Unlikely under the current Iranian leadership, but possible. It *might* have slowed Iran down long enough to kick the problem to the next US administration in 2017, (much as it was kicked to them).

From Iran's point of view, why shouldn't they develop the bomb? Like Israel, they live in a bad neighborhood, too. The Sunni Arabs hate them, the Israeli's hate them (and have the bomb), and both India and Pakistan neighbors have the bomb. Iran is as intensely nationalistic as it is militaristic.

Mark Gorenflo said...

1. It is edifying to know you're ok with a nuclear Iran, sooner rather than later if need be.

2. Our ability to hobble is fast diminishing, if hobbling depends on sanctions. We can continue to sanction. The Chinese and Russians won't and I wouldn't bet a Greek bond on the Europeans continuing to sanction if there are deals to be done in Tehran. So, your "American Leadership" platform would - in my view admittedly - lead in short order to a nuclear Iran enriched by a crumbling sanctions regime. How is this a good deal?

3. I find issuing an extended deterrence blank check to countries such as Saudi Arabia extremely troubling. That gives the Saudis no incentive for good behavior and burdens us with nuclear guarantees that will be increasingly problematic. Saudi Arabia is not our ally; it is not even a very good partner. When we depended on its oil, dealing with it was a necessary evil, which they repaid by exporting militant Wahhabism, for which we can thank them for the genesis of Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, ISIS, and the Talibans of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I nevertheless applaud your clearly stated alternate policy prescriptions.

Mark Gorenflo

R. Stanton Scott said...

Shorter Bryan McGrath: i prefer the status quo to an agreement broadly accepted by other world powers that changes the incentive structure for Iran, empowers internal forces for change in Iran, and manages the end of sanctions that don't work and will end anyway without an agreement..

Seems to me you begin with a fundamentally incorrect (as well as simplistic) assumption: that the US has the power to make a multinational agreement with Iran look however we want it to. We could certainly try to "exert world leadership" (not exactly a specific or empirically measurable policy) to "isolate Iran" and keep nuclear weapon components out if Iranian hands. But I'm not sure why you think other states would respond to this leadership, and even if they did the effect would be anything other than continuing the conditions that drive Iran to want a nuclear weapon in the first place. If we constantly threaten war, Iran needs nuclear weapons to deter the United States.

it also plays into the hands of Iranian extremists and allows the to use "Great Satan" rhetoric to justify oppressive domestic policies and support for terrorism that many Iranians oppose.

We might find that if we work with other nations (that is, "exert world leadership") in search of peace rather than sanctions and war, we can bring Iran into the community of nations and make them an ally. Iran supports terrorism as part of an asymmetric campaign to influence the region against the US and other actors. What if they no longer needed to do this because we stopped threatening them at every turn?

We were not the only negotiators here, and this is why we didn't get everything a perfect American agreement would have included. But it will delay nuclear proliferation (which I think is an important goal - we should not just assume every state will eventually have atomic bombs and manage their use with counter threats). It will strengthen domestic democratic forces in Iran. It will create incentives for Iran to back away from support for terrorism in the Middle East.

And of course negotiating this agreement counts as exerting world leadership. Unilaterally rejecting this agreement does not.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

That we have less pull in the world and that some believe our ability to hobble had declined--are both direct results of the policy's pursued for the past six years. To now point at our diminished power and say "we got the best we could" in no way gets the Administration off the hook for that decline.

R. Stanton Scott said...

We have less pull in the world because we unnecessarily - and unsuccessfully - fought in Viet Nam for decades.

We have less pull in the world because we unnecessarily - and unsuccessfully - invaded Iraq in 2003.

We have less pull in the world because the conservative opposition party has challenged the very core of American democracy: the legitimacy of presidents (Clinton and Obama) elected by Democratic voters. Foreign leaders (see Bibi Netanyahu) know that they can now play our leaders off against each other.

This is not the "direct results of the policy's (sic) pursued for the last six years." If you think it is, please outline the specific Obama policies that reduced our "pull" and how they led to this.

And no, withdrawing from military adventures that bankrupted the country, squandered our military forces, and had no chance to achieve their stated goals (e.g., a democratic Iraq) don't count.

"The Hammer" said...

We didn't unsuccessfully fight in Vietnam pal, guys like you squandered what our soldiers earned on the battlefield, which not coincidentally is exactly what happened in Iraq.
Your grasp of foreign policy and what our obligations and priorities were (and are) since WWII is nonexistent. Furthermore if you're looking for a reason for our bankruptcy you might want to consider the Great Society programs instituted by Lyndon Johnson and the $20 trillion we've spend in transfer payments in the last 50 years. Let's see, the poverty rate in 1965 was 15%, and today it's 15%. Gee, I wish someone would have challenged the very core of Democrat Party idiocy, you know, before we went bankrupt.

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