Iran

What If Iran Cheats?

America is far from helpless if nuclear deal is bypassed.

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Credit: blondinrikard / photo on flickr

Barack Obama's critics think he has made two mistakes with the Iranians. The first was reaching a deal on their nuclear program. The second was thinking they would abide by it. 

It's a mystery why, after allegedly tricking us into giving them everything they wanted, the Iranians would be so eager to evade these easy terms. But that's what the detractors expect. "I think we have to assume that they will cheat on the deal," said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. 

Worse yet, they'll get away with it. In this scenario, Iran will renege on one obligation after another, block inspectors and string out every dispute—and the countries that signed the deal will let it slide. "There will be a series of small, incremental violations like that, that ultimately over time will wear down the enforcement mechanism," predicts Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. 

Let's consider the threat of cheating. One complaint is that the accord allows Iran to delay inspections of some sites for up to 24 days or more, making it easy to clean them up before the inspectors arrive. In fact, it wouldn't be easy, because nuclear materials linger—not for weeks, but for centuries. 

Back in 2003, when it was suspected of conducting forbidden nuclear experiments at one facility, Iran blocked International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors for more than six months. But when inspectors finally got in, they were able to detect telltale residues. 

What if Iran were able to cover up something nefarious? A report from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard notes that under the terms of the deal, even if Iran "is able to successfully hide and remove evidence, the U.S. (and other governments) could still conclude that Iran was cheating." We don't have to prove guilt. Iran has to prove innocence. 

To opponents of the agreement, none of this matters. Even if we catch the Iranians doing something prohibited, they'll get away with it because no one will have the stomach to challenge them. The theory is that once Iran is open for business, companies in Europe, Russia and China will be making too much money for their governments to interfere. So they'll pretend everything is fine. 

Guess what? Even if those other countries wimp out, it won't matter. If the IAEA has a dispute with Iran, the issue will go to a commission, representing seven governments (including the U.S.) as well as the European Union. If any of them is not satisfied with Iran's conduct, it can send the complaint to the UN Security Council. 

Sanctions would "snap back" unless the security council votes not to restore sanctions—and it takes just one country (say, us) using its veto to prevent that from happening. In practice, the U.S. will hold all the cards. We can impose economic retribution on Iran even if all our negotiating partners object.

But take the worst-case scenario. Suppose Iran commits a violation and our partners devise some ingenious way to block sanctions. Then what? The U.S. would still have the ultimate recourse: military action. 

Any Republican in the White House would launch air strikes rather than let Iran renege. And if I were an Iranian, I wouldn't bet that Hillary Clinton—who voted for the Iraq war and urged Obama to bomb in Libya as well as Syria—would look the other way. 

Besides, two powerful factors would impel any American president to blow something up. The first is the intense scrutiny any violation would elicit—from the IAEA, Israel, Saudi Arabia, congressional Republicans and the news media. 

The second is that the president would have no real alternative. If the Iranians violate the deal, they will be informing the world that diplomacy has been a waste of time. Having tried the peaceful route, the president would be under strong pressure to use force—and would have excellent grounds to do so. 

Here are the facts Iran has to face: Any violations of the deal will be detected and exposed. When that happens, Iran will be hit with the painful economic sanctions it made this deal to escape. Or it will face military action, another outcome this deal was supposed to avert. 

The critics think if this deal goes through, there will be more cheating in Iran than in a country music playlist. But the Iranians have probably figured out what those country songs attest: If you're cheating tonight, you'll be crying tomorrow. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. I always thought iran’s nuclear weapons program made some degree of sense. Its neighbor was attacked and occupied by a country that it did not threaten or attack in any way. So, why wouldn’t the leaders of Iran– seeing what happened to its neighbor who did not possess a nuclear weapon– try to develop one in reaction to a very real threat to its security? If Iran could conceivably argue that it would use nuclear weapons in a war with the U.S. That would probably give pause to any douchebag Republican who wanted to let a hundred flowers bloom in Teheran and the ME.

    1. There are two types of nations on this earth…those with nukes and puppets. Puppets get stomped on occasionally by the US so it can certainly be advantageous to get nukes.

