Op-Ed: Nuclear Deal Enriches Iran, Not Peace

Flashback: It’s Jan. 21, 1981. Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States, but that’s the second headline of the day. The top news was that 52 American hostages and diplomats were released by Iran after 444 days of captivity, just moments after President Carter left office. Iran viewed Carter as a weak leader who could be bullied around. The supreme leader could reasonably expect that life under President Reagan would be much tougher because Reagan understood the concept of peace through strength.

American presidents change every 4 to 8 years and each brings their own spin onto the world stage. Iran, on the other hand, hasn’t changed much since Ayatollah Khomeini led the chant “Death to America, Death to Israel” in the 1970s. On the eve of congressional consideration of the Iran nuclear deal, the current supreme leader announced there would be no further negotiations with the United States, that Israel would be gone within 25 years, and that “Iranians must not forget that the United States is the ‘Great Satan.’”

Diplomacy is inherently about negotiating with people who don’t share your values. But diplomacy must take into account who it is you are dealing with. The administration’s failure to understand this fundamental proposition renders the Iran nuclear agreement fatally flawed. And it’s not just Republicans who think so. Four Senate Democrats have publically stated they will vote against the Iran nuclear deal and even many who will support it, either out of blind allegiance to the President or a willingness to take a chance on Iran, voice the same conclusion — that the agreement contains serious flaws

Just as Iran held America hostage for 444 days in the late 1970s, it holds the world hostage today with its threat of nuclear proliferation. By now it should be fundamental that America does not trade arms for hostages, yet this agreement expressly releases Iran from international arms embargoes, allows missile development and releases frozen assets which Iran can use to fund terrorism in the region and around the world. Iran continues its support for proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, which threaten Israel on a daily basis.

In return we get Iran’s promise to delay the advancement of its nuclear ambitions, but the devil is in the details. The delay is limited in time, and since Iran is not required to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure, the question of whether it is likely to comply hangs heavy in the air. William Tobey, former deputy administrator at the National Nuclear Security Administration, cautioned that recent statements by top Iranian ministers and advisers denying that inspectors will be permitted to access so-called military sites are signs the deal “may already be eroding.” Tobey also stressed, “Unless there’s a full understanding of who did what, where, and when, then there can’t be a baseline for effective verification, and we won’t know that this activity has ceased, and we won’t know that it won’t recur.”

And that’s the crux of the issue before the Senate. Iran is guaranteed a release of frozen assets and access to world oil markets at America’s expense because they can export to the world; we can’t. Increased output by Iran will lower global oil prices, which would be a good thing for consumers everywhere were it not for the fact that we ban exports of our own oil. Our diplomacy benefits Iranian producers, while our antiquated domestic policy harms American producers. In effect, we release sanctions on Iran and continue to sanction ourselves. It’s a real windfall for Iran.

The question remains whether Iran intends to hold up its end of the bargain, and whether the world will have the fortitude to call Iran out if it does not. For those who think it’s either the deal or war, consider these words from retired Ambassador Nicholas Burns, a career foreign service officer who led nuclear negotiations with Iran from 2005-08. “In implementing the deal, the United States must take a hardline stance should Iran cheat on its end of the bargain. I think President Obama should be more clear than he has been about his determination that he will use military force if there’s a fundamental Iranian violation of this agreement.” Burns happens to support the deal.

It is clear to me the Obama administration is disconnected — not only with a majority of Congress — but also with the American people. The American people want Iran out of the nuclear weapons business. That means dismantlement. And the American people want their president to demonstrate backbone in the negotiations — not capitulation. And certainly not appeasement of Iran whose leader seem to take pride in a continued pattern of unacceptable behavior.