Re­vis­it­ing the Iran Nu­clear Deal

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION - Adam Goldin Colum­nist

The bur­geon­ing trade war be­tween the U.S. and China and the U.S. sum­mit with North Korea have both dom­i­nated the head­lines re­cently. How­ever, the U.S. de­ci­sion to with­drawal from the 2015 Ira­nian nu­clear deal in May warrants re­newed at­ten­tion now that the U.S. has reim­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran.

The Iran nu­clear deal, of­fi­cially named the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion, was signed by the U.S., Iran, United King­dom, Rus­sia, France, China, Ger­many and the Euro­pean Union. In a nutshell, the deal re­stricted Iran’s abil­ity to de­velop nu­clear weapons in ex­change for lift­ing some eco­nomic sanc­tions. Although crit­ics be­lieved the deal failed to ef­fec­tively cur­tail Iran’s bomb mak­ing abil­ity, in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion to the agree­ment was largely pos­i­tive since most ex­perts felt it wrung tan­gi­ble con­ces­sions from Iran.

The deal’s crit­ics didn’t be­lieve it ad­e­quately cur­tailed Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram be­cause the en­force­ment mech­a­nisms were too weak. There­fore, the Ira­nian threat to the U.S. and its al­lies would re­main un­ac­cept­ably high, es­pe­cially for Is­rael. Sec­ond, the crit­ics felt the deal failed to ad­dress other U.S. goals vis-a-vi Iran, such as lim­it­ing Iran’s re­gional in­flu­ence and re­strict­ing its bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram. Re­mov­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions, a pow­er­ful piece of lever­age, just to cur­tail the nu­clear pro­gram was seen as an un­bal­anced trade­off. They also felt the deal was an act of ap­pease­ment to­ward the Ira­nian regime, sim­i­lar to Neville Cham­ber­lin’s Mu­nich agree­ment with the Nazis be­fore World War II.

When the U.S. ex­ited the agree­ment, it an­nounced it would reim­pose eco­nomic sanc­tions against Iran this sum­mer, which it has now done. The U.S. also threat­ened that any com­pany still do­ing busi­ness with Iran by Novem­ber would be pro­hib­ited from con­duct­ing busi­ness with the U.S. Nat­u­rally, this threat could have a chill­ing ef­fect on for­eign eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in Iran since the U.S. mar­ket is sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger than Iran’s; Daim­ler-Chrysler al­ready an­nounced it would can­cel its Ira­nian ex­pan­sion plans.

How­ever, it is hard to coun­te­nance the crit­ics’ logic. First, the agree­ment man­dated that the U.S. lift only some eco­nomic sanc­tions — sev­eral oth­ers re­mained on the books. Since the U.S. had not relin­quished all levers of eco­nomic pres­sure, the de­gree of sanc­tions re­lief was com­men­su­rate with the goals achieved.

Sec­ond, the idea that re­mov­ing all in­spec­tors, free­ing Iran to do as it pleases, en­hances U.S. se­cu­rity rather than weak­ens it strains one’s credulity. If en­force­ment mech­a­nisms were too weak, how does re­mov­ing all nu­clear re­stric­tions im­prove that sit­u­a­tion? It would be akin to sim­ply un­lock­ing the prison door be­cause one felt the cur­rent locks were in­suf­fi­cient. The more ra­tio­nal ap­proach would be to bank the ac­com­plish­ments one has at­tained and seek ad­di­tional ones later.

Third, con­trary to what the naysay­ers said, lift­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran ac­tu­ally in­creased po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on the regime be­cause the regime could no longer blame the U.S. if its econ­omy failed to im­prove. In­stead, Ira­ni­ans would hold their lead­ers ac­count­able for their cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment rather than the Great Satan.

Fourth, pulling out of the deal iso­lates the U.S. from its al­lies since they re­main com­mit­ted to the deal’s suc­cess. Diplo­matic pres­sure is mag­ni­fied when one has al­lies, so a U.S.-led, multi­na­tional ef­fort to im­prove the deal would have bet­ter odds for suc­cess than a U.S. solo ef­fort.

The U.S. with­drawal also gives Iran the moral high ground be­cause ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional ob­servers, Iran was ad­her­ing to the agree­ment’s terms — it was the U.S. that broke its word.

Fi­nally, the deal in no way ap­peases Iran be­cause it did not pre­clude U.S. ef­forts to re­strict Iran’s ma­lig­nant re­gional ac­tiv­i­ties. Dur­ing the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the U.S. ef­fec­tively pur­sued such a multi-track strat­egy. Ron­ald Rea­gan called the Soviet Union an evil em­pire and sup­ported proxy wars to con­tain Soviet ag­gres­sion, but he also signed sev­eral nu­clear deals with our avowed foe.

With­draw­ing from the nu­clear deal with Iran was a strate­gic and diplo­matic blun­der, but is an­other ex­am­ple of this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­sire to “go it alone.”

Let’s hope the ad­min­is­tra­tion knows what it is do­ing.

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