      1. I am not disputing that the US occasionally stomps about on those that cannot defend themselves. But please dont pretend that we are the ONLY ones stomping about. This doesn’t necessarily put us in good company, of course, but we are not alone.

        1. which other countries are stomping about in say the past several decades?

          1. I would contend that China and Russia have done a fair amount of stomping. Anyone who allied with us in the Iraq war and sent troops did a bit of stomping. That would include France and GB, at the very least.

            Is that fair?

            1. What countries has China invaded? The Iraq war was orchestrated by the US. Had the US not been foaming at the mouth to invade Iraq, no other country would have. Russia is simply taking back what is theirs…internal affairs. Not saying Russia is right, but Crimea/Ukraine are not exactly the same as the US and Iraq,Libya,Panama,etc…

              1. Hey, that’s not fair! Did you forget that Saddam was behind 9/11??!!??!

              2. Well, China HAS claimed an entire sea…

    2. Right. As if Democrats wouldn’t vote to authorize military action.

      Also. You’re forgetting one little problem in your assessment.

      Iran is not Arab and is surrounded by Arab countries. I’m pretty sure they’re a little jittery with the notion of Iran getting the bomb.

      1. Iran is not Arab and is surrounded by Arab countries. I’m pretty sure they’re a little jittery with the notion of Iran getting the bomb.

        There’s just something about Muslims with nukes that quite understandably make the rest of the world jittery. It’s kind of terrifying that Pakistan has nukes, given the fact that’s it’s essentially a terrorist state and seemingly at any point ready to be taken over by the likes of ISIS or the Taliban.

        1. Absolutely.

          A country like India having it doesn’t worry me much.

          1. India has stability and a modicum of better adherence to western political philosophy which gives them something resembling the rule of law et cetera. Pakistan meanwhile has one of the most barbaric societies on earth dominated by one of the most violence inducing political, social and religious philosophies that still plagues the modern world.

      2. A majority of Congressional Democrats voted against the authorization to use force against Iraq–including people like bernie sanders. It’s important to remember that there were actually people opposed to going to war in Iraq.

        1. AS has a good point. Not everyone supported the war in Iraq.

          Like, you know, most (all?) Libertarians.

          1. You should read the articles here at Reason around 2003– particularly by its “science” correspondent, who thankfully seems to be sticking to writing about efforts by techies to become “transhuman” these days– and tell me how anti war libertarians were back then.

            1. You seem to assume, incorrectly, that Reason and the Reason Foundation speaks for libertarianism. This would not be correct.

              I have been reading Reason magazine since the mid 90s, on and off, and I would doubt strongly that any Libertarian (or libertarian) would be willing to say “Yep, Reason Mag is always spot on and walks the party line perfectly every time!”

              On the other hand, transhumanism is fucking awesome.

    3. You mean like the douchebag Republican who initiated a kinetic military action, without Congressional approval, against a North African nation that had voluntarily surrendered its nuclear program? What was the name of that douchebag Republican president again?

      1. Putin?

        1. Putin is the Republicans wet dream for what a US President should be.

    4. If that’s your reasoning, then every country that borders a country that has nuclear weapons should have them. If that’s the case…

      You. Are. Insane.

      Countries that put less of a value on life, such as Muslim countries, should have everything possible done to avoid them acquiring nuclear weapons.

      I don’t like nuclear weapons at all, but they’re here, and you have to deal with reality. Reality is non-proliferation. I trust any US President, or even Putin, more than I trust any Mullah or Iranian Ayatollah.

      1. ” I trust any US President, or even Putin, more than I trust any Mullah or Iranian Ayatollah.”

        Why? Iran hasn’t invaded anyone, didn’t start the Iran-Iraq war, and doesn’t possess or even have plans for an ICBM system that could remotely reach the U.S. This country, on the other hand, dropped two bombs on cities that killed 250,000 people of which around 240,000 were civilians. Truman called them military targets so I guess that’s ok.

        Want to know the number of times a u.s. President has drawn up plans to use nuclear weapons in a tactical setting or to promote diplomacy by other means? It ain’t zero.

