As I wrote earlier this morning, the deal that President Obama has struck with Iran has very little chance of actually stopping them from reaching their nuclear goal. Their centrifuges remain intact and will, at best, delay them from “breaking out” to full nuclear capability by a few weeks. It will reward them for a decade of lies and deceptions and effectively normalize a rogue regime that continues to sponsor international terrorism and spew anti-Semitism while also starting the process of unraveling sanctions. But to all this Secretary of State John Kerry has what he thinks is a devastating answer: what’s the alternative?
The point of this question is to not-so-subtly imply that the only other choice was a war that no one wants. But this favorite rhetorical device of the president’s in which he poses false choices is a deception. There was an alternative to surrendering to Iran’s diplomatic demands that we effectively recognize their “right” to enrich uranium and scrapping the president’s campaign promise that his goal was to force it give up its nuclear program–and it didn’t mean war. All it required was for him to tighten sanctions and enforce them to the point where Iran’s elites, rather than the common people, started to feel the economic pain. But by wasting five years during which he opposed sanctions, stalled on their enforcement and then started to scale them back at the first hint of an Iranian willingness to negotiate, the president has discarded all of America’s leverage.
Kerry’s assumption and that of others who advocated appeasement of Iran is based on the idea that it was not reasonable or realistic for the West to demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear program as the president demanded in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney last year. They say that asking for the dismantling of the centrifuges that will continue to spin and enrich uranium even after the president’s deal is in place was just too much, as was the demand that the nuclear facilities that are openly discussed and covered in the deal (as opposed to the secret underground Iranian nuclear facilities that even the New York Times concedes that the CIA, the Europeans, and the Israelis believe exist) be decommissioned or that its stockpile of enriched uranium be shipped out of the country.
Why were these demands unrealistic? Because the Iranians said they were.
That’s it. The entire foundation of this agreement isn’t a matter of what was technically feasible or even a belief that the sanctions weren’t working or couldn’t be tightened to the point where the Iranian economy could collapse. Everyone knows that the sanctions are hurting, but if Iran’s oil trade was subjected to a complete embargo (as a third round of sanctions that Congress was considering would have done), Tehran could have been brought to its knees.
If the Iranians had been pushed harder and sooner and had they believed that there was a credible threat of force on the table from the United States, which was clearly not the case, they might have been convinced that they had no alternative but to give up their nukes. But for five years, President Obama has been signaling not only that they needn’t fear him but also that he was willing to settle for far less than the demands he had been making in public. We don’t know for how long the administration has been conducting the secret diplomatic talks with Iran or whether they were run by Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett. But it’s apparent that Washington’s assumption that it couldn’t make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear toys was a self-fulfilling prophecy. By refusing to push them harder and by showing their willingness to accept far less than the minimum that would have ensured that a weapon was not possible, they gave the Iranians the confidence to stick to their positions in the talks.
So what Kerry and other administration apologists are doing is turning the question of alternatives on its head. Instead of falsely implying that the only alternative to appeasement was war, he should be called to account for not exploring all the diplomatic and economic options that could have brought about a far more satisfactory result than the weak deal he signed.
In exchange for superficial and easily reversed nuclear concessions, Obama and Kerry have normalized Iran and begun the process of unraveling sanctions. The alternative to this was an American foreign policy that was determined to make it clear to Iran that they would have to give up their nuclear program in the same manner than Libya was forced not do and they would not be given the chance to take the North Korean route to nuclear capability.
Instead of avoiding war, what Kerry has done is to set in motion a chain of events that may actually make armed conflict more likely. It’s not just that Israel must now come to terms with the fact that it has been abandoned and betrayed by its American ally and must consider whether it must strike Iran’s nuclear facilities before it is too late. Saudi Arabia must now also consider whether it has no choice but to buy a bomb (likely from Pakistan) to defend its existence against a deadly rival across the Persian Gulf. The Western stamp of approval on Iran will also embolden its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries and make it even less likely that Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad will be toppled in Syria.
By deciding that the U.S. was too weak to stand up to Iranian demands, Obama and Kerry have put the Islamist regime in a position where it can throw its weight around in the region without any fear of U.S. retaliation.
The choice here was not between war with Iran or a weak deal. It was between the U.S. using all its economic power and diplomatic influence to make sure that Iran had to give up its nuclear program and a policy of appeasement aimed at allowing the president to retreat from his promises. The Middle East and the rest of the world may wind up paying a terrible price for Obama’s false choices.