Why Didn't the U.S. Force Iran to Give Up Its Entire Nuclear Program?

Because we operate in the real world, not a fantasy one



Since the "framework" for a potential nuclear deal with Iran was announced yesterday, critics of all stripes have come out to blast the deal as not good enough. Predictably, Republicans are skeptical about the deal and Iran's commitment to it, and they want details. Fox News reports:

Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it is important to see the specific details of Thursday's announcement and said America should remain "clear-eyed" regarding Iran.

"If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran's nuclear program and hold the regime accountable," he said in a written statement.

Yesterday the president insisted Congress and the American people would be "fully briefed" and that there'd be a "robust" debate over the Iran deal but six years into his presidency, who's left that takes him at his word? We'll see how much disclosure and how much of a debate there is.

Some Democrats, too, are positioning themselves against any deal with Iran. Via The Hill:

Several top Democrats are voicing grave reservations over the Obama administration's emerging deal governing the future of Iran's nuclear program.

Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said they welcome a discussion on the framework agreement unveiled Thursday, but harbor deep doubts that the Iranians can be trusted to make good on their commitments.

"I greet any deal with Iran with great skepticism given its deceptive history and ongoing destabilizing and dangerous activities," Deutch, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs subpanel on the Middle East, said in a statement. "I remain deeply concerned as to how a number of issues have been addressed in the framework and may be addressed in a final agreement."

It shouldn't be necessary to bring up the CIA overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953 in every conversation about relations with Iran, but it's, unfortunately, likely Lowey and Deutch have never heard of Mosaddegh or the coup before, an aren't just posturing  in a typical fashion. Concerns over Iran's "trustworthiness" have clouded negotiations since they began several years ago.

But, as President Obama explained yesterday (and I hate every ignorant Democrat or Republican that's made it necessary for me to quote the president to make a point), Iran is a less dangerous enemy than the Soviet Union, whose leaders regularly threated to destroy America and had the weapons to do it, yet the U.S. managed to negotiate with the USSR, on and off for more than four decades, even agreeing on measures to limit their nuclear stockpiles. American exceptionalism may be severely overrated, but certainly the U.S. ought to be capable of negotiating with Iran (and five other countries!) without constantly being worried about "trust."

And the deal, as it's been described, includes a lot of verification. The Iranians, reportedly, have agreed to what the president called the most "robust and intrusive" inspections regime to ever be imposed on a nuclear program. It's important to remember that while the U.S. foreign policy establishment insists Iran's nuclear program is a threat to U.S. national security, Iran is not obligated to base its domestic policies on the fears of fear mongers half a world away. The Iranian government insists it has a "right" to nuclear technology. Insofar as no one is willing to go and bomb their nuclear facilities—in large part because the costs significantly outweigh the benefits, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding—that holds. As a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has certain international obligations it's expected to meet. The six party talks Iran's participated in over its nuclear program, however, are not among the obligations. And Iran could withdraw from the treaty at any time, and then legally pursue a nuclear weapon.

That's the reality a lot of critics of the Iran deal don't want to admit. President Obama even briefly touched on it yesterday—a country won't do something just because America wants it to. For starters, the country's political leadership would have to be historically illiterate to even consider it. Following American diktats provide no guarantee of not becoming a target of American ire in the future (i.e. Qaddafi giving up WMDs and then getting regime-changed by the West anyway). Could the U.S. continue sanctions against Iran? Certainly. The Israeli government would appear to consider that a better option. But sanctions aren't effective at compelling compliance. Cuba's been the subject of sanctions for more than half a century—neither did the sanctions break the communist regime nor were they even able to accomplish the more limited goal of extracting reimbursements for property seized by the Cuban government. And, most importantly, sanctions rarely hurt the ruling class of a country. The Ayatollahs, the Castros, the Kims, they're all authoritarians of very different stripes, but none have known hunger or deprivation because of the sanctions their actions may have triggered.

Missing in the criticism of the framework for an Iranian deal, too, is that they apply only to Iran's nuclear program. Even if the deal is a success and every side abides by it, a number of U.S. sanctions against Iran which are unrelated to its nuclear program will remain. The Iran deal won't move Iran off the U.S. foreign policy establishment's list of enemy countries; it'll just clear one long-standing issue and source of regional tensions. There'll still be plenty more for political leaders in Washington, and Tehran, to posture about.