The Iran deal — what difference at this point does it make?

It seems to me inevitable that, given the obvious flaws in the Obama administration’s nuclear deal, Iran will obtain nuclear weapons (barring outside military intervention) at roughly the time of its choosing with or without the deal. It also seems clear that, with or without this deal, the international sanctions regime will largely collapse, thanks to President Obama’s decisions first to negotiate with Iran and second to loosen sanctions before a real agreement was reached.

What difference, then, will Obama’s deal make?

The administration hopes that the deal will thaw U.S. relations with the mullahs’ regime and usher in an age of strategic cooperation between Washington and Tehran. This was the carrot the regime kept dangling in front of Obama, even as its backers in the street chanted “Death to America.”

Obama’s hope of aid and comfort from the mullahs strikes me as a pipe dream. What interest does Iran have in selling out the anti-U.S. forces, including terrorists, that do its bidding so effectively throughout the Middle East? None. It backed these forces during the age of sanctions and will certainly do so once U.S. and other foreign money pours in.

When it comes to ISIS, some U.S.-Iranian cooperation is possible, but only to the extent that it furthers Iran’s foreign policy objectives. To that extent, the cooperation would have occurred anyway. Iran will take on ISIS with precisely the amount of vigor it deems appropriate to serve Iran’s interests. This is true with or without Obama’s deal.

There is, then, no likely upside to Obama’s deal.

By contrast, there are clear disadvantages. The most obvious is that Iran will be substantially better off economically because of the deal. Yes, the tough sanctions regimes was already crumbling and hardship was certain to ease even without the deal.

But had the U.S. and a few prosperous allies held fast, Iran would not be able to look forward to an economic boom. And the more Iran prospers, the less likely it becomes that the regime will fall or soften.

In this regard, Iran’s promise that the massive amount of cash America earmarked for the mullahs will fund domestic needs rather than the nuclear program would be of no consolation even if one could take it seriously (which one can’t). It runs counter to our interests to fund the domestic needs of a regime that backs anti-U.S. forces, including terrorists, in many of the world’s hot spots.

We should, in sum, be making life in Iran as difficult as possible, not subsidizing its economy.

What we have, then, is a fundamental disagreement about how we should approach the Iranian regime. Obama believes we should accommodate the mullahs — attempt to bribe them, I would say — in the hope that they will become good actors. I believe we should attempt to undermine them at every turn in the hope that they will lose power.

To be fair, my hope may not be highly realistic. But unlike Obama’s, at least it’s not a fantasy contradicted by virtually everything we know about human nature and history.

Here’s a final consideration. Though sanctions can’t stop Iran from obtaining nukes, military action
might accomplish this, or at least significantly retard Iran’s progress. With or without a deal, Obama was never going to use the military option. But that’s not necessarily true of Israel or of Obama’s successor.

Next to his pipe dream of a grand bargain with Iran, constraining others from attacking it was probably Obama’s main motive behind this deal.

Even with the deal, Obama can’t be certain that Israel and/or his successor won’t attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but both are less likely to do so now. It’s difficult to imagine an Israeli attack now that the U.S. and the world’s other most important players are on record that this deal solves the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions.

A Republican successor to Obama won’t technically be bound by this view. However, Americans, as well as our allies, will likely presume that the deal is the framework for dealing with Iranian ambitions and that, in the event of Iranian violations, the proper approach will be to negotiate, rather than to attack.

In any event, can we even be confident that by the time a Republican administration has settled in and gained the confidence to take major military action, Iran won’t already have nukes? Not unless this deal is much tighter than it appears to be on first glance.

Ultimately, therefore, Obama’s deal makes it more likely that (1) the mullahs will retain power without moderating and (2) that they will be free to behave immoderately without fear of military reprisal.

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