The Iran deal: way better than you’ve been led to think

We got a deal with Iran. Iran wanted something; an end to the economic sanctions that were crippling trade and holding back their economy. The West wanted something too; for Iran to stop trying to build nuclear weapons. My wife and I have been watching re-runs of The West Wing; Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear program were an issue President Bartlett dealt with repeatedly, on a show that’s been off the air for ten years. He was a fictional President; now the real one has announced a deal. And it’s terrific.

Meanwhile, the Republican party has found an issue more unifying even than Obamacare. Every single one of the 67 (est.) announced Republican candidates for President has denounced the deal. 47 Republican senators wrote an insultingly condescending letter to the Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif (a guy with multiple advanced degrees in Foreign Relations from various American universities) explaining the American system of government and, oh, adding ‘we’re not going to ratify any deal you make, so don’t bother negotiating one.’ And their views were tepid compared to those of Bibi Netanyahu, who essentially staked his entire political career on his opposition to it. And who got invited to the US to explain his objections to our Congress. Massively inappropriate, to be sure, but the Right was desperate.

So this week the deal got signed. The negotiations worked. Iran agreed to conditions they had previously rejected. Of course, this is Iran, super-sneaky, terror-sponsoring, Islamic-fanatic, utterly untrustworthy Iran. So newspapers across the country, searching for that ever desirable middle-ground, are calling it ‘deeply flawed,’ in terms that make it clear that, in their view, it’s a lousy deal, but probably the best we could come up with, all things considered.

You want to know who thinks it’s a terrific deal, much better than you’ve been reading? Actual experts in nuclear proliferation.

Here’s Aaron Stein, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Royal United Services Institute. (The entire interview with Stein is here.)

It’s a very good nonproliferation deal. If you want it to focus on the problems with Iran running around in Iraq or Syria, this deal is not for you. If you are focused on the nuclear issue specifically, it’s a very good deal. It makes the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the next 25 years extremely remote. It would require a Herculean effort of subterfuge and clandestine activity.

It’s important that it puts inspections in place. Inspections are not always designed to catch you red-handed but rather to elicit a response about what it is that you are up to. The threshold for pain is so high that you don’t want to break the rules, and I think this puts that in place while also making it extremely difficult to cheat.

It’s certainly true that the deal allows all economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted. That was what Iran wanted, and it’s in our best interests too, to allow Iran to engage with other nations, including opening diplomatic relations, eventually, with the US. As Klein puts it: “the policy change we wanted was to put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in perpetuity. We got that.” It’s certainly true Iran is currently holding four American citizens, and that we would like them released. But that becomes easier, not harder, now. This negotiation was about one issue, and only one issue. But diplomatic channels now exist to resolve other differences.

Okay, so that’s one guy. What about other nuclear proliferation experts? Well, 30 of them published a letter praising the deal, calling it a “vitally important step forward.” One of the favorite opposition talking points had been that the deal did not call for international inspections; in fact, such inspections are the centerpiece of the deal. And it concluded that “the agreement reduces the likelihood of destabilizing nuclear weapons competition in the Middle East, and strengthens global efforts to prevent proliferation.”

Want some more? How about the non-partisan “The Iran Project,” a group of former analysts and diplomats who have been skeptical about previous diplomatic efforts. After reading the details of this deal, they enthusiastically endorsed it, and called upon Congress to “take no action that would impede further progress.”

You want another opinion? How about Jeffrey Lewis? Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, with a regular column in Foreign Policy? He’s been a skeptic all along; thought the process was flawed, and doubted Iran would agree to a sufficiently robust inspection regime. But he stayed up all night to read the details when it was released on the internet, and he declares himself pleasantly surprised by it: gave it an A. Can Iran be trusted? Here’s his response:

What you want is to feel like the administration has maxed out what they could have reasonably hoped to achieve. You can’t know that [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] will be deterred. But I don’t know that there’s any way to make him more deterred than this.

As President Obama put it in his press conference yesterday (I’m paraphrasing here), we had two choices. One was to negotiate an end to sanctions (which Iran wanted) and an end to their nuclear program (which we wanted). The second was to unilaterally invade or attack Iran. Without necessarily always saying so, the idea of invading Iran was in the subtext of most neo-conservative criticism of the administration’s efforts. The magazine National Review has been particularly rabid in their insistence on military action.

And they’re wrong. They’ve always been wrong. The United States of America can’t just invade other countries and impose our will. It doesn’t work, and it’s also fantastically immoral. Instead, the Obama administration engaged with Iran diplomatically. The deal we got is terrific. It’s not ‘deeply flawed,’ and anyone who says it is doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s first-rate, excellent. It’s a terrific deal. Well done, Secretary Kerry. Well done, diplomatic corps. Well done, Mr. President.

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