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The Iran Deal
Skepticism from the Amen Chorus

The genteel pages of the New Yorker are not where one expects to find criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy, unless we are speaking of elegantly wrung hands over the White House’s failure to close Guantanamo, or to finalize a climate treaty. But Steve Coll’s latest, carefully wrapped in the form of a hymn to the President’s wisdom in seeking negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, nevertheless contains some of the most powerful arguments that the President’s critics are making. Brilliant as the wisdom of our great President is, Coll writes, his success in the Middle East would be even greater…if he hadn’t utterly failed to develop a policy to counter Iran’s reckless march toward regional hegemony.

As Coll puts it:

But a deal might achieve more stability—and go down better in Congress—if it was accompanied by a broader political strategy designed to separate Shiite and Sunni fighters, promote autonomy and self-governance for Sunnis opposed to the Islamic State, reduce violence, and stop Iran from intervening in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Gaza.

Moreover, there’s another question Coll poses: won’t sanctions relief replenish Iran’s war chest at just the time when regional overextension and low oil prices might be creating problems for the country’s expansionist ambitions? As he points out:

How would lifting sanctions not simply revitalize Iran’s expansionism? If the Administration doesn’t have a plan, it should devise one.

As to whether there is such a plan, Coll is polite, but, in looking at the confused record of Obama Administration policymaking in Iraq, isn’t hopeful:

Obama has committed the U.S. to what looks to be a long war in Iraq, with Iran’s help; an attack on the large city of Mosul is due soon. The Islamic State has thrived because it has captured the grievances and bitter desperation of Iraq’s Sunni minority. Attacking the Sunnis with Shiite fighters is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. If Iran’s proxies in Iraq gain more access to guns and money because of a nuclear deal with the West, that may only make things worse.

In recent days, the Washington Post, the Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the New Yorker—all basically sympathetic to the President personally and to his overall goal of a nuclear deal with Iran—have raised serious questions about the viability and coherence of the White House strategy. Likewise Jeffrey Goldberg, another source by no means unsympathetic to the White House, enumerated today a very skeptical set of criteria by which he would judge any deal to be a success; it will be very hard for the Administration to satisfy these criteria. The President lost the right on Iran policy long ago. He is well on his way to losing the center. Now cracks are beginning to appear on the left.

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  • Blackbeard

    “Now cracks are beginning to appear on the left.”

    Doesn’t matter, Obama doesn’t listen. He’ll make whatever concessions are needed to do this deal and Iran will have nuclear weapons within five years. Remember the success of Clinton’s Agreed Framework? Didn’t CNN just say that North Korea will have 200 nuclear weapons by 2020?

    • Ellen

      Actually, this time around it won’t happen. Obama is not a good politician like Clinton and is not respected even by his own party. The Congress will either repudiate the agreement or will so gut it of meaning that it will be null and void.

      As with everything in the MidEast, the real action is on the ground, but does not involve American troops who – at this juncture – are solidly backing Iran’s push to expand its Persian Empire, version 3. Watch what al Nusra does in Northern Syria in the next few weeks. They just took the provincial capital of Idlib and are now in position to launch an attack either on Aleppo or Hama or Latakia. The fall of any of these would signal the coming demise of the Alawite/Shiite regime. Walid Jumblatt – my favorite Lebanese warlord (for news purposes) – just delivered a tirade against Iran. He also encouraged the Syrian Druze to revolt against the Syrian regime. He would not be so vocal in promoting these risky positions unless he smells blood in the water, so to speak. He must see the beginning of the end of the Assad regime and its enablers.

      The Ayatollah has repeatedly said that the fall of Damascus will lead to the fall of Teheran. This is not just hyperbole. He means it, as well he should. Watch the battlefield in Syria, rather than listening to the words of the Amen chorus.

      • Blackbeard

        I must respectfully disagree. Obama will ignore Congress and simply announce an agreement which will probably not even be in writing. The U.S. will then go to the UN and ask that the UN sanctions be lifted. As for the U.S. sanctions enacted by Congress, Obama will decline to enforce those. As the agreement apparently has no effective enforcement provisions Iran will then be free to do as they like.

        • Ellen

          I hope you are wrong. It would be very sad if you are right. In either case, Obama and Kerry – 2 mediocrities obsessed with their selfish little legacies rather than doing what is right for American national interest – will end up with very negative footprints in history. Worse than Jimmy Carter, although people like to compare Obama with Carter. The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, for all of Egypt’s negativism during the Mubarak and Morsy periods, is now one of the few real elements of guaranteed stability in the region. Carter deserves credit for that, as much as I hate to admit it.

