With Iran deal, devil is not in the details


I admit it: I haven’t read the deal. And chances are, even if I pored over every word of the 159-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the Iran nuclear agreement, I wouldn’t have the technical knowledge to understand all its strengths and weaknesses.

But the same is true of the vast majority of members of Congress, who will be determining its fate. They’ve been briefed, buttonholed and badgered about the fine details of its interpretation and implementation. Yet it’s not so much the text of the plan as its context that should guide their decisions.

{mosads}Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that the critics are right. Iran could break out or sneak out of the agreement to produce the materials for a nuclear bomb in a year or less. The lack of anytime, anywhere inspections mean that the Iranians could have nearly a month to cover up any cheating. Sanctions might be difficult and costly to snap back in place. The Iranian government will remain abusive to its citizens and hostile to Israel, and will have more money to finance terrorism around the world.

But we don’t have a choice between this deal and another, better deal. We can’t go back to the status quo ante, when no deal was on the table. We can either join the world in accepting this deal or stand alone in rejecting it.

What would be the consequences of disapproving the agreement?

Iran will have a strong incentive to accelerate its nuclear program, in the belief that the United States is more likely to attack than ever before. No centrifuges would be removed, no uranium stockpiles reduced, no enrichment facilities converted, no nuclear sites monitored by outside inspectors.

At the same time, multilateral sanctions would likely collapse. The United States would keep its own comprehensive sanctions, but they would be much less effective than before. And the failure to bring others along with us would lay bare our waning global power and influence.

Iran would reap not only the economic benefits of resuming trade, but also the political benefits of being seen as “the reasonable party.” Iran’s reputation and regional clout may be enhanced by the deal, but they are likely to grow even further if the United States is the one to reject it.

Whereas the use of force will remain an option if the agreement goes into force and Iran violates it, U.S. military action will be both more likely and more difficult without the deal. Israel and Saudi Arabia might be willing to support a U.S. assault on Iranian nuclear facilities, but the rest of the world, including NATO and the U.N. Security Council, would likely oppose and condemn it. Lest we forget, the Iraq invasion began at a time when America had much of the world’s support and sympathy, and still turned out to be what is arguably the biggest foreign policy mistake in U.S. history.

By pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the United States would isolate itself from friends and allies, relinquish its global leadership and dismantle the united front that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Perceived U.S. intransigence on this matter would put at risk every other U.S. national interest that requires international cooperation and good will: degrading the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and countering violent extremism; expanding U.S. exports and access to foreign markets; mitigating and adapting to climate change; reducing poverty and oppression. What incentive will other countries have to negotiate with future U.S. presidents after witnessing the low regard in which Congress holds diplomatic solutions?

Our elected representatives are, of course, under no obligation to endorse an agreement they believe is flawed or contrary to the national interest. But they must also consider, just as seriously, the consequences of disapproving that agreement and the alternatives that are realistically available. What is their plan for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons over the next ten years?

Even if the Iran nuclear deal is not all that some hoped it would be, the risks of blocking it are far greater than those of giving it a chance to work. This you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand.

Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Project on Prosperity and Development and a principal of Turner4D, a strategic communications firm.

Tags Iran Iran agreement Iran deal Iran nuclear agreement Iran nuclear deal Iran–United States relations Nuclear program of Iran Nuclear proliferation Security Council U.N. United Nations
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