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Examining the arguments for the Iran deal

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
The most common argument of the deal’s supporters is that this deal is the best that was possible.

The glory day finally arrived – we have a historic Iran deal that will save the world from a nuclear- armed Iran and will bring the proud Iranian nation back into the world community. And supporters of the deal have plenty of arguments … 

But before getting into them, let’s analyze the setup first. As with any negotiations, it matters a lot (to the point of being the deciding factor) who needs the deal more. Clearly, for the Iranian negotiating team and for its supreme leader, any result of the negotiations would have been a win. They are winners now after they got an incredibly good deal (in fact, so good, that Khamenei banned everyone from complaining about it) but they would have been winners even if there were no deal since they would have said that they had stood up to “the arrogant power” and defended Iran’s independence and dignity. For President Barack Obama, on the other hand, only one outcome was acceptable: a deal — meaning, therefore, any deal, all his words of “walking away” and “military force” notwithstanding. Indeed, no deal would have meant a complete failure of his entire international policies and a huge blow to his legacy.

Now we can get to the most common argument of the deal’s supporters: This deal is the best that was possible. And guess what – they are correct in this (and only this) … just like the “best” price one will get for his gold watch in a pawn shop because he is desperate and the pawn broker is not. So like a guy who needs money and has no choice but to pawn his watch for any price to get it, Obama positioned himself into a no choice situation virtually guaranteeing that the other side will dictate the conditions.

Many deal defenders say that the only alternative to the agreement, however imperfect it is, is war, and that is much worse since a war with Iran would be even worse than the one with Iraq and America and the world will suffer devastating consequences. Well, imagine FDR thinking that way after Pearl Harbor: This will be much worse than WW I, and Japan and Germany may do us great harm. And if America cannot manage a war with Iran, it should quit pretending to be a superpower and let China and Russia run the world. On the other hand, saying that the war is always an option is incorrect since Iran is upgrading its air defense (with Russian help) and very soon the air assault will become much more costly.

Of course, the Iraq war is the stick against which everything is measured. But that war itself (I emphasize here: the military campaign, not ridiculous attempts to build a democracy there) was a huge success: quick and decisive victory with minimal casualties. The Iraqi army was defeated and Saddam’s government was gone within a few weeks. None of the problems predicted by the war opponents materialized: Saddam did not have a chance to attack American bases or inflict significant casualties as he bragged he would, the war on its own did not destabilize the Middle East, and no increase in terrorism against the U.S. occurred either. So forsaking a war with Iran because Iraq’s reconstruction was ill-advised is the same as swearing off going to any future wedding after drunkenly getting into a fight and breaking an arm at another wedding.

Speaking of Iraq, the other supporters’ pitch is that the intelligence community supports this agreement. But weren’t those people so wrong on Iraq? Supporters are ready to embrace them now after denouncing them for falsehood then – not a very consistent position. And Secretary of State John Kerry’s frightening us with a dollar collapse is just fear mongering: Nothing like that happened before or after the Iraq war, and economists don’t take it seriously.

But even the inevitability of a war without a deal is not that clear. If America negotiates from the position of force rather than desperation, a much better deal may be possible. Of course, Iran’s supreme leader does not care how ordinary Iranians live (just as North Korea’s “dear leader” is not concerned with his people dying of hunger), so economic sticks and carrots are not that significant. What he cares about is his personal survival and the survival of the system. And that is where the emphasis should be put during negotiations. So accusing the deal opponents that they want to go to war is unfair because going to war and being ready to go to war are two totally different things. President John F. Kennedy was ready to go to war in 1962, and that is why the war actually never happened.

Some also say that America managed to have agreements with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms, but that is also misguided. The worst-case scenario with the Soviet Union if it did not fulfill its obligation would have been the status quo – the situation would not have gotten worse if it did not destroy some nuclear heads or missiles as promised. With Iran it is totally different: If it reneges on its promises, the situation will get significantly worse since Iran will have nuclear weapons that it does not have now. And if it gets nukes, it will have free rein to do what it wants even without actually using them: Just imagine it invading Kuwait; would America and the world dare to try kicking it out? And I am not even talking about the religious fanaticism of Iranian leadership – never a factor in the Soviet leaders’ thinking, at least after the 1920s.

Oh, I forgot about another argument – this deal reduces the chances of Iran’s getting nukes. Sure, wearing a helmet while jumping off the bridge will reduce the chances of getting killed — but is it good enough? Snapping sanctions back if Iran cheats is a delusion – Russia would never agree to that, and neither will Europe with all new economic developments. And saying that after this deal expires Iran would still be under obligations of a Non-Proliferation Treaty is laughable since it was under those obligations when it started building nukes.

So let’s not forget that “historic” only means “important in history” without specifying in which way and try to find the right way to move things in a positive direction.

Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minnesota.  

