Obama’s false choice on Iran

President Obama has defended his deal with Iran on the theory that “we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.” Obama added that “tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”

Obama’s defense is based on he calls a “false choice” and what others call question-begging.

The imposition of sanctions is a peaceful option for dealing with Iran. Therefore, to lighten, and eventually end, the sanctions regime is not to embrace a “peaceful solution” at the expense of a non-peaceful one.

Moreover, even those who advocate going beyond sanctions to military measures are not ruling out peaceful solutions unless it can be shown that such solutions exist. The question, then, is whether a particular deal with Iran actually is a solution to the problem posed by its progress towards obtaining nuclear weapons.

Obama begs this question. He also begs the question of whether a better deal could have been obtained through harder bargaining, persisting with sanctions for a while longer, and/or adding new ones.

In reality, both sanctions and an Obama-style deal are unlikely to prevent Iran from going nuclear. But sanctions nonetheless are the better option. For one thing, they increase the likelihood of regime change. That, of course, is why Iran came to the negotiating table.

In addition, sanctions reduce Iran’s influence in the region. By making the regime cash poor, we make it more difficult for the mullahs to fund groups like Hezbollah and tyrants like Assad.

More generally, a regime presiding over a tanking economy loses credibility as a regional power. By contrast, a regime into which money is flowing thanks to diplomatic success against its powerful enemy gains respect.

Only military force is reasonably calculated to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, that option was always off the table as far as Obama is concerned.

Israel might use force, but Obama’s deal makes this no less likely except perhaps in the short term.

In sum, the merit, or lack thereof, of Obama’s deal does not turn on its “peacefulness.” It turns on its efficacy weighed against the opportunity costs of abandoning sanctions, as described above. By this test, the deal is, as Netanyahu says, “a historic mistake.”

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