The wishful thinking at the heart of Obama’s Iran deal sales pitch

Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post elegantly explains why Obama’s impending deal with Iran is too risky. He argues that (1) if Iran doesn’t change its ways, the consequences of the regime possessing nuclear weapons, as President Obama admits it will be able to in around 13 years, will be unacceptable and (2) it’s unlikely that a nuclear detente with Iran will produce a change in the regime’s ways.

Obama claims that his “deal” will be a good one “even if Iran doesn’t change at all.” Diehl explodes this contention:

An Iran that does not change will reap hundreds of billions of dollars in fresh revenue from the lifting of sanctions, and it will surely use much of that to fund its ongoing military adventures in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It will supply more weapons to Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups, and invest more in its long-range missiles, cyberweapons and other military technologies not covered by the agreement. It will continue developing advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment and after a decade will begin installing them.

By Obama’s own account, in 13 or 14 years Iran will reemerge as a threshold nuclear state with a breakout time “almost down to zero.” It will still seek domination of the Middle East and the elimination of Israel, but with far greater resources and the capability to build a nuclear weapon at any time of its choosing. A future president, administration officials concede, will have to go back to the same strategy — sanctions, sabotage and the threat of force — that Obama now proposes to set aside, but the odds of preventing a nuclear Iran will be considerably worse than they are now.

Diehl is correct, therefore, in concluding that “everything depends on Obama’s hope that nuclear detente will change Iran.”

Does Obama’s “deal” increase the likelihood that Iran will change for the better? Obama thinks so:

If in fact they’re engaged in international business, and there are foreign investors, and their economy becomes more integrated with the world economy, then in many ways it makes it harder for them to engage in behaviors that are contrary to international norms.

But Diehl reports that “it’s difficult to find an expert who believes Iran will soon evolve into a more benign power. . .” In fact, “present and former senior administration officials I consulted said they expected the Iranian regime would remain the same in the next few years, or maybe get worse.” One expert “predicted Khamenei — if he doesn’t kill the accord outright — would set out to prove that it won’t change the state’s “revolutionary” agenda.”

We need not rely on experts, though — just common sense. Foreign investors are eager to do business with Iran notwithstanding its engagement in “behaviors that are contrary to international norms,” e.g., military adventures in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; the supplying of weapons to Hamas; and threats to destroy Israel.

Once sanctions are lifted, Iran will have even less incentive to follow “international norms” than it does today. Only regime is likely to produce better behavior.

Lifting sanctions decreases the likelihood of regime change. This is why the regime is so eager to see the sanctions lifted immediately. And it’s why they shouldn’t be.

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