Yesterday’s announcement of a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is being sold by the administration as a historic foreign-policy triumph for President Obama. Most of his press cheering section seems to agree. The president has told us that he has begun a process that forecloses Iran’s path to a bomb. Just as importantly, he sees it as an achievement which, like his massive federal health-care initiative, will fulfill his boasts about changing the world that were so much a part of his initial campaign for the presidency. Though the Iran framework is filled with so many caveats and loopholes that may allow Iran to easily evade its strictures and will, in any event, grant it impunity to do as it likes in ten or 15 years, this seems a flimsy foundation for a legacy. Yet the president may be right about it being integral to his legacy. The only problem is that what could follow from this turning point may not burnish his reputation as a peacemaker as much as it will solidify his place in history as an appeaser that empowered a violent, hate-driven regime.
It is possible that some of the president’s hopes will be fulfilled. Perhaps Iran’s leaders have been telling the truth about not wanting to build a bomb, though everything they have done leads to the opposite conclusion. Perhaps they will keep their promises and not cheat on a deal that will give them ample opportunities to do so even though the history of this regime tells us that this would be the first time such a thing would happen. It is also possible that those who constantly tell us of the innate moderation of the Iranian people will be right and the opening up of the Iranian economy to the world will set in motion fundamental changes in their society that will transform its government and cause it to cease its campaign to undermine the stability of Arab governments in the region, stop supporting terrorism, and give up its dream of obliterating Israel.
If all those things happen, then President Obama has been right and his critics, including the majority of both houses of Congress and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, will have been wrong. But everything we know about the nature of the regime that he has pursued so relentlessly informs us that this is unlikely to be the case.
Indeed, the course of the negotiations into which the president has invested so much time and political capital shows that Tehran is prepared to ferociously defend not only its nuclear options but also its ideology. Even as the president was instructing his negotiators to give way on almost every key point during the negotiations—including the location of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel, the retention of thousands of centrifuges, the reimposition of sanctions, and its unwillingness to tell the truth about the extent of its military research program—the Islamist regime was expanding its reach throughout the Middle East as its auxiliaries and allies strengthened their hold on Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen. Nor did it trouble to lower its voice about threatening Israel with destruction (a point which one of its top military leaders said was “not negotiable” just days before the happy announcement in Lausanne). Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plea that final deal signed in June includes Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist is a forlorn hope that has zero chance of fulfillment. That’s not only because Iran would never do so but because the United States has not asked for such a thing any more than it has demanded that an end to Iranian support for terrorism or its building of ballistic missiles be included in the deal.
Having agreed to measures that will jumpstart an Iranian economy that might have been brought to its knees had President Obama stuck to the strategy that brought the regime to the negotiating table, the notion that it will moderate its ambitions is simply wishful thinking. Nor is there any reason to think that a government that has always treated its nuclear program as a key symbol and tool of their ability to defy the West will step back from their ambition to create a weapon.
At the same time, Arab governments whose existence is being threatened by Iranian-back subversion, and who rightly understand that they are as much in the crosshairs of Tehran as Israel, will now begin their own races to a bomb. Though President Obama clings to the notion that what he has done is to help Iran “get right with the world,” its neighbors understand that what is happening is the strengthening of a dangerous revolutionary power whose goals have nothing to do with peace.
President Obama may get his deal in June and he may even be able to pick off enough Democratic senators whose party loyalty exceeds their devotion to principles to prevent the passage of the Corker-Menendez bill that would force any such agreement to be subject, as it should under the Constitution, to a vote by Congress. He may well exit the White House claiming that his diplomacy has prevented Iran from getting a bomb, making him a great success in his own eyes and in those of his many fans in the press and the country.
But if we strip away the gloss of false optimism and subject the deal to cold, hard logic, the best-case scenario for this effort is that it will put off an Iranian bomb by a decade, though it will become a threshold nuclear power almost immediately. In the meantime, a dangerous Islamist regime will be strengthened, American allies weakened, and the stage will be set for a series of proxy wars across the Middle East as well as a surge in Iranian-backed terrorism. A more pessimistic assessment would see Iran cheat its way to a bomb much sooner with an emboldened Tehran using its enhanced diplomatic, economic, and political power to transform the Shia-Sunni split from a regional source of tension to a new age of religious wars in the region with untold consequences and casualties. Either way, U.S. influence will suffer a blow with equally uncertain costs.
President Obama should enjoy the adulation he is receiving today. He is a young man who will hopefully enjoy a long post-presidency that will enable him to witness what his attempt to forge a legacy will mean for the world. But that is a dangerous position for any appeaser to be in. If, contrary to his hubristic assumptions, Iran is not transformed into a peaceful partner of the U.S., he will have an equally long time to account for his folly and to face the awful truth about the destruction caused by his feckless pursuit of détente with Iran.