Littwin: A pretty big deal
Fair and Unbalanced
OK, the deal is not perfect. That’s what the experts say, anyway. It’s not even a deal yet, although the way to bet is that what is now being called a “framework” will become one eventually.
President Barack Obama took to the Rose Garden to call the nuclear deal with Iran “good,” which was just the restrained language he needed, although he also called it “historic.”
A deal with Iran — a successful deal, anyway — would be Obama’s greatest foreign-policy achievement. But it was not the time to oversell. It was not — in one enduring lesson of Iraq — the time to claim any missions had been accomplished. What Obama did claim — and what is difficult to refute — is that the deal was better than anyone, including his congressional critics in both parties, could have expected.
That’s why the critics have been so muted. No enriched uranium for 10 years. Inspections for as long as 25 years. A deal more comprehensive than expected. A deal more detailed than expected. It could all fall apart by June, but the only way to reject this deal out of hand now is to reject any deal out of hand.
No one expected John Kerry to come back with so much detail — on verification, on reducing centrifuges, on the diminished nuclear plant in Arak, on the halt of uranium enrichment at Fordo, on the snapback of sanctions if Iran breaks the agreement, on the 10-year sunset that isn’t a 10-year sunset. The details help make Obama’s case that if Iran cheats, the world will know, and if the world knows, it would take a year before Iran could make a bomb. As of today, the “breakout” timing is said to be two to three months.
How do you say “no” to this deal? If it’s a real deal — if the details come to life in a real-time agreement — the easy answer is that you don’t. Not unless you’ve got something better.
We’ll be hearing a lot of debate on Arak and on Fordo and on other unfamiliar names and places from people whose credentials aren’t much better than yours or mine. Still, the deal can be critiqued on its own terms — and should be. It will be debated in Congress when/if the deal is finished in June — and even before — and should be.
But the framework/deal makes the open letter to Iran’s mullahs, written by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 other Republicans senators, including Cory Gardner, look even more naive and unserious. John McCain, who blamed the hurried decision to sign the letter on the threat of a snowstorm, must be embarrassed. The deal is good enough, even in framework form, that when people such as would-be-president Scott Walker say they’d scrap it on their first day in office — presumably right after killing off Obamacare — you know not to pay attention.
What this deal demands is that its critics come up with a serious alternative. The question is whether there is one.
As Obama said in his Rose Garden speech, history has shown us that Iran is not going to give up its search for the bomb just because we ask nicely, or even not so nicely. He said to put it this way to the inevitable critics: “Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we’ve done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections? I think the answer will be clear.”
So what is the alternative? Most critics — and, yes, they are from both parties — have said more sanctions and tougher negotiations would be their choice. Then there’s the let’s-do-another-Iraq-but-do-it-right-this-time chorus, led by people such as former U.N. ambassador and professional hawk John Bolton, who insist that war, bombing to prevent the bombing, is the best option.
But here’s where the risk comes: If there is a deal, the tougher-sanctions alternative probably disappears. Congress can vote for tougher sanctions, scuttling the deal, but it can’t reasonably expect the rest of the world’s powers to go along. The world’s powers were in there with John Kerry negotiating the deal that Congress would be rejecting. If the details on the framework are successfully filled in, a fully negotiated deal is not just risky for Obama to implement, but also risky for any Congress to turn away from.
If there is a deal and Congress rejects it — a deal made in concert with Britain and Germany and France and Russia and China — let’s just say that writing an open letter to the United Nations Security Council won’t help.
So, in the Obama framework, if you’re going to stop Iran from getting a bomb, there are two options: a negotiated settlement or the Bolton alternative. Bombing to stop the bomb is a short-term solution, if it’s a solution at all. We don’t have to outline the risks; they’re obvious enough. So, of course, is the great likelihood that, with an agreement, Iran will continue to support terrorism, will continue to threaten Israel and will make even more trouble, as sanctions are lifted and Iran’s economy improves, in Syria and Iraq?
But as every working pundit has pointed out, Ronald Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon went to China. And now, Obama has talked to Iran. I’m not qualified to say whether the deal — if completed — would actually work. But I am qualified to say its critics have yet to explain why it wouldn’t.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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