          • Fat_Man

            Ellen. Blackbeard has it right. Obama has no interest in Congress. The US can maintain sanctions, but if Europe is off the hook, the Iranians have won.

  • Andrew Allison

    The circumlocutions of the lickspitte MSM in attempting to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear are completely in character.

  • Dan Greene

    First of all, the idea that Coll is somehow representative of “the left” is ridiculous to begin with. He’s just one more establishment figure who hews to the basic anti-Iran establishment consensus. He says:

    “One risk of any deal is that Iran will cheat successfully, as it has before. Between 2004 and 2009, it built a huge centrifuge facility under a mountain south of Tehran before Western intelligence agencies found out about the deception.”

    What is he talking about? A few key points:

    1. Enriching uranium is not “cheating.” Enrichment is required for a nuclear power plant. When the US actively prevented Iran from purchasing already-enriched uranium from France and Germany starting in the 1980s, in violation of US commitments under the NPT, Iran sensibly began a process of learning how to enrich uranium itself. Bottom line: We drove Iran to acquire an indigenous enrichment capability.

    2. Iran concluded an agreement with the EU-3 (France, Germany, UK) in 2004–the Paris Agreement–in which it agreed voluntarily to suspend enrichment and reprocessing activity, but only “while negotiations on a long-term agreement are underway” and only with the recognition that the suspension was “a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation.”

    3. In further negotiations with the EU-3, Iran, in 2005, offered to convert all existing enriched uranium to fuel rods for use in nuclear power generation so as to guarantee that no uranium would be left that might be enriched to the higher levels necessary for nuclear weapons.

    4. Under US pressure, the Europeans strung Iran along, and the Iranians warned that they would not accept delays and that Khamenei had ordered Rouhani to to resume uranium conversion. The negotiations ended and, with them, Iran’s voluntary and temporary cessation of enrichment and processing. So there was no “cheating” on enrichment or in connection with the centrifuges required to conduct it. Iran was quite clear on the limitations of its concessions to the EU-3. What there was was a failed negotiation brought about by bankrupt, Israel-generated US policy.

    5. What “huge centrifuge facility under a mountain south of Tehran” is Coll talking about? Not Natanz, the main enrichment facility, as that was well known by 2002. Is he talking about Parchin, the unconvincingly alleged bomb test facility and the rigamarole over it caused by Israeli-generated “documents” that made all sorts of ludicrous claims?

    Coll himself seems unclear on the basic realities of Iran’s nuclear program and subverted by much of the same agitprop that the Israeli government–itself of course not even a signatory of the NPT–has been foisting on the international community with the foolish connivance of the US.

    • Josephbleau

      1. Is enrichment above 5% U3O8 cheating?

      • Josephbleau

        That is, above 5% U235.

      • Dan Greene

        Well, it would be currently, under the conditions of the Geneva Interim Agreement went into effect in January 2014. Iran agreed therein to hold enrichment to less than 5%. But this is like Iran’s 2004 agreement, conditioned on progress towards an acceptable final settlement.

        • Josephbleau

          Which demonstrates that Iran is out for the bomb not power, otherwise they would not be arguing about how they don’t need to dilute their HEU stockpile.

          • Dan Greene

            I don’t understand your reasoning. The only documented HEU in Iran was some traces detected on equipment by an IAEA monitoring team at Natanz in 2003, but that was later shown by the IAEA to be from centrifuges imported from Pakistan and/or Russia and not indicative of any Iranian enrichment activity to HEU levels.

            HEU is conventionally considered to be above 20% concentration. Iran has enriched up to, but not beyond, the 20% level, and that largely as a bargaining maneuver. We foolishly demanded that they give up all enrichment permanently, which they don’t and won’t accept, as enrichment is not prohibited under the NPT.

            Don’t know what you see that “demonstrates Iran is out for the bomb.”

          • Josephbleau

            If there is no heu then why the negotiations for getting rid of it?

          • Dan Greene

            Tell me specifically what you are referring to by the phrase “negotiations to get rid of it.”

    • Dan Greene

      I guess, reference my point 5, he must be referring to Fordu.

    • Fat_Man

      Perspective Dan. To most Americans, and I include myself in their number, the New York Times is the Left. Left of the New York Times is only crazy children wearing ski masks and throwing Molotov Cocktails.

    • Josephbleau

      Boy you have a. Lot of time to write things .

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