If there were any realistic alternative to having no nuclear deal with Iran — an alternative that seemed more likely to prevent or substantially delay Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb — I would oppose the Obama administration’s deal without any doubt.
But I’m still yet to be persuaded by those who contend that no deal is better than this deal.
I am concerned about serious deficiencies in the agreement. The two that worry me most are, first, the lack of what we were promised to be a system of inspections without advance warning, “anytime, anywhere.” Instead, the agreement provides for a 24-day notice period before any inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would be allowed to enter Iranian premises.
Last Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said on TV interviews that “traces of uranium, traces of any kind of fissile material are traceable and are very, very hard to get rid of.” I note his expression: “very, very hard.” Note he did not use the word “impossible.” Moreover, he never answered the question: Why would the Iranians insist on such a 24-day notice period — why would they need any notice period — if they intended to comply with all restrictions? The only answer, to me, is to leave open the possibility of secret non-compliance.
Second, it is disturbing that there is no unambiguous process for automatic re-imposition of sanctions by all the signatories to the agreement in the event of any findings of willful noncompliance by Iran. The possibility of sanctions remains the greatest disincentive for the Iranians not to try to cheat. I hope the White House and State Department offer better explanations than they have to date on this point — and that the other signatories are asked to commit publicly to such immediate re-institution of the sanctions.
So what if the U.S. were to walk away from the deal now? The only two alternatives to no deal at this point that appear to be available — the military option or re-imposing sanctions — do not seem likely to achieve the result of delaying or preventing a nuclear Iran.
Experts cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of any military option. For example, Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA and a 36-year decorated military expert, has said that the consensus in the Bush administration was that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was a “bad idea,” and that it “would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that would spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.”
As to the re-re-imposition of effective sanctions if the U.S. were to walk away from this deal, there is simply no evidence that the U.S. partners in the sanction regime in Europe, much less Russia and China, would re-impose the sanctions or permit the United Nations to do so. And, with a broadly effective sanctions regime unlikely if the U.S. walks away from the deal, does anyone really believe that the Iranian mullahs and hard-liners won’t recommit themselves to developing The Bomb sooner rather than later?
On the issue of sanctions, GOP hypocrisy is impossible to miss. For example, every Republican presidential candidate opposes the deal and calls, instead, for the re-imposition of sanctions. Yet these are exactly the same people who contend that former secretary of State Hillary Clinton had no significant achievements during her four-year tenure at the State Department — despite the undeniable fact that she was a major figure in creating the support in Europe, Russia and China that made the sanctions effective. Even a Wall Street Journal editorial stated as such in 2010: “Give Hillary Clinton credit for hitting a half-court shot at the buzzer … Clinton surely pulled out every stop.”
Of course avoiding hypocrisy isn’t exactly a rule followed by Republican presidential candidates.
So I am conflicted. I give President Obama and Kerry credit for trying. I wish the deal were better. But we are where we are. My judgment is to see this deal as better than no deal at all, at least under these circumstances — but not by a lot.
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, LEVICK. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).