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The Nuclear Deal
Congress, Pundits, Allies React to Iran Deal

Diplomats announced the conclusion of a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States-led P5+1 earlier today. At 159 pages, the deal is weighty and complicated, and the devil(s) will likely lie in the details—which is to say, we’ll hold comment until we know more, and we encourage you to keep an eye out in the upcoming hours and days for commentary from TAI editors and contributors. But in the meantime, we’ve already seen commentary from politicians and pundits alike—and in many ways, these reactions are what will shape the fate of the deal going forward.

Unsurprisingly, President Obama hailed the deal, whereas Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and a slew of GOP Presidential candidates sounded notes of deep reservation. A Congressional fight is brewing, and the President has already vowed to veto any measure of disapproval passed under Corker-Menendez. Keep an eye therefore on hawkish Congressional Democrats, particularly these fourteen Senators, who will be heavily courted by both sides in the lead-up to an expected veto-override vote that Sen. Corker projects for early September (and, it’s worth noting, a 2/3 override vote in both houses is very tough).

Pundits and former governmental officials are also starting to weigh in, though cautiously. Many, like Jeffrey Goldberg and Dennis Ross, have pieces establishing the parameters by which they would judge the package. These are worth keeping an eye on, for they’re being echoed by centrist Senators of both parties, and some standard reference points for evaluating the deal do seem to be congealing into a consensus among the U.S. foreign policy establishment. (One shouldn’t overstate the importance of intellectual yard-sticks though: the Obama Administration will be hard at work horse-trading—you want that bridge? air base?—and that this is often how politics actually ends up working.)

Key allies in the P5+1, meanwhile, sound pleased, but with various degrees of reservation. The Brits, though the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, issued essentially platitudinous praise for the deal; Cameron’s administration has been small-c conservative in foreign policy matters and will be unlikely to object to an agreement the Obama Administration favors. The French, on the other hand, have grown closer recently to the Saudis and been more hawkish in the negotiations. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius characterized the deal as a “stage agreement… still work to do” while President Hollande said France would be “watchful”. (Neighborhood troll Vladmir Putin declared that the world “breathed a sigh of relief.”)

Most concerning to the U.S. so far should be the Saudi position. While the government has yet to make an official statement, Saudi diplomats are already making their feelings known—and they are not happy. The Washington Post reports:

One Saudi diplomat described the agreement as “extremely dangerous” and said it would give a green light to his own government to start a nuclear energy program.[…]

“If a green light is given to Iran, Saudi Arabia has the right to nuclear energy,” said the Saudi diplomat, echoing comments by other Saudi diplomats in recent weeks.

As Walter Russsell Mead wrote in March, the P5+1 actually has three silent partners—the U.S. Congress, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Congress’ reaction as a whole will be revealed through votes in the coming months, while both the Saudi government and the Israeli government seem to be feeling out what their other options truly are. All three are outliers, for now, from a general international consensus that it’s time to take the deal—good, bad, or ugly—and get on with things. But as more details become known, will public opinion—particularly in the U.S.—shift their way?

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  • Arkeygeezer

    I agree with the international consensus that it’s time to take the deal — good, bad, or ugly — and get on with the business of letting the countries of the middle east resolve their own situation. None of them is ever going to love us dearly, but we can be on speaking terms with all of them, and then cozy up to the winners when the time is right.

    • Fat_Man

      It is good thing that there is no way that Iran could put a nuclear weapon in a cargo ship and detonate it in New York harbor.

      • Arkeygeezer

        If Iran wanted a nuclear weapon, they could have bought one years ago from either Pakistan or North Korea.

        • Fat_Man

          They didn’t want one or two, they wanted an arsennal, which is why they bought NK and Pakistan’s technology.

          Just keeping whistling, that way the ghosts can’t get you when you pass the graveyard.

          • Arkeygeezer

            OK now they will match Israel’s arsenal. MAAD – mutually assured destruction. I think we played that game with the USSR for a few decades.

          • adk

            That’s naive in the extreme. That the US and USSR avoided nuclear exchange during the Cold War was due to many factors, not last of them sheer luck. To assume such luck with Iran and others in the ME likely to go nuclear because of the deal would be very foolish.

          • fastrackn1

            USSR and Iran are apples and oranges. Not even a close comparison.
            Also, times have changed quite a bit since the cold war days. Now we have people walking into crowded shopping malls wearing bomb belts and detonating, flying planes into skyscrapers, and shouting Allahu akbar while cutting peoples heads off.

            The USSR wasn’t filled with religious fanatics who think everyone else is an infidel and should either be converted, or wiped off of the face of the earth….

          • adk

            All true, except that communism was (and is) a secular religion. It just so happened that the Soviets got their first nuclear bomb in 1949 (but they didn’t have ICBMs then) , after having been devastated in WWII, and Stalin passed away shortly thereafter (1953). Subsequent Soviet leaders were relatively timid to challenge the US and NATO directly (Khrushchev kind of stumbled into the Cuban Missile Crisis, but, with Kennedy, pulled out of it), perhaps because all of them witnessed the horrors of WWII first hand. In sum, when the Soviet leaders finally got both the nukes and the missiles, they were all old and sufficiently cautious, and the revolutionary spirit was mostly gone.

