One of the sure signs that Iraq was going south fast was when policy papers and memos trumped reality. Back in 2003 or 2004, I had driven out with friends past Mosul, Sinjar, and to the Syrian border. There were tire tracks going back and forth through a break in the wire, and I was able to walk across into Syria. I was stopped by Iraqi forces several kilometers back into Iraq, but I showed them my “Blockbuster” card and they waved me through. When I left the Pentagon shortly after, I wrote about the hole in border security. Col. (now Lt. Gen.) Michael Linnington wrote an angry response detailing the policies he and Gen. Petraeus had put in place to secure the Syrian border. The best policies on paper did not translate into reality on the ground, however, and with the hindsight derived from the Sinjar documents and other evidence, Linnington’s insistence that the border with Syria was secure looks naïve at best. The same sort of problems occurred with Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer’s stewardship of Iraq. Ensconced within the walls of the Republican Palace in the Green Zone, Bremer, his chief of staff Pat Kennedy, and the broader CPA team (of which I was briefly part before I moved out into the red zone), constructed a largely imaginary Iraq based upon the shuffle of papers, few of which correlated to the reality of Iraq beyond the palace walls.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are making much the same mistake with the Iran deal. They continue to embrace the theory of the agreement to which they arrived rather than the reality of the Iranian reaction to it. Kerry may have gone from ‘anytime, anywhere’ to managed inspections, and he and his proxies may still insist that the procedures set in place are rigorous and can prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout. What he ignores, however, is the growing number — and position — of senior Iranian officials who insist that there can be absolutely no inspection, managed or otherwise, of Iranian military sites, the very locations where the work on the possible military dimensions of a nuclear program allegedly occurred or still could occur.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the group that would guard any sensitive sites, has signaled its rejection of the deal. The latest to speak up is Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who was promoted upwards to the Office of the Supreme Leader. Yesterday, he declared, “The arrival of any foreigner, including inspectors of the IAEA or any other inspector, to our sensitive military sites is forbidden in any situation.” That position — straight from the Supreme Leader’s office — seems to make moot the compromise at which the IAEA and Iran supposed arrived to enable managed inspections so long as no Americans were on the inspection teams.
None of this should surprise. On June 24, 2015, as the talks reached their climax, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated his red lines. “I have already asserted that no inspection of military sites can ever be done,” he tweeted. Nothing since has signaled any change or flexibility in that position.
None of this is rhetoric for Iranian domestic political consumption. To suggest as much ignores the fact that Iran is no democracy. The Supreme Leader derives his authority as the deputy of the Messiah on Earth; popular sovereignty means nothing. It is long past time for Obama and Kerry to put aside the deal they insist they signed, and instead answer the question: If no inspections can occur by the IAEA on Iranian military sites, is the deal still worth its salt? If Iran can maintain locations that remain inspections-free (and which also might be shielded from satellites if underground), does the White House still believe that all pathways to a nuclear bomb are blocked? If inspections cannot occur in certain areas, what would that mean for the State Department’s insistence that the deal has achieved the most rigorous peacetime inspections ever? (Let’s put aside for the sake of argument that 124 countries have ratified the Additional Protocol and so, in theory, accept more rigorous inspections than Iran does under this deal).
Of course, if Iranian authorities from the Supreme Leader on down increasingly voice a consensus against inspections on military sites, then this opens a path for Congress to put the Iran deal to an early test before Iran receives its $100 billion windfall. Congress must demand inspections from day one if Obama is able to enact the Iran deal. If Iran refuses to comply, it should be back to the drawing board. The question then becomes whether Obama and Kerry will be willing to put Iran to the test. They likely won’t want to gamble with their legacy and potential Nobel Prize, however, and so they will have to be compelled. Let us hope that given the importance of the Iran issue to the Middle East and the United States, Congress will use every means at its disposal to prevent the usual Congressional obfuscation, even if it means slashing all funding for every State Department function but security until inspectors are sent.