WASHINGTON – If you want a detailed but highly readable critique of Obama’s Iran’s nuclear deal, I strongly encourage you to read the excellent WSJ op-ed piece (The Iran Deal and Its Consequences, April 8, 2015) written by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. (As a passing comment, let me observe here that the most articulate advocates of the US national interest are two, long retired, former high officials, now well into their 80s. Where is everybody else?)
The basic point made by the two authors is that, based on what is publicly available, this deal at best will restrain Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and only for a limited period of time, (10 years). It will not stop, let alone reverse, Iran’s nuclear program. It will only freeze its most dangerous components to a level that will not allow Tehran to produce enough material to make a bomb.
This is to say that US policy gradually shifted from blocking Iran’s uranium enrichment program to regulating it; so that Iran, assuming it will abide by the terms of the treaty, for a 10 year period will not have a chance to go beyond the threshold that will make it effectively a nuclear weapons state.
Compliance and verification
The Obama administration wants us to believe that restraining Iran is a major US foreign policy achievement. Kissinger and Shultz disagree. Much will depend on how this deal will be enforced, they argue. Iran has a very poor record when it comes to full disclosure and true cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. And we are not even sure that we know exactly what is going on in so many dispersed facilities. And what if Iran has other secret installations we do not know about?
That said, do keep in mind that the deal, as far as we know, does not call for the dismantling of any nuclear facilities. It only calls for closing or re-purposing some of them. This being the case, at the very best, considering the limited duration of this agreement, even assuming full compliance, in 10 years Iran will be able to restart all its facilities and get nuclear weapons. Worst case scenario, Iran will cheat, a lot or a little; and it is not clear what the US is prepared to do, should such misbehavior occur.
From a political standpoint, let’s be clear that it would be very difficult to convince the entire international community to reimpose heavy economic sanctions in case of Iranian violations that at least some governments may be prepared to dismiss as minor.
Deal legitimizes Iran
That said, beyond compliance, it is clear that this deal will indirectly legitimize Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Gulf region and beyond. After signing a “historic” agreement with Washington and Europe, from pariah state Iran will be viewed by most as a legitimate player whose lawful nuclear program is now recognized by the US, the EU and other key states.
Please do keep in mind that the announced nuclear deal is silent on Iran’s misbehavior throughout the region. And so here are the political consequences. With a deal that in effect re-legitimizes its regime, Iran will continue to destabilize the Middle East, just as before, but now –and this is the crucial difference– with an indirect American blessing.
Indeed, it will be hard for President Obama to explain to the world that Iran is really trustworthy when it comes to respecting the nuclear deal, but it in fact a dangerous rogue state with bellicose intentions when it comes to the rest of its foreign policy.
Message to the Arabs: you are on your own
And this brings us to the last point made by the two co-authors. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states most likely will interpret this agreement as yet another sign of American disengagement. “No, we cannot stop Iran’s nuclear program. The best that Washington can do –dear Arab friends– is to slow it down. In effect, when it comes to major geo-political challenges in your Region –dear friends– from now on, we regret to inform you, you are on your own. Best of luck to you”.
This being the case, will Saudi Arabia buy insurance by developing nuclear capabilities at least equal to what the announced deal will allow Tehran to keep? And what will be the consequences of that? How will deterrence work in a truly unstable environment in which being irrational in the pursuit of ideological objectives is actually considered a virtue?
America should stay engaged
And so it is. Kissinger and Shultz do not recommend an outright rejection of a deal. However they issue a strong warning. Far from solving the problem, a deal with Iran creates many new problems that will require a proactive American engagement.
However, the Obama administration, now nearing its close, has given no signs that it intends to reinforce its political and military presence in the Middle East.
Translation: more troubles ahead.