        1. “Why? ”

          “Death to America” ring a bell?

          MAD presupposed actors who didn’t want to die.

          You may not have a problem with people who think they’ll go to heaven by suicide bombing others getting The Bomb, but that just indicates that you’re crazy pants. Big, shiny crazy pants.

          1. Comical to think people in the street have any say whatsoever in Iran using a nuclear device. You honestly think the rulers of Iran are ready to lose power by doing something so stupid? LOL. You really are an idiot.

            1. If it was only the “people in the streets” who were religious fanatics, you might have a case. But the Iranian Theocracy means the ones who hold the reins of power are, maybe even more than the PITS, the religious fanatics.
              Losing “power” is a small price to pay for the paradise that is offered for punishing infidels by bringing down Armageddon so that the Madi can rise.
              Do some research on what shiite muslims believe.

              1. Some people just can’t quite understand that some religious people *really mean it*.

        2. “Why? ”

          “Death to America” ring a bell?

          MAD presupposed actors who didn’t want to die.

          You may not have a problem with people who think they’ll go to heaven by suicide bombing others getting The Bomb, but that just indicates that you’re crazy pants. Big, shiny crazy pants.

        3. I didn’t think a bunch of Islamic terrorists could fly a plane into a building and kill 3,000 people on 9/10, but it did.

          We dropped two bombs on Japan during a global conflict. Apples and oranges to anyone with enough of a brain to make a comparison within prosper perspective. The notion that Japan would have surrendered (unconditionally) to fend off an impending Russian invasion is still speculation.

          North Korea hasn’t invaded anyone since the 50’s. Who wants them to have full nuclear program and let them pick and choose the inspection? Gee, not South Korea or Japan. But at least NK is a puppet state and surrounded by advanced nations.

          Nuclear weapons can be portable. They don’t have to shoot missiles at nations. They need one fanatic and a suitcase.

    5. Iran’s horribly victimized neighbor, Iraq, started a war, lost and then failed to meet the surrender terms. Now, they might have gotten away with that indefinitely, but then some idiot kicked the nations those surrender terms were with in the nuts, and suddenly said nation not longer had a lot of patience with people screwing around. Imagine that!

      Your attempt to depict Saddam’s Iraq as an innocent victim would be funnier if I thought you didn’t mean it.

    6. Its neighbor occupied a neighboring country and a broad coalition of nations defeated its effort, forcing it into a cease-fire agreement that, among other things, included a mandate that it destroy any WMD’s – as proven to have existed through its use of them on the KURDS.
      That neighbor of Iran thumbed its nose at the international community for twelve years, earning 14 UN resolutions demanding it comply with the agreement.
      Its refusal to destroy its WMD’s indicated a threat to its neighbors and, through the possibility of supplying them to terrorists, the U.S. and that, coupled with recent intelligence, from numerous countries, of recent efforts to expand its stockpiles, convinced sufficient U.S. legislators to re-ignite the war, that wasn’t satisfactorily ended.

      Your re-write of history is typical of those who ascribe to the ideology of your screen name.

  2. Then what? The U.S. would still have the ultimate recourse: military action.

    I’m pretty sure Obama guaranteed that his Iran deal precludes the chance of war.

    1. the stupid is strong with this one

    2. We’ll have to wait until the Iranians cross a red line. And then cross it a few more times presumably.

    3. No, it depends on what the definition of “is” is.

      He strictly didn’t say there *wouldn’t* be a war with the deal, only that the other option was war.

      Basically, it’s war in our time, or war a few years later. When Iran has The Bomb. That’ll be much better.

  3. An entire article about Iran and no mention of Israel.

    Skillful.

    1. Who cares? That is not our country.

  4. Scott Horton on the Tom Woods show regarding the Iran deal and Rand Paul’s response:
    http://podbay.fm/show/71682589…..utostart=0

    Richard Epstein on the Iran deal:
    http://podbay.fm/show/94400398…..utostart=0

    Two very different perspectives on this issue…it’s been a difficult one for me to parse out, particularly because I haven’t read the direct text of the deal. I can identify with Scott Horton’s case that the danger posed by Iran has been historically overstated, but Epstein’s assessment of the poor negotiating process resonates with me as well.