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 08/21/2015 - 10:54 am.

    Accurate reporting?

    Two problems with the piece leapt out to me:

    1) The article says: Now we can get to the most common argument of the deal’s supporters: This deal is the best that was possible.” In fact, I think the most basic argument of supporters like myself is that no better deal is available at this point, so the alternative is no deal, not a better deal. (And the results of no deal are truly scary for Israel and the rest of the world.)

    2) With regard to the second Iraq war, the article says “But that war itself (I emphasize here: the military campaign, not ridiculous attempts to build a democracy there) was a huge success: quick and decisive victory with minimal casualties.” But no war is just the military campaign; the effects of the military campaign are inherent parts of a war. The first and second Iraq wars both featured military victories, but the first has come to be considered a successful war and the second a failure. One was focused on correcting a real problem and the second on carrying out a hidden agenda (whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, the connection between Saddam Hussein and 911 was non-existent) . The first war recognized the consequences of destroying a dictatorship in a culturally complex society, the second was blithely ignorant of the inevitable internal dynamics that would be loosed.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/21/2015 - 12:45 pm.

    War

    I don’t know if war is inevitable if the Iran deal is rejected, but the logic for such a war is compelling, and conservatives revere logic.

    The fact is, rejection of the deal, means a continuation of the status quo which means an Iranian nuclear weapon sooner, rather than later or never. If Iran in possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, the only alternative is war. The logic is as simple and as compelling as that.

    It isn’t reasonable or it isn’t necessary to argue that this is the best possible deal. Lots of different deals were undoubtedly possible, some of them with better features some of them with worse.The more relevant question is whether this deal is better than the status quo, you know, the one where Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is pretty much imminent. That status quo with no inspections.The status quo that will compel us once again to go to war in the middle east.

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 08/21/2015 - 09:28 pm.

    Logic is great

    Mr. Adams, I do not see much difference between “this deal is the best that was possible” and “no better deal is available” – it is practically the same thing. If one can’t get a better deal on a hotel, it means that his deal was the best possible… So the alternative was a worse deal, not necessarily no deal… And what is that scary result of no deal that Israel doesn’t understand? And isn’t it a little condescending to think that Obama and Kerry know what a better deal for Israel is better than Israel? And I did mention an alternative better deal: talk force and make Iran give up nukes completely.

    Yes, you are correct: the effects of the military campaign are inherent parts of a war. But the reconstruction after the second Iraq war was not the effect of the military campaign but a conscious decision by the Bush administration to help Iraqis. If he withdrew from Iraq right after catching Saddam, the effects would have been entirely different. Remember, Libya gave up its nuclear program as the result of this war… and Iran could have been next. So the problem wasn’t “destroying a dictatorship in a culturally complex society” but attempts to replace that dictatorship with democracy instead of replacing a dictator…

    Mr. Foster, please re-read my article: rejection of this deal does NOT mean a continuation of the status quo. So one more time: All supporters of the deal are saying that Iranian leadership is not suicidal. On the other hand, I hope that no one doubts that in a real war with Iran America will win meaning that Iranian leadership will be destroyed. So logically (yes, I respect logic very much and hopefully so are you) Iranian leaders will agree to give up nukes if faced with certain destruction in a war (of course, killing Kaddafi spoils this logic a little bit but it still works: destruction in a war will be faster than in a possible uprising supported by America).

    And of course, even the status quo is not that bad as Iran is under sanctions making it more difficult for them to do anything… And finally, who said that this deal which will lead to a war later (see my point about “reduced” chances) is better than a war now?

    By the way, I am glad that most of my points seemed to be agreed upon…

    • Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 08/22/2015 - 07:01 pm.

      Better deal?

      The point some of us are trying to make is that discussion of the quality of the deal avoids the more important issue. This is the deal that exists, whether it is better or worst than some other hypothetical deal. The question is not whether or not a better deal could have been negotiated in the past, but whether or not a better deal could be negotiated in the future. You seem to pin your hope on the power of stronger threats of violence against Iran. You also seem to view nations in simplistic terms, as if all Israel has the same view of the deal and all Iranians will react to U.S. threats with fear rather than anger. Being willing to follow through with military threats and topping the power structure by force. It sounds a lot like the mindset thatt led us into the second Iraq war?

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 08/22/2015 - 07:19 pm.

        good and bad

        Mr. Adams, this deal exists because Obama negotiated it from the position of weakness and fear and therefore its existence should not be a factor. If one has negotiated a mortgage at 10% but is told that there is a way to negotiate an 8% deal if his wife’s income is taken into account, he should do it. Same here: If by using a different approach America may have a better deal, it should be done. So yes, a better deal may be negotiates in the future. But even what kind of deal was negotiated in the past matters since it shows us what we can expect from the Obama administration in the future enforcement of this deal.

