WASHINGTON – Regarding the just signed nuclear agreement with Iran, US President Barack Obama is right on one thing. This is the best deal we could get –under the circumstances. Indeed, whatever the critics may say, it is true that they are unable to come up with a better idea.
Yes, in principle, a really, really tough sanctions regime might have forced Iran into bankruptcy and therefore it would have forced the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. But such a tough sanctions regime assumes that the whole world would enforce the restrictions, no exceptions, for an indefinite period of time. And this is clearly a fantasy. The US would never get this unanimity.
No military option
Short of sanctions, there is nothing else. No, contrary to popular belief, the mighty US Air Force does not have the capability to destroy all the hardened Iranian nuclear installations, most of them built underground or inside mountains in order to be protected from attack. The so-called “military option” whereby the US Air Force, possibly supported by Israeli bombers, would mount surprise air raids and completely destroy each and every Iranian installation was also a fantasy.
Given all this, this is probably the best that we can get. And it is what it is. Look, in the best of circumstances, this agreement will delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And this is to our advantage.
High political price
However, this delay comes at a very high political price. Indeed, the unintended consequence of the smiles and handshakes in Vienna is that this deal signals Iran’s formal political “rehabilitation”.
No matter what Obama says about America and the West still having major differences with Iran on broader international issues, this agreement will be presented by the Iranians as proof that they can do business with the West and that therefore they are to be trusted.
Talking about trust, here we come to another unpleasant detail. The major weakness of this agreement is that deep down it is unverifiable and therefore unenforceable. Yes, there is plenty there about tough IAEA inspections. But, on closer look, the inspection regime has too many stages, too many committees, too many actors, too many opportunities to object, appeal and produce counter arguments. And this means that the inspections that will actually take place will find nothing.
If indeed IAEA inspectors could arrive unannounced, and inspect any facility at will, with no obstacles and no restrictions, I would think that this deal means something. But the inspections regime has been designed in a such a complicated way that it creates far too many opportunities for delays, obfuscation, deceptions and more on the part of the Iranians.
Therefore, based on Iranian past behavior, we can almost guarantee that they are already busy thinking about ways to circumvent or violate the agreement they just signed. We can rest assured that the Iranians will artfully manipulate the various stages of any inspection request to obtain delays in order to prevent the inspectors from gaining hard evidence of any misbehavior.
The best deal we could get
As I said, this is probably the best deal we could get –under the circumstances. But it is a very bad deal. A good deal would have eliminated any and all Iranian enrichment facilities and capabilities. This deal does not do that.
In the past the US was unable to prevent uranium enrichment on the part of the Iranians. This agreement puts some limits to enrichment. But it does not reverse it.
As Henry Kissinger put it a while ago, we have now moved from the era of preventing nuclear proliferation to a new era in which we are trying to manage it. As we have almost no way to exercise any real pressure against Iran, our best hope is that the Ayatollahs will observe this agreement, in good faith.
As much as I would like to, I just cannot believe that national leaders devoted to a messianic anti-Western ideology dressed up as true religion will actually behave towards us the way we would expect Great Britain or Finland to behave.