Since recently posing the question above, here and on my various social media pages, I’ve been accused of all manner of sins ranging from naivete to demagoguery; all for asking a seemingly straightforward question.
What do you believe is a better achievable alternative to the Iran nuclear deal currently on the table?
Since many of the comments seem to cluster around a few common themes, let me try to combine my responses around a few main points.
First, many have raised the concept of continued or strengthened sanctions on Iran as a viable alternative. I’m obviously not a sanctions expert, but there’s ample evidence suggesting that the European-Chinese-Russian-UN commitment to maintaining even the current sanctions on Iran was beginning to unravel long before the deal was struck. And even if the US Congress votes to maintain sanctions, what impact would continued US sanctions have in the absence of collective international action? To say nothing about the odds of getting agreement on even stronger sanctions, which I would estimate at zero.
Second, even setting aside the argument about the unraveling global consensus on sanctions, when is the last time that a repressive regime has allowed a lack of money to deter it from investing in its military capacity? Examples abound all over the globe. North Korea, arguably one of the poorest countries in the world where half the people are starving, has one of the largest and most advanced militaries anywhere. And Iran itself, precisely during the sanctions period, has continued full-steam development of its centrifuges, nuclear enrichment capacity and missile development. (Wasn’t it Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results?)
Third, everyone – including PM Netanyahu on his recent Webcast – vigorously deny that they’re seeking war with Iran. Yet, many imply or even propose that taking military action – bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, for example – is a viable alternative. Here too, I’m far from being an expert, but I have yet to hear one military or intelligence authority argue that military action could do anything other than buy a little time in Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power; and probably much less time than could be achieved by the Iran deal currently on the table.
Finally, I’ve been accused in this conversation of demonizing opponents or censoring comments. I’ve been writing about the Iran issue for a number of months (here and elsewhere) and, in every case, I’ve welcomed and respected opposing views. Having read thousands of words of arguments opposed to the agreement though – and responding in each case with my best counter-points – I’ve reached a certain rhetorical end-of-the-road on this issue.
For these reasons, I strongly believe that maintaining the status quo is not an option, and that the US Congress blocking the negotiated deal would have disastrous consequences; both for the chances of containing the Iranian nuclear threat and for the ability of the US to continue playing a serious leadership role among its allies and in world affairs.
I also believe that the US Secretary of State and his team have carefully and painstakingly mapped out and pushed for the strongest achievable consensus among the negotiating partners – the EU, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – and with the Iranians themselves.
It is not logical, at least to me, that the US would be doing anything other than pursuing the most aggressive and comprehensive terms possible with the Iranians. I understand that critics of the deal don’t believe that has been achieved, but that’s easy to say from the outside looking in. Even if your view is from Israel, where the risks and fears are legitimately greatest.
Therefore, if maintaining the status quo is not a viable option – because continued sanctions will not contain the nuclear program and are probably not achievable anyway – I believe it is an entirely fair question to ask critics to propose a better achievable option for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as I framed it at the beginning of this discussion. I don’t consider that demagoguery or demonizing or censoring. I consider that it is not only reasonable but logically required to ask “what’s your better idea.” The question remains on the table.