          • MartyH

            It’s not mutual until more than one party has the bomb-that means anyone who sees themselves as a rival to Iran will want the bomb, and then anyone who sees themselves as a rival to those countries gets one. It’ll be like trying to predict the motion of particles-you can predict two, but throw a third in and it really complicates things. Within the next decade we may have a nuclear armed Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel all within close proximity to one another.

            Second, Iran does not have to use its nukes to bully other countries and continue to sow discord in the ME.

            Third, this deal opens the way for Iran to step up its funding of Assad, Hezbollah, Hamas, the rebels in Yemen, etc. Saudi Arabia or someone else (US????) will have to match that funding.

            If the point is to allow a death match in the ME, then we should be trying to hinder our enemies, so it ends faster with them losing. Instead we seem intent on giving them the upper hand in the hopes that they will become our friend.

          • f1b0nacc1

            And we all would have slept SOOOOOOO well at night if the Soviets had been run by religious fanatics with small factions of even more extreme fanatics jockeying for power? For all its faults, the Soviet Union was a stable state with a fairly well entrenched bureaucracy with a whole lot to lose by starting a war. Iran is none of these things, which is precisely why having them acquire weapons is such a bad idea.
            The Israelis, who have recent experience with the consequences of a group of fanatics who want to kill all of your people getting the opportunity to do so, aren’t likely to simply passively acquiesce to all of this, no matter what the administration and its apologists might want to believe. The rest of the Arab states in the region (most of them Sunni) aren’t going to sit by while a group of millennial loons get nuclear weapons. This isn’t going to resolve itself into a stable balance the way the Cold War did (and I should remind you that the Cold War had some terrifying moment that we are both old enough to remember…just because we survived it doesn’t mean that it is a particularly good model to follow), and the consequences of it spinning out of control are serious enough that it is safe to say that our vital national interests ARE involved here.
            Finally, as Fat Man points out, the Iranians are hardly likely to stop at this. Acquiring weapons will be a good first step, but getting delivery systems to make them a threat to us is not particularly difficult. This is precisely why they want a bomb factory, not simply one or two bombs. One bomb means that they can (possibly) destroy one target, a factory means that they can destroy a civilization. The latter makes them a credible threat on a much larger scale, and not one that we want to live with.
            If this was merely a matter of conventional weapons (which have a qualitatively different character) I would say fine, go ahead and let them kill each other, but this is not the same thing.

        • Arkeygeezer

          So, I accept the criticism, but what is your alternative? No agreement leaves Iran to do what it wants without restriction. You deal with the world the way it is, not the way you want it to be. Your choice.

          • adk

            The alternative was to keep economically squeezing Iran, to support its people when they rose up against the mullahs in 2009, to aid other people fighting Iran’s allies (eg, Assad of Syria), to continue military presence in Iraq — in short, to have a real American president, not Obama.
            Especially if you want to deal with the world it is, not a fantasy in which surrender to a third-rate anti-American power such as Iran would in any way enhance your, and your allies’, security.

  • adk

    “At 159 pages, the deal is weighty and complicated, and the devil(s) will likely lie in the details—which is to say, we’ll hold comment until we know more, and we encourage you to keep an eye out in the upcoming hours and days for commentary from TAI editors and contributors”

    No. Charles Krauthammer already explained that in

    The worst deal in US diplomatic history.

    “The devil is not in the details. It’s in the entire conception of the Iran deal, animated by President Obama’s fantastical belief that he, uniquely, could achieve detente with a fanatical Islamist regime whose foundational purpose is to cleanse the Middle East of the poisonous corruption of American power and influence.”

    The 159 pages, with all the addenda, are just an attempt to bait and switch the discussion in Congress from the most basic fact to lots of irrelevant details. The guiding principle is the same as with Obamacare–promise the moon(we’ve stopped Iran! now let’s give it time to work!) and get over the certain Congressional resolution of disapproval (by rounding up enough Democrats to sustain Obama’s veto of it.)

    And the most fundamental fact here is how president who promised to halt Iran’s nuclear arms development completely changed (again, in the manner of “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”) the substance of his approach, without any public discussion or honest explanation. In 10 years or so, Iran will be free to detonate its first nuclear device (if it doesn’t cheat and do it earlier); in the meantime, it’ll get a lot of money, international legitimacy, business deals with Europeans and others, and so on, all without stopping its current anti-Western, anti-semitic policies and aggression in the ME and elsewhere. What’s next, a US embassy in Tehran? (if it were up to Obama, then yes.) For a taste of possible future scenarios, read this:

    If Iran succeeds in going nuclear.

    Now I can’t wait to read Adam Garfinkle’s essay on the topic explaining how he missed the forest for the trees:
    “So unless the U.S. position really does collapse headlong, Khamenei cannot afford a deal built on real mutual concessions that threatens to unleash all sorts of pent up anti-regime energies inside Iran. ”

    Has US position really so collapsed, Mr.Garfinkle?

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