    I agree that engaging in military action, if done correctly, would not be all that difficult for us. However, I echo the sentiment that I see from others here that something about the whole situation makes me nervous.

  5. Scott Horton on the Tom Woods show regarding the Iran deal and Rand Paul’s response:
    http://podbay.fm/show/71682589…..utostart=0

    Yeah I listened to that podcast a few weeks ago. A very good telling of events.

  6. This point is utter BS:
    “The second is that the president would have no real alternative. If the Iranians violate the deal, they will be informing the world that diplomacy has been a waste of time.”
    I’m pretty sure their activities to date have already confirmed that diplomacy has been a consistent failure See the link for details on a history of deceit and non compliance.

    https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R40094.pdf

    Iran isn’t the most trustworthy of countries to make deals with. Caveat emptor.

    1. The United States is? ROFL

  7. “It’s a mystery why, after allegedly tricking us into giving them everything they wanted, the Iranians would be so eager to evade these easy terms.”

    That’s how we know you don’t have a clue.

    The negotiations that counted were among the countries imposing sanctions. Iran got what they wanted once the sanctions issue was reopened. By coming to an “agreement” with Iran, we unraveled the sanctions regime.

    Sure, the US can impose their own unilateral sanctions, but that will be nowhere nearly as effectively as concerted sanctions from all the major world powers.

    Sanctions are over. There will never be comprehensive sanctions again. Iran got what they wanted.

    Having got what they wanted up front, they of course will have no interest paying the *price* written into the agreement on the back end.

    That you would find this mysterious demonstrates yet again the general clueless nature around here about foreign policy.

    Yay! Theocratic totalitarians on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons! Mission accomplished! Reason wins!

    1. And if they don’t comply, we have to go to war with them because we promised.

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  9. This is annoying. So we’re banking on our threat of force to keep the Iranians from trying to get a nuclear weapon?

    Isn’t that one reason why we had to go to Iraq? Because we promised we would.

    Threats like these bring us closer to war.

  10. The monomaniacal drive that some people have to explain how the “Iran Deal” is just swell, and nobody reasonable could possibly object to it just convinces me that Barak Obama has, once again, demonstrated his uncanny knack for taking any foreign policy problem and making a complete clusterfuck of it.

    I trust that Mr. Chapman will have no objection if, when Iran proves to be untrustworthy and the Democrats prove massively uninterested in doing anything about it, I have a tattoo artist come and mark his forehead with a large baroque “Idiot”?

    1. Bingo. You nailed it. Having an academic discussion about a Iran using a primary assumption that they will act rationally – is insane.

  11. [Suppose Iran commits a violation and our partners devise some ingenious way to block sanctions. Then what? The U.S. would still have the ultimate recourse: military action.]
    Wait! What?

    So it has come to this? Americans would feel justified to attack a much smaller, weaker country, not in retaliation for an attack on the United States but because of some treaty violation.
    Why wouldn’t that be a war crime?
    How does that make any sense?

    1. Ultimately, that s what backs up a treaty. That is what backs up ALL law.

      1. Sooooooo, the threat of war doesn’t come from Iran. The war monger is the USA, land of the rule of law, eh?

  12. Has the United States never cheated? The United States cheated when they deposed Iran’s democratically elected president in 1953. The United States has cheated with its sanctions and military bases surrounding Iran.

    Iran is not the terrorist regime. The terrorist regime world wide is the United States. In the last 50 years the United States has terrorized Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, Libya, Honduras, El Salvador and Ukraine. The United States has removed and assassinated leaders from Chile and Argentina. And were calling Iran a terrorist regime?

    No. The terrorist regime is the United States.

    1. Meet the Sheldon Richman sock puppet.

      Because one just wasn’t enough.

  13. Iran signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel did not.
    Iran hasn’t attacked its neighbors. Israel has.
    Iran hasn’t attacked Americans. Israel tried to sink the USS Liberty.
    Seems to me that this deal should have said, no nukes for Iran and Israel.

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