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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