Making a Nuclear Deal With Iran Stick

In November of 2014, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly saying:

...the worst thing that can happen now is for the international community to agree to a deal that leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear power and removes the sanctions. That would be a disaster of historic proportions.

Now the P5+1 powers appear close to agreeing to a nuclear deal with Iran that would attempt to hold Iran for 10 years to the condition of being one year from a nuclear weapon "breakout." In exchange for this nuclear materials development moratorium, a number of sanctions (not all) would be lifted.

Regarding Netanyahu's warning, this deal allows Iran to remain "a threshold nuclear power." Whatever is achieved by the agreement in terms of halting Iran's progress towards becoming a nuclear power, it will be far less than what P5 powers hoped to impose on Iran when the Security Council first approved sanctions nine years ago.

What Netanyahu, President Obama and most of the many U.S. Congressional critics of the imminent deal know by now, but will not admit to, is that the strategic disaster of historic proportions occurred 12 years ago when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq.

The security threat to Iran posed by "regime changers" in Washington was made abundantly clear by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If Iran was inclined to develop a nuclear weapons option (i.e. achieve a breakout capability) in 2002, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 made such a program appear to be a well-advised national security priority for Tehran.

Iran will agree to postponement of, but will not abandon, this goal of being breakout-ready as long as they have reason to think that the U.S. backs regime change (covertly or otherwise.) Ironically Saddam Hussein was most interested in acquiring nuclear weapons because of the threat he faced from Iran. Iran is most interested in nuclear weapons because of the threat from the U.S.

Once in a while a celebrity gets it (mostly) right, as Sean Penn did last week when he pointed out that ISIS would not exist if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq. "These are the guys, he and President Bush and some others, who invented Daesh, or ISIS," Penn said. Well, they didn't "invent" it, but they surely created the conditions in which ISIS could grow and thrive.

The U.S. has now been pulled into warfare in both Iraq and Syria. Military Times reports that in recent testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, DefSec Ashton Carter "said there is no clear end in sight for the operation," while JCS Chairman Dempsey "said commanders will continue to consider putting small teams of U.S. forces [SOF or JTACS] on the ground in Iraq as well as Syria, if needed."

As Helene Cooper reports in the New York Times, Iraq is presently dependent of Iranian ground forces to stop and reverse the advances of ISIS. This puts the U.S. in de facto alliance with Iran (operationalized through shared intelligence and coordination of activity by Iraqi intermediaries). Despite whatever denials Washington may make, this alliance surely has a major effect on the nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

Regarding the concerns of Israel's Prime Minister for the longer term, the consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a huge strategic gift to Iran which, of course, makes negotiating a decisive end to Iran's nuclear development unrealistic at this point. Because of the strategic miscalculation by the Bush administration, Iraq is now dependent on Iran for its national security and the Obama administration will end up with a moratorium in Iran's nuclear weapons development as the best achievable option for a negotiated agreement.

Majorities in Washington remain loathe to accept responsibility for their terrible decisions since 9/11 and thus continue to avoid learning much needed lessons from the mistakes. This preference for denial is reason to doubt that Washington will be able to use the time gained by a moratorium deal with Iran to make changes in its Middle East policy, which might in the longer run keep Iran on this side of the nuclear threshold.

The U.S. needs to use the next 10 years to build assurance of peaceful relations with Iran. Furthermore, the U.S. must work diligently in support of the normalization of Iran's relations globally and, especially, in the region.

The political and economic benefits of that normalization must be evident and compelling for Tehran. Urgently, Washington must build on a new relationship of trust and mutual benefit to persuade Tehran to use its influence to deescalate the present Shia-Sunni conflicts in the region.

For this to work, Washington must take steps now to discourage two allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, from acting as spoilers. Both are no doubt already at work on contingency options for spoiling any agreement.

At present, there appears to be little understanding in Washington of the need to make the changes in foreign policy that will significantly increase the probabilities that Iran will opt to refrain from weaponizing their growing nuclear capabilities a decade from now. Real and significant Middle East policy change must begin now.