‘A Perverse Consequence’

Let’s begin by doing something we don’t often do, and that is quoting the New York Times at some length. We do this because David Sanger’s report of Thursday, May 14, makes clear how mistaken are the premises underlying President Obama’s forthcoming Iran deal:

When President Obama began making the case for a deal with Iran that would delay its ability to assemble an atomic weapon, his first argument was that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off a “free-for-all” of proliferation in the Arab world. “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons,” he said in 2012. Now, as he gathered Arab leaders over dinner at the White House on Wednesday and prepared to meet with them at Camp David on Thursday, he faced a perverse consequence: Saudi Arabia and many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain. “We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research,” one of the Arab leaders preparing to meet Mr. Obama said on Monday, declining to be named until he made his case directly to the president. Prince Turki bin Faisal, the 70-year-old former Saudi intelligence chief, has been touring the world with the same message. “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too,” he said at a recent conference in Seoul, South Korea…. [B]y leaving 5,000 centrifuges and a growing research and development program in place – the features of the proposed deal that Israel and the Arab states oppose virulently – Mr. Obama is essentially recognizing Iran’s right to continue enrichment of uranium, one of the two pathways to a nuclear weapon…. Although “the small print of the deal is still unknown,” [Prince Turki] added, it “opens the door to nuclear proliferation, not closes it, as was the initial intention.”

So: One of the main justifications of the Iran deal was that it would slow down nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. But it turns out it will do the opposite. This is a “perverse consequence” of the deal only from President Obama’s point of view, as expressed by the New York Times. From the point of view of anyone familiar with the Middle East, it is in fact a predictable consequence. The Iran deal is making nuclear proliferation in an unbelievably unstable region of the world – one made more unstable, we would add, by President Obama’s policies of retreat in Iraq and inaction in Syria more likely and more imminent.

Maybe this is an unfortunate price one has to pay if a deal could, as President Obama said this past week in an interview with the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, “strengthen the hands of more moderate leaders in Iran.” But there’s no sign of that. Quite the contrary.

This past week Reuters reported that Iran tried just a few months ago – in violation of its 2013 interim agreement with the United States and our allies – to procure “a large shipment of sensitive technology usable for nuclear enrichment.” The Czech Republic blocked the attempted purchase. As Reuters explains, this is detailed by an expert U.N. panel, which reports that in January Iran attempted to buy compressors useful for extracting enriched uranium from cascades of the sort that Iran possesses – cascades that Iran will continue to possess under the agreement. Furthermore, according to the U.N., “the procurer and transport company involved in the deal had provided false documentation in order to hide the origins, movement and destination of the consignment with the intention of bypassing export controls and sanctions.” The U.N. panel also notes that Britain had discovered a further illicit Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to blacklisted firms.

Reuters concludes, in an understated way: “The incident could add to Western concerns about whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal being negotiated with world powers under which it would curb sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.”

In sum: Iran is cheating, as it always has, despite all the concessions and happy talk and group hugs from Western diplomats. Given the weak inspections and verification regime envisioned by the final deal, how likely is that to change?

Furthermore, given this evidence of very recent Iranian behavior, how likely is it that the deal will strengthen the forces of moderation in Iran? In fact, achieving a deal that amounts to a huge series of concessions by the West and that allows Iran to leave its nuclear infrastructure in place – a deal that legitimizes Iran as a nuclear threshold state – will have the opposite effect. It will leave the regime in Iran strengthened and emboldened. After all, to say nothing of other considerations, if there’s a deal, the regime will, thanks to the unfreezing of sanctioned assets, quickly receive a “signing bonus” of $30-50 billion from the deal, an immediate cash infusion equivalent to more than 10 percent of Iran’s GDP.

Indeed, when pressed, even the Obama administration acknowledges that enriching the Islamic Republic of Iran may only accelerate its mischief-making. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on May 5 that the administration hopes “that the influx of resources will be devoted to meeting the needs of the population there and to strengthening the economy that has taken a terrible toll on the daily lives of millions of Iranians.” But he admitted that “even while these sanctions have been in place we have not seen Iran significantly scale back their support for terrorism or their destabilization activities in the region.” Ultimately, he said with resignation, Iran “is a sovereign country that will make their own decisions.”

So there are two fundamentally flawed assumptions – really, hopes – underlying the Obama administration’s deal. The hope is that such a deal (a) would lead to improved Iranian behavior and (b) would slow down nuclear proliferation in the region. But based on current Iranian behavior and today’s reactions in the region, both hopes are false. In fact, they are the complete opposite of the dynamics we already see playing out. The nuclear deal with Iran would have the “perverse consequence” both of making the Iranian regime stronger and more apt to engage in bad behavior, and of contributing to instability and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

It’s up to Congress to kill the deal, and thereby to save us from the predictable consequences of the Obama administration’s perverse view of American interests and of how the real world works.

Originally appeared in The Weekly Standard on May 25, 2015.