On the Consequences of the Deal

In his first Inaugural Address, President Obama offered an open hand to the Iranian regime. On July 14, announcing the nuclear deal that is the culmination of that overture, he shook a closed fist at the American people. The president came out swinging—not at the regime in Tehran but at his predecessors in the Oval Office and in Congress who for decades imposed an increasingly tough sanctions regime on Iran. He declared that he and his international partners—but it was clear he meant himself—“achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change—change that makes our country and the world safer and more secure.” As a result of this deal, he said, “Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.” At a press conference the next day, Obama asserted the deal was a “historic chance to pursue a safer and more secure world,” representing “an opportunity that may not come again in our lifetime.”

The president is right about the historic nature of the deal: It is a catastrophic error, and an unforced one at that. It doesn’t prevent a nuclear Iran; at best it simply kicks the centrifuge a few years down the road and guarantees that when Iran goes nuclear it will do so with a robust infrastructure, ample economic resources, and international legitimacy. It doesn’t make the world safer, but it will enrich Iran with up to $150 billion, a staggering amount that the regime will use to support terrorist groups and sectarian militia proxies in the region. It will also trigger nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, which will increase the risk of nuclear conflict that could draw in the United States.

The details are worse even than the deal’s deplorable general outlines. Rather than the “24/7” inspections that President Obama touted, the text specifies an onerous, 24-day arbitration process (if not much longer) that the international inspectors will have to go through to attempt to get access to suspicious facilities. Rather than the option to “snap back” sanctions if Iran cheats, the deal carves out an exception from any reimposed sanctions for newly signed contracts; that is, all the major, lucrative international business Iran lands before it cheats will not be subject to any “snap back.” Further, the deal not only fails to address Iran’s attempts to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, with which it will eventually be able to fire nuclear weapons at the United States, it actually lifts the arms embargo that prevents it from buying those weapons, and other advanced systems, from Russia and China.

Rather than defend the deal on its merits, Obama attempted to scare the American people with misleading “alternatives.” “Consider,” he urged in his announcement, “what happens in a world without this deal.” He would have us believe that there is no possibility of getting a better deal, such as by ratcheting up sanctions: “Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure.” And he would deny America’s ability to lead the world: “The world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.” Thus, the alternative to this deal must be an Iranian nuclear program run amok: “No deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.” The only possible outcome, Obama argues, would have to be war: “Without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. president would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it. Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”

Such fear-mongering is both unconvincing and shameful. At a time the United States should be using its power and influence to convince Iran of the dangers of terror-sponsorship and regional meddling, as well as of progress in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the president has used his bully pulpit to try to intimidate the American people from a real debate. Further, Obama’s argument about the only alternative to the deal suffers from two obvious defects.

First, the alternatives he described require believing that the United States had no more leverage to exert over Iran in these negotiations, that this deal is the best and only agreement that could have been reached. Yet, at the very same time, Obama claims, “We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution. And that is what we have done.” But if sanctions helped convince Iran to come to the table, then continued and intensified sanctions would have had even more impact. The alternative to the deal was and is the continuation of the sanctions regime and other forms of economic, diplomatic, and political, and military pressure on Iran.

Second, to buy Obama’s narrative one must believe that the consequences of accepting this deal will be peace rather than war. But our allies have made clear that they see this deal as making more likely the conflicts Obama claims he is trying to prevent. Other countries in the region, such as some of our traditional Arab allies, will develop nuclear programs or acquire nuclear weapons of their own. Obama acknowledged this in 2012: “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons.” But now he dismisses it, saying in May of the Persian Gulf Arabs, “They understand that ultimately their own security and defense is much better served by working with us.” In reality, Saudi Arabia has good reason to question our reliability. After two decades of American presidents, including this president, declaring that Iran needs to dismantle its nuclear program and America will prevent a nuclear Iran, the Obama administration is touting a deal that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program, makes Iran more likely to engage in terror and war, emboldens warlike radicals in the region, and in turn requires others to prepare for war.

Rather than have an honest discussion about all of this, President Obama is trying to scare the American people into accepting this deal. That is why it is critical that Congress stand up to the president, expose all of the fundamental flaws of this deal to the sunlight of public scrutiny, and vote to disapprove it.

Originally appeared in The Weekly Standard on July 27, 2015