Henry Kissinger said during the Iran-Iraq war, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”
Last week Kissinger and fellow former Secretary of State George Shultz penned one of the more sober cases against the framework for the Iran nuclear deal. They’re right about the risks of Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state as well as the difficulty of verification and enforcement, among other things.
After all, even France doesn’t think much of this deal.
But it was during a period that included isolation, sanctions and fruitless diplomacy that Iran went from 160 centrifuges in 2003 to more than 20,000 in a decade.
If the final deal adheres to the parameters the United States advertises, it won’t just be preferable to war or simply tolerating a nuclear Iran. In terms of Iran’s breakout time, number of centrifuges and stockpile of enriched uranium, it could be better than the status quo.
It’s not even clear that the status quo is still an option, much less the hypothetical better deal often presented as a diplomatic alternative. The international sanctions regime was already starting to erode.
Anyone worried about the sanctions “snapping back” if Iran violates the terms of the nuclear deal should be skeptical of them remaining intact if the United States is seen as walking away from a deal.
Here’s the problem. Even if the framework the Obama administration has announced is the least bad option, it is still suboptimal. What if the actual deal is worse than what’s described in the State Department’s so-called fact sheet?
The Iranian defense minister has denied reports that Tehran has granted access to its military facilities under the deal. “No such agreement has been made; principally speaking, visit to military centers is among our redlines and no such visit will be accepted,” Hossein Dehqan has been quoted as saying.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described the U.S. fact sheet as “wrong on most of the issues” and evidence of America’s “devilish intentions.”
The relatively moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is calling for the immediate lifting of all sanctions once a deal is agreed to rather than a more gradual phaseout.
“We will not sign any deal unless all sanctions are lifted on the same day … We want a win-win deal for all parties involved in the nuclear talks,” Rouhani has been quoted as saying.
Iran may just be blowing smoke, its various mugging for the television cameras to placate competing domestic political constituencies. But the public Iranian interpretation of the framework doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Neither does much of the Republican response. Those who deny that the only choices on the table are a bad deal or war ought to talk to John Bolton, a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate, who has called for bombing Iran, or fellow Republican presidential aspirant Lindsey Graham, who has been talking about authorizing military force against Iran since at least 2013.
Tom Cotton, the freshman Republican senator from Arkansas, insists military action against Iran would be nothing like the Iraq war.
“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox: Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior — for interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions,” Cotton said.
Well, lots of people thought the Iraq war wouldn’t last very long either. “Perhaps a year or more,” Graham said in response to a question about how long U.S. troops would have to remain in Iraq. “If we’re there through 2009, something went wrong.”
Now Graham contends that what went wrong in Iraq was that U.S. troops were not there through after 2011.
In December 1998, Iraq was less than a decade removed from having much of its defenses destroyed during the Persian Gulf War. Not so Iran.
Iraq in the late 1990s didn’t have its weapons buried underneath 200 feet of rock. Iran’s Fordo facility today is.
Iraq wasn’t fighting on the ground in a neighboring country against the same group of Islamic radicals the United States was bombing from the air. Iran is.
Oh yeah, and we ended up invading Iraq within five years, with less than airtight information about Baghdad’s weapons.
To recap: it’s not clear that either the Obama administration’s deal or his more hawkish critics’ alternatives would actually prevent Iran from getting a bomb.
The debate over how to prevent a nuclear Iran is at risk of becoming the domestic equivalent of the Iran-Iraq war, except this time both sides could lose — and it’s a pity.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.