The Best Arguments for an Iran Deal
The heroic assumptions, and false premises, of
By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
July 13, 2015
rhetoric, prolepsis means the anticipation of possible objections to an argument
for the sake of answering them. So let’s be proleptic about the Iranian
nuclear deal, whose apologists are already trotting out excuses for this
historic diplomatic debacle.
case. Sure, Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei is an irascible and violent revolutionary bent on imposing a
dark ideology on his people and his neighborhood. Much the same could be said of
Mao Zedong when Henry
Kissinger paid him a visit in 1971—a diplomatic gamble that paid
spectacular dividends as China became a de facto U.S. ally in the Cold War and
opened up to the world under Deng Xiaoping.
Columnist Bret Stephens with an update on the Iran nuclear program negotiations
and what could come of a deal. Photo credit: Getty Images.
But the hope
that Iran is the new China fails a few tests. Mao faced an overwhelming external
threat from the Soviet Union. Iran faces no such threat and is winning most of
its foreign proxy wars. Beijing ratcheted down tensions with Washington with
friendly table-tennis matches. Tehran ratchets them up by locking up American
citizens and seizing cargo ships in the Strait of Hormuz. Deng Xiaoping believed
that to get rich is glorious. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, a supposed
reformer, spent last Friday marching prominently in the regime’s yearly
“Death to America, Death to Israel” parade.
If there is
evidence of an Iranian trend toward moderation it behooves proponents of a deal
to show it.
OK, so Iran hasn’t really moderated its belligerent behavior, much less its
antediluvian worldview. And a deal won’t mean we won’t still have to oppose
Iran on other battlefields, whether it’s Yemen or Syria or Gaza. But that
doesn’t matter, because a nuclear deal is nothing more than a calculated swap.
Iran puts its nuclear ambitions into cold storage for a decade. In exchange, it
comes in from the cold economically and diplomatically. Within circumscribed
parameters, everyone can be a winner.
transaction requires some degree of trust. Since we can’t trust Iran we need
an airtight system of monitoring and verification. Will the nuclear deal provide
Kerry will swear that it will, but as recently as January Czech
officials blocked a covert $61 million purchase by Iran of
“dual-use” nuclear technologies. A month before that, the U.S. found
evidence that Iran had gone on an illicit “shopping spree” for
its plutonium plant in Arak. That’s what we know. What do we not know?
Also, how does
a nuclear deal not wind up being Iran’s ultimate hostage in dictating terms
for America’s broader Mideast policy? Will the administration risk its
precious nuclear deal if Iran threatens to break it every time the two countries
are at loggerheads over regional crises in Yemen or Syria? The North Koreans
already mastered the art of selling their nuclear compliance for one concession
after another—and they still got the bomb.
case. All right: So
the Iran deal is full of holes. Maybe it won’t work. Got any better ideas?
Sanctions weren’t about to stop a determined regime, and we couldn’t have
enforced them for much longer. Nobody wants to go to war to stop an Iranian
bomb, not the American public and not even the Israelis. And conservatives, of
all people, should know that foreign policy often amounts to a choice between
evils. The best case for a nuclear deal is that it is the lesser evil.
serious sanctions were only imposed on Iran in November 2011. They cut the
country’s oil exports by half, shut off its banking system from the rest of
the world, sent the rial into free fall and caused the inflation rate to soar to
60%. By October 2013 Iran was six months away from a severe balance-of-payments
crisis, according to estimates by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And
that was only the first turn of the economic screw: Iran’s permitted oil
exports could have been cut further; additional sanctions could have been
imposed on the “charitable” foundations controlled by Iran’s political,
military and clerical elite. Instead of turning the screw, Mr. Obama relieved
the pressure the next month by signing on to the interim agreement now in force.
that nobody wants war. But a deal that gives Iran the right to enrich unlimited
quantities of uranium after a decade or so would leave a future president no
option other than war to stop Iran from building dozens of bombs. And a deal
that does nothing to stop Iran’s development of ballistic missiles would allow
them to put one of those bombs atop one of those missiles.
Good luck. Americans are a lucky
people—lucky in our geography, our founders and the immigrants we attract to
our shores. So lucky that Bismarck supposedly once said “there is a special
providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.”
get lucky again. Maybe Iran will change for the better after Mr. Khamenei passes
from the scene. Maybe international monitors will succeed with Iran where they
failed with North Korea. Maybe John Kerry is the world’s best negotiator, and
this deal was the best we could do.
Or maybe we
won’t be lucky. Maybe there’s no special providence for nations drunk on
hope, led by fools.