Tuesday, July 14, 2015

That deal with Iran

As I think I've said before,1 if Iran wants to get the bomb the only way to stop it from doing so is through a negotiated deal with the West.

There is no other realistic option. To stop a nuclear program militarily would be an enormous effort, much harder than the Iraq War, and the U.S. simply has no appetite to try something on that scale (nor should it). Despite years of saber rattling (and the behind the scenes efforts of his Vice President), even President Bush wasn't stupid enough to try a war with Iran. A more limited military strike is not going to do the job and is likely to just accelerate any Iranian efforts to get a nuclear weapon. Other countries that might want to do such a strike--like Saudi Arabia and Israel--can't pull it off (which is why they have been so hell-bent on getting the U.S. to go to war with Iran for them). Opponents of the deal don't seem to get that basic point. In the absence of negotiated limits on Iran's nuclear capabilities, there will be no limits on its capabilities.

On top of that, in these negotiations the U.S. has had a lot more negotiating power on its side than it is likely to have again anytime soon. Since the the Iranian revolution, the U.S. has had a broad regime of sanctions against the Islamic Republic and those sanctions have been completely ineffective because other countries were willing to do business with Iran. The current round of negotiations came about because other countries, notably the European countries who have had a lot of trade with Iran, agreed to impose harsh sanctions on Iran too. The Europeans only signed on because they understood the sanction regime was designed to bring Iran to the table to negotiate a nuclear deal. And it worked! Iran came to the table and negotiated a deal.

If the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, the European sanctions will end. Because Europe has such business ties to Iran, they will not tolerate harsh sanctions with no end date. Again, the Europeans are only doing this because they understand the sanctions to be a temporary arrangement until a more permanent deal is negotiated. Without the possibility of a permanent deal, European resolve will crumble and they will go back to doing business with Iran. American sanctions will stay, but thanks to decades without any trade between the U.S. and Iran, the unilateral American sanctions will go back to being just as ineffective as they were for years before the Europeans signed on.

In other words, if Congress rejects the deal with Iran the likely result will not be a better deal, it will be a worse deal. The sanctions that Iran actually cares about will be lifted without any inspections or limits on Iranian nuclear capabilities.

That said, members of Congress, especially (but not exclusively) the Republican caucus are too stupid and hyper-partisan to realize this. They will decry Obama's deal as a sellout to Iran and claim that it will allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. Then I expect they will reject the deal, thus making it easier for Iran to get nuclear weapons.

I don't think the Iran nuclear deal is a bad deal, but because of domestic American politics I think it is a doomed deal.  I just don't see how it can get through the current Congress. If you are an Iranian who wants both nuclear weapons and to be free from the crippling multilateral sanctions, the so-called Iran-hawks in Congress are about to do you a massive favor.

UPDATE (7/16/15): After reading the comments, I guess I should clarify the last two paragraphs of the post. It is true that this agreement doesn't require Congressional approval. Rather, under the legislation passed a few months ago, the procedure will be that Congress can try to force the president to reject the deal by passing a resolution of disapproval, which the President will then be able to veto. Unless there are enough votes to override the President's veto (which I do not think will happen), Congress will almost certainly not be able to block the agreement in that sense. But my understanding of the deal is that it requires the U.S. to lift sanctions against Iran. Many of those sanctions were passed through the legislative process over the past 36 years, so they will take a Congressional repeal of those sanctions to effectuate those terms of the agreement.

For that reason, I thought (and still think) that Congress can block the U.S. from fulfilling its end of the deal. Maybe that is not correct. Maybe the President has the power to unilaterally waive the sanctions. But if the sanctions were written into a statute, it seems to me that Congress would be able to stop this deal by making sure that the U.S. does not do what it has promised to do by refusing to repeal the sanctions.
[end of update]

1-Although I can't find the specific post that I am thinking of, so maybe I am remember a post I thought about writing but never did?