President, Don’t Put America at Risk with Flawed Iran Deal
By John Bolton
October 9, 2017
President Trump will address U.S. policy toward Iran on
Thursday, doubtless focusing on his decision regarding Barack Obama’s badly
flawed nuclear deal. Key officials are now briefing Congress, the press and
foreign governments about the speech, cautioning that the final product is, in
fact, not yet final. The preponderant media speculation is that Trump’s senior
advisers are positioning him to make a serious mistake, based on their flawed
advice. Wishful thinking about Iran’s mullahs, near-religious faith in the
power of pieces of paper, and a retreat from executive authority are hallmarks
of the impending crash.
In short, Obama’s Iran nuclear deal is poised to become
the Trump-Obama deal. The media report that the president will not withdraw from
the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but instead, under the
misbegotten Corker-Cardin legislation, will “decertify” that it is in
America’s national interest. Congress may then reimpose sanctions, or try
somehow to “fix” the deal. Curiously, most of the suggested “fixes”
involve repairing Corker-Cardin rather than the JCPOA directly.
Sure, give Congress the lead on Iran. What could go wrong?
Whatever the problem with Iran, Congress is not the answer. No president should
surrender what the Constitution vests uniquely in him: dominant power to set
America’s foreign policy. In the iconic Federalist Number 70, Alexander
Hamilton wrote insightfully that “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch”
characterize unitary executive power, and most certainly not the legislative
branch. President Trump risks not only forfeiting his leading national-security
role, but paralysis, or worse, in the House and Senate.
If Congress really wants to “fix” Corker-Cardin, the
best fix is total repeal. The substantive arguments for decertifying but not
withdrawing are truly Jesuitical, teasing out imagined benefits from adhering to
a deal Iran already treats with contempt. Some argue we should try provoking
Iran to exit first, because our withdrawal would harm America’s image. This is
ludicrous. The United States must act in its own self-interest, not wait around
hoping Iran does us a favor. It won’t. Why should Tehran leave (or even
modify) a deal advantageous beyond its wildest imagination?
This “shame” prediction was made against Washington’s
2001 unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and proved
utterly false. America’s decision to abrogate the hallowed “cornerstone of
international strategic stability” produced nothing like the storm of
opprobrium Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty adherents predicted. No nuclear arms
race followed. Instead, withdrawal left the United States far better positioned
to defend itself against exactly the threats Iran and others now pose.
Some say that trashing the deal will spur Iran to
accelerate its nuclear-weapons program to rush across the finish line. Of
course, before the JCPOA, Iran was already party to the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, which barred it from seeking or possessing nuclear
weapons, but which it systematically violated. JCPOA advocates are therefore
arguing that although one piece of paper (a multilateral treaty, no less) failed
to stop Iran’s nuclear quest, the JCPOA, a second piece of paper, will do the
trick, with catastrophic consequences if we withdraw. Ironically, these same
acolytes almost invariably concede the JCPOA is badly flawed and needs
substantial amendment. So they actually believe a third piece of paper is
required to halt Iran. Two are not enough. This argument flunks the smile test:
Burying Iran in paper will not stop its nuclear program.
Iran’s ability to “rush” to have nuclear weapons
existed before the deal, exists now, and would exist if America withdrew. The
director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said recently it would take a
mere five days for Iran to resume its pre-deal level of uranium enrichment. This
rare case of regime honesty demonstrates how trivial and easily reversible
Iran’s JCPOA concessions were. What alone deters an Iranian “rush” is the
threat of preemptive U.S. or Israeli military strikes, not pieces of paper.
Nor will U.S. withdrawal eliminate valuable international
verification procedures under the JCPOA. In fact, these measures are worse than
useless for nonproliferation purposes, although they serve Iran well. By
affording the appearance of effective verification, they camouflage Iran’s
active, multiple violations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231:
on uranium-enrichment levels, advanced-centrifuge research, heavy-water
production and missile programs. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently
admitted explicitly it has no visibility whatever into weapons and
ballistic-missile work underway on Iran’s military bases.
It is simple common sense that Iran would not conduct
easily discoverable weapons-related work at already-known nuclear sites like
Natanz and Esfahan. Warhead design and the like are far more likely at military
sites like Parchin where the IAEA has never had adequate access. No wonder the
IAEA is now barred from Parchin.
It is not just weapons-related work the JCPOA fails to
uncover. Substantial uranium-enrichment production and research are also far
more likely at undeclared sites inside Iran or elsewhere, like North Korea. This
is the lesson Tehran learned after Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor under
construction by North Koreans in Syria in 2007.
Nor will abrogating the deal somehow induce Iran to become
more threatening in the Middle East or in supporting global terrorism than it
already is with the JCPOA in force. Consider Tehran’s belligerent behavior in
the Persian Gulf, its nearly successful effort to create an arc of control from
Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, threatening Israel, Jordan and the
Arabian Peninsula, and its continued role as the world’s central banker of
international terrorism. The real issue is how much worse Iran’s behavior will
be once it gets deliverable nuclear weapons.
I have previously argued that only U.S. withdrawal from the
JCPOA can adequately protect America from the Iranian nuclear threat. Casuistry
deployed to persuade President Trump to stay in the deal may succeed this
Thursday, but it does so only at grave peril to our country. This is no time to
let our guard down.