        Of course not all Israelis look at this the same way – I was talking about Israel’s elected government and most Israelis – nothing simplistic about that. And yes, being willing to use the military force is what led us to winning the WWII and in the Cuban crisis. Indeed, it also led us to quick victory in Iraq war. What happened after that (reconstruction) is irrelevant: win the war with Iran, and then do NOT do reconstruction there based on the Iraq experience.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/22/2015 - 06:20 am.

    rejection of this deal does

    rejection of this deal does NOT mean a continuation of the status quo.

    The status quo has no deal, so rejection of this deal means a continuation of it. And there seems to be no doubt at at all that a continuation of the status quo means that Iran will have nuclear weapons in short order, something admitted by the deal’s strongest critics.

    History in general, and the middle east are full of leaders who have proven suicidal. Saddam Hussein was one recent prominent exception. What evidence do you have that the Iranian leaders are not?

  5. Submitted by rolf westgard on 08/22/2015 - 07:05 am.

    Huge success

    When the author says that the Iraq War was a “huge success” we have a gauge to value the quality of the entire article.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 08/22/2015 - 11:13 am.

    More logic

    “The status quo has no deal, so rejection of this deal means a continuation of it.” This is about as logical as to say that if am awake now and do not fall asleep immediately, I will always be awake… The rejection of the deal will mean that there is no immediate deal and after that there may be a status quo, a different deal, more sanctions, etc.

    “And there seems to be no doubt at all that a continuation of the status quo means that Iran will have nuclear weapons in short order, something admitted by the deal’s strongest critics.” Stating this as a fact does not make it a fact. Actually, there is strong contention that this deal will mean that Iran will have nuclear weapons shortly. There is absolutely no support for a theory that status quo will lead to Iran’s nukes; in fact, if current sanctions (i.e. status quo) prevented Iran from getting nukes so far (a constant theme of Obama administration), they will be preventing it in the future – that is why it is called status quo.

    Here is another thing: you probably didn’t notice but I never said that I think Iranian leadership is not suicidal; I said most liberals and deal supporters say that (just read the latest Chomski’s piece). So I proceeded to show a logical flaw in liberal thinking about this deal which denies that Iran may be forced to abandon its nukes. And of course, if Iranian leadership is suicidal as you assert, there is no reason to have any agreement with them at all.

    Mr. Westgard, I specifically indicated that by war I meant military campaign, not the entire affair. I hope you can see the difference.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/23/2015 - 07:10 am.

    The status quo is that Iran is on a path to acquire nuclear weapons soon. Even the harshest critics of this deal acknowledge that. The deal provides for inspections which might very well slow that process. Critics of the deal apparently are against those inspections which will allow the Iranian nuclear weapons program to proceed at it’s current pace. I don’t think that makes sense.

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 08/23/2015 - 01:18 pm.

    Slowing down is not good enough

    Mr. Foster, Iran is on a path to nuclear weapons – no one disputes that (except some extreme left). The deal provides for inspections (some) that might (or might not) slow the process but not stop it as you acknowledge. Critics of the deal are against the deal which just slows the process at best but not eliminate all chances. They want a deal (or whatever it takes) to guarantee that Iran will not have nukes.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/24/2015 - 01:40 pm.

    Iran is on a path to nuclear weapons – no one disputes that (except some extreme left).

    That seems to be widely agreed. And I think it’s the consensus that under the status quo, they will acquire them relatively soon.

    “The deal provides for inspections (some) that might (or might not) slow the process but not stop it as you acknowledge.”

    I think that’s also agreed. Among other things, this is a dispute between those who want inspections and those who don’t.

    “Critics of the deal are against the deal which just slows the process at best but not eliminate all chances.”

    Why are critics in favor of keeping Iran’s nuclear program at it’s present, fast pace. Why do they take a position which will in all likelihood result in Iran having nuclear weapons sooner rather than later?

    ” They want a deal (or whatever it takes) to guarantee that Iran will not have nukes.”

    That’s nice for them, but what impact do their subjective desires have on Iran’s real world nuclear program? The one that both supporters and critics of these deal acknowledge will lead to Iran havingg nuclear weapons soon? Since we are already on track for what is pretty close to the worst case scenario, what do we have to lose by making a deal which has at least some prospect of avoiding it?

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 08/25/2015 - 09:46 pm.

    Consensus and not

    There is absolutely no consensus that under the status quo, Iran will acquire them relatively soon. You just state what you assume is right but it is wrong because, as I said before, under status quo the sanctions will stay and Iran will not have money. And this is not a dispute between those who wants inspections and those who doesn’t. It’s a dispute between those who wants inspection to reduce the chances of nuclear Iran and those who wants inspections to prevent it from getting nukes. If the deal included total dismantling of Iranian nuclear program, we would all be for the deal and for inspections. So the critics of the deal want a deal that will take the program apart, not keep it for future use.

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