The Pros and Cons of the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Earlier today in Vienna, international negotiators reached a deal with Iran over its nuclear program. The New York Times reports that the agreement will eventually lift oil and financial sanctions, “in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear production capability and fuel stockpile over the next 15 years.” The international restrictions on Iranian arms exports will remain in place for up to 5 years, and the ban on ballistic missile exports could remain for up to 8 years. 

In a televised statement this morning, President Obama defended his decision to engage in the negotiations “from a position of strength” and assured the American people that, under the deal, “Iran will not be able to achieve a nuclear weapon.” His opponents are sure to challenge both assertions. 

The deal, Obama said, “is not built on trust, it is built on verification.” Those verification provisions appeared to have been one of the final sticking points in the negotiations. According to the Associated Press, the Iranians agreed to allow inspection of Iranian military sites, “something the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had long vowed to oppose,” but such inspections are not the surprise, snap inspections that some had pushed for. 

The focus now turns to the Senate, which has 60 days to review the agreement. Senators could vote to block it, but Obama has already pledged that he would veto any legislation that prohibits the deal’s implementation. He has a reasonably strong hand to play. Even if all Senate Republicans vote to kill the deal, opponents would need at least a dozen Senate Democrats to vote with them in order to override the president. 

Expect the details of the nearly 100-page document to come under close scrutiny, even though many opponents don’t appear to believe that the specifics matter that much. For them, nearly any deal is a bad deal. 

For example, the latest entrant into the 2016 Republican presidential contest, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, yesterday pledged to “terminate the bad deal with Iran on Day One” – before the terms were even finalized. And he predicted that any other Republican president would do the same. Arkansas’s freshman Senator Tom Cotton has publicly stated that his object has been to blow up any deal. For Walker, Cotton, and others you don’t negotiate with a regime like Iran’s – you destroy it. 

But counter proliferation by means of regime change has a bad odor today, thanks chiefly to the Iraq war that, coincidentally, many of the most outspoken Iran deal opponents had a hand in pushing on the American people beginning in the late 1990s. 

They have learned nothing, it appears, but most Americans have: refusing to engage diplomatically with an odious regime, or waging war to separate said regime from its weapons – by removing the regime from power – is a costly proposition, and there is no guarantee that the government that emerges in its place will be better than that which came before. George W. Bush came around to this view by the middle of his second term in office: the man who in 2002 cast Iran as a charter member of the Axis of Evil – along with Iraq and North Korea – supported the P5 + 1 negotiating process that eventually led to today’s deal. 

So keep all this in mind in the coming weeks as the details of the Iran deal are debated in Washington and around the country. Deal opponents have an obligation to describe their preferred alternative, not merely what they are against.