Iran Deal Is Obama's Middle East Exit Strategy
By Eli Lake
July 14, 2015
all of the surreal moments Tuesday in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, the
most bizarre was the conclusion of U.S. President Barack Obama's address
from the White House. After touting the pact's promises of greater
monitoring and transparency, and the limits it places on Iran's nuclear
enrichment, Obama appealed to the importance of American global leadership.
shows that America must lead, not just with our might, but with our
principles," Obama said. "It shows we are stronger, not when we are
alone, but when we bring the world together. Today's announcement marks one more
chapter in this pursuit of a safer and more helpful, more hopeful world."
are pleasant and unremarkable words. But they are also deceptive. The agreement
ironed out in Vienna is not a chapter in America's long tradition of pursuing a
safe, helpful and hopeful world. Rather, it's an abandonment of traditional
American leadership in the Middle East and in the areas of nonproliferation and
start, the agreement will end up unfreezing around $150 billion in assets to a
regime that has neglected its own domestic economy so it could prop up a Syrian
dictator at war with his own citizens -- to the tune of billions
of dollars. The initial reaction
from America's traditional Middle Eastern allies has been a combination of shock
and horror. Just as they see an Iran more brazen than ever, Obama is
talking about the possibility of a new relationship with their archenemy.
proponents of the deal argue that, while the initial avalanche of money to
support destabilizing the Middle East is regrettable, the long-term gains in
nonproliferation more than make up for it. It's true the accord will place
significant limits on Iran's enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of spent
nuclear fuel. In principle, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will
be granted access to suspected military sites. The deal also allows the
international monitoring of Iran's uranium mines and enrichment facilities.
there's no ignoring that the deal also leaves most of Iran's nuclear
infrastructure in place. After 10 years, Iran can enrich as much uranium as it
likes. After 15 years it can begin enrichment at the facility it hid from the
world, built into a mountain near Qom. What message does it send to the rest of
the world that a country that built up an industrial-scale nuclear program (and
stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency in the process) will be
allowed to keep it in exchange for allowing the enhanced monitoring and
inspections it previously agreed to and then reneged on 12 years earlier?
It doesn't seem like a solid foundation for Obama's long-held dream for a world
free of nuclear weapons.
there is the problem of terrorism. The U.S., particularly since the Sept.
11 attacks, has sought to isolate and punish those states that sponsor
terrorism. Admittedly the list of official state sponsors is clunky, and
included countries such as North Korea whose support for terrorism was more
historical than threatening. But Iran is consistently designated by the State
Department to be the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. It's not just
that Obama's deal will enrich that regime -- it also offers it
political legitimacy, without asking Iran to end its support for its terrorist
all these weaknesses, it's possible Obama's Iran deal could be worth it. If Iran
keeps its word and over time the government changes or moderates, then
Obama will have kept the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of
the world's most dangerous regime. He could even be taking advantage of what
Council on Foreign Relations president emeritus Leslie Gelb on Tuesday called "the
strategic opportunity to begin converting Iran from foe to 'friend.' " But
given the Iranian's aggression during the negotiations when they had so much to
lose, that seems unlikely.
the real benefit, at least from Obama's perspective, is that the nuclear deal
will pave the way for America's full exit from the Middle East. After more than
a decade of war and nation-building, the region is less stable and more
dangerous than it was on 9/11. The Atlantic's Peter Beinart, who supports the
what its critics are really doing is "blaming Obama for the fact that the
United States is not omnipotent." Perhaps we have reached the limits
of what American leadership can do in that part of the world. But if that's
true, Obama should have the decency to level with us about it. This deal is not
an affirmation of American leadership. It's a recognition of American