The ratification of the Iran nuclear agreement is set up mirror-opposite to what was specified for passage of a treaty in the Constitution. Instead of the two-thirds vote by the Senate in favor of the agreement envisioned for ratification by Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress will be required to kill the agreement, by overriding a certain presidential veto of a bill that would prevent the lifting of US sanctions. Even with this high hurdle to defeat, it is not a sure thing that the agreement will be approved. The lobbying by Israel and many of its friends in the US against it has been intense. There has been all sorts of speculation and either dire warnings or optimistic predictions about what will happen if the agreement is approved. Far less has been said about what will happen if it is not.
There have been criticisms of perceived flaws in the agreement: its inspection regime; the 24-day waiting period for outside inspectors to access suspicious facilities if Iran objects; the lifting of sanctions and the difficulty of reimposing them if Iran violates the agreement; the failure to compel full transparency on Iran’s past nuclear activity; the risk that Iran could build nuclear weapons after ten years. Many of the opponents of the deal, including Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have argued that they are not against an agreement in principle, just this “flawed” deal, and rejection will pave the way for a better deal that addresses the flaws.
If the agreement is not approved, what is lost? The opponents’ implicit assumption is that after negotiating for over two years, the US’s fellow G5+1 nations—Great Britain, France, China, Russia, plus Germany—will return to the negotiating table to craft an agreement more to the critics’ liking. The assumption is absurd. Iran has said that if the deal is rejected it will not return to the table and redouble its commitment to its nuclear program. Why would the US’s negotiating partners try to negotiate a “better” agreement with no assurance that it too would not be rejected by Israel and its friends in the US? New negotiations simply would not happen; it’s this deal or no deal.
Flawed as the agreement may be, if there is no deal, it’s benefits will be lost, and its flaws will be amplified. With no deal, assuming no new negotiations, there is not be a flawed inspection regime; there will be no inspections at all. The opponents of the deal cite every “Death to America” chant in Iran, from mullahs down to the man on the Tehran street, as proof positive that Iran means to destroy America. If we must take those Iranians at their words then is it also not logical to take the leadership at its word, particularly its threat to redouble its commitment to the nuclear program?
Consider the perspective of those Iranian hardliners who are opposed to the agreement. Like certain American hardliners, they may have been opposed to the whole idea of negotiations. With some justification they might have noted that: the US and Great Britain deposed Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953 and installed a loathed puppet; the US made Iran a pariah state after the 1979 revolution, ostensibly because of the student hostage crisis, but actually because of Iran’s refusal to stay in the US orbit; a US Navy vessel in Iranian waters, the Vincennes, shot down civilian Iran Air Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 aboard, and the US never formally apologized; the US supported the aggressor, Saddam Hussein, in Iraq’s war on Iran. Why, the hardliners might ask, should Iran trust the US?
The hardliners could justifiably argue that sanctions aside, Iran has done pretty well for itself being a US enemy. The US took down the hated Saddam Hussein and has made Iraq a virtual Iranian satellite, cleared the Taliban, an Iranian enemy, out of next door Afghanistan, and through its blundering in the Middle East created massive blowback and fomented anti-American sentiment that has increased anti-America Iran’s stature in the region. With enemies like the US, who needs friends?
And what happens to the US’s so-called friends in the Middle East, or even those who were not friends but who nevertheless have toed the US line? Saddam Hussein was once a friend of the US. So was Hosni Mubarak. Bashar Assad was hailed in the US as the face of Syrian progressivism and reform. Muammar Gaddafi abandoned his nuclear aspirations, apologized for the Lockerbie tragedy and made restitution, curtailed his support for terrorism, and tried to make nice-nice with the West. Look what’s happened to those guys. Who would argue with the hardliners’ assertion that Iran’s better off as an enemy?
There’s one last point the hardliners can make. If the agreement were to go through, it would open doors in Iran to the US. That might prompt the meddling US government, through it’s nongovernmental organizations (a misnomer if there ever was one) and intelligence agencies, to monkey around in Iranian politics, perhaps fomenting an “Iranian spring” and one of its trademark color revolutions. Any of you guys, the hardliners might ask, want to be the next Victor Yanukovych, that poor slob in Ukraine?
