Commentary

GOP Hawks Flip-flop on Iran Deal

Either Republican talking points opposing Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran are genuine, or they are not. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find out.

As far as anyone can tell, the framework of a nuclear deal reached by the U.S., Iran, and five other world powers is the most restrictive blueprint for Iran’s nuclear program ever formally agreed to. It includes a number of major Iranian concessions, including a dramatic two-thirds reduction in the number of centrifuges, dismantling about 97 percent of their low-enriched uranium stockpile, completely abandoning the production of plutonium and the most invasive inspections regime in the world.

President Obama had the support of many scientific experts and most international relations scholars when he said this framework, if successfully implemented, would block “every pathway” to an Iranian bomb.

Hawks disagree. They think Iran didn’t capitulate enough. They insist that whatever stringently controlled and meticulously inspected remnants of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program remain intact are likely to pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, rather than block it.

But are they sincere in their opposition? Apparently not. CIA Director John Brennan, for his part, told an audience at Harvard University last week that the deal’s opponents “are being wholly disingenuous.”

Brennan’s accusation is not without reason. Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, both former secretaries of state and prominent Iran hawks, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journalinsisting the framework doesn’t go far enough.

But that wasn’t their position just a couple years ago. In a 2013 op-ed for the same paper entitled “What a Final Iran Deal Must Do,” Kissinger and Shultz laid out their ideal nuclear pact with Iran thusly: “a strategically significant reduction in the number of centrifuges, restrictions on its installation of advanced centrifuges and a foreclosure of its route toward a plutonium-production capability. Activity must be limited to a plausible civilian program subject to comprehensive monitoring as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

That prescription is impressively consistent with what the P5+1 and Iran announced this month. Why does Kissinger and Shultz’s opinion seem to have changed now that their 2013 formula has come to fruition?

Simple: If they move the goal posts, peaceful diplomacy can never score.

They aren’t the only ones moving goal posts. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has criticized the Iran talks from the start. He vehemently opposed the November 2013 interim agreement that partially rolled back Iran’s nuclear enrichment and lifted some superficial economic sanctions while the parties negotiated.

The minor sanctions relief, Graham said at the time, sent “exactly the wrong signal” because “you can’t trust the Iranians.” The temporary arrangement “leaves in place one of the most sophisticated enrichment programs around.” It was a bad deal that would enable, instead of block, Iran’s path to the bomb.

But last week, Graham sung a different tune about the interim agreement. In arguing against the framework deal announced this month, he advocated “keeping the interim deal in place that’s been fairly successful” and using it as the basis for imposing a more restrictive arrangement on Iran.

That’s quite a strategy — to oppose every new advance in the diplomatic negotiations until a further step is achieved, and then insist on keeping in place what he previously opposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the most vocal opponents of a deal with Iran, performed this “moving the goal posts” trick in a similar fashion when he suggested last week that a nuclear deal with Iran would be acceptable only if it included a “clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

That’s new. Never before has Netanyahu included that as a stipulation for properly curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Further, he knows it’s an unattainable demand. Tehran has made Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands an issue of national importance and while the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has publicly called for a referendum to settle the dispute, Iranians generally reject Zionism.

What Netanyahu’s new demand implies is that even if a nuclear deal blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb, he’ll oppose it anyway.

This tactic of dreaming up new and ever more stringent demands for a nuclear deal with Iran, even in the face of what is turning out to be the most restrictive agreement that can realistically be achieved, serves one purpose: derailing peaceful diplomacy.

As Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, a hard-liner among hard-liners in Congress, said last January, “The end of these negotiations…is very much an intended consequence” of Republican opposition. “A feature, not a bug, so to speak.”

These hawks don’t just oppose this deal, but any deal. The insincerity of their alternative proposals is made clear in how they alter their positions when diplomacy yields the solutions they previously demanded. Preventing an Iranian bomb takes a backseat, then, to the priority of opposing the Obama administration and retaining their military option to bomb Iran.

John Glaser is associate director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.