If the agreement is rejected, the hardliners will have all the ammunition they need: we told you so, the US can’t be trusted. They can’t help but have noticed that there’s one group of nations the US shies away from either militarily confronting or messing with their internal politics—nuclear-armed nations. Even the corrupt crazies in North Korea and Pakistan get a pass. So kick out the present corps of inspectors, pull down the veil of secrecy, and full speed ahead on an Iranian nuclear bomb. Instead of the 6,000 legacy-technology centrifuges specified in the agreement, fire up all 20,000, and make sure they’re state of the art. Forget eliminating 98 percent of the uranium stockpile and forget that 3.67 purity ceiling; start enriching the full stockpile to the 90 percent purity necessary for a bomb. And forget dismantling the core of the heavy water reactor at Arak; the plutonium will be used in the bombs.
If the agreement is rejected by the US, Iran will have every incentive to redirect its nuclear program (allowed to it as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel and Pakistan are not), to the development of nuclear weapons. Opponents of the agreement argue that current sanctions can be maintained and tightened. The US has sanctioned Iran since 1979, but sanctions only started to bite when multilateral sanctions were imposed. How willing will the rest of the G5+1, especially Russia and China, be to maintain these multilateral sanctions if the US rejects the agreement? Russia and China regard Iran as an ally and an important part of their Euro-Asian economic development and political cooperation plans. They will nix sanctions, and it would surprise no one if they sold Iran defensive radar and missile systems and more nuclear technology. Europe’s companies are anxious for access to Iran’s oil and its consumer market. Great Britain, France, and Germany’s businesses and governments will be resentful of US rejection and also unenthusiastic about maintaining sanctions.
There is little possibility, if the US rejects the agreement, that sanctions will be maintained by the other members of the G5+1, and no possibility they’ll be tightened. What then will the US and Israel have to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons? With no ability inside Iran to monitor its activities, other than whatever penetration their intelligence agencies can manage, won’t they be susceptible to false or doctored intelligence and claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, even if it is not? If US policymakers believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons, what option will they have to stop them, other than war? The dominant wing of the Republican party has pressed for a US reordering of the Middle East since before 9/11. Taking out the fundamentalist regime in Iran has been a central goal. By rejecting the agreement, they may get the war with Iran they’ve so long desired.
If the US is not already all in on the Middle East, after it launches a war against Iran, it will be. US forays in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya leave no room for optimism about the outcome. The military obstacles to eliminating an Iranian nuclear bomb program would be formidable, especially if Russia and China provided either direct military support or weaponry and defensive systems. The costs would be monumental and coupled with a probable jolt to oil prices, almost certainly disastrous for US financial assets and its economy. The blowback to a US and Israel attack on Iran would make previous blowback look like a summer breeze. It is not just that the attack would come from the two most hated nations in the region, but that it would be directed against the marquee Shiite nation, presumably with at least the tacit acquiescence and probably the active encouragement of the region’s Sunni nations—Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. An attack against Iran would add explosive fuel to the ongoing conflagration, a jihadist’s dream, and would spread far beyond the Middle East.
Which may be exactly what Iran wants, if you believe the worst that is being said about its leaders. Those apocalyptic Iranians would have their jihad and apocalypse, at the end of which—they’re hoping—America would be in ruins and a global caliphate would emerge supreme, the supposed goal of their grand plan. This may also be exactly what President Obama wants, too, if you believe the charge that he is a Muslim or a fellow traveler and wants to bring down America. So if one wants to believe the very worst about Iran’s leaders and Obama, they both may be secretly hoping that the agreement is rejected, perhaps even surreptitiously maneuvering to ensure that outcome. If it is rejected, Iran will say that they tried, but America wanted war. And if that war comes about and it’s another disaster, the American people will know exactly whom to blame. It won’t be the man who said the alternative to his agreement is war.
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