What are we to think about the nuclear deal with Iran?

First, I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion yet, if I ever will. The closest I can come right now is to survey the views of other informed, critical observers, and see if I can begin to discern an impression.

Before this past weekend, I was very worried about the kinds of deals that were being discussed because France, Saudi Arabia and Israel were all giving them a big thumbs-down, and expressing a significant loss of faith in the United States’ willingness to push for a deal that actually would halt the Iranian nuke program.

So I do a quick check to see how those parties are reacting to this:

So… a mixed bag.

Meanwhile, back home, the Obama administration has trouble on this among two key groups:

  1. Republicans in Congress.
  2. Democrats in Congress.

The WSJ reports:

The leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties are threatening to break with President Barack Obama‘s policy and enact new punitive sanctions on Iran, arguing that the interim deal reached in Geneva on Sunday yields too much to the Islamist regime while asking too little.

“The disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), an influential member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

So maybe the deal is moot at this end. I don’t know.


24 thoughts on “What are we to think about the nuclear deal with Iran?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    This seems like a very bad moment for Israel.

    We’ve all assumed for some time that if the Iranian program continues as it has, Israel will use military force to stop it.

    Now, with the world’s heavy-hitters making a deal with Iran, if Israel still believes its survival depends on military action, it is more isolated than ever when it does act.

    Which is not good, on a number of levels — including the possibility that maybe an Israel military attack really is the only way to stop Iran from going nuclear.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    I can understand why the Israelis don’t like the deal: It legitimizes a nuclear Iran. Also, one thing I don’t understand is why we are allowing Iran to keep their centrifuges. If I understand correctly, the centrifuges are what make the enriched uranium. What’s the point of taking away the existing uranium if Iran can just make more? Seems silly not to address the equipment that enriches the uranium. To paraphrase Frederick the Great, it seems like this deal will allow the West to say whatever they want, and allow Iran to do whatever they want.

    Also, Syria is in favor of the deal. So to tally it up:

    IN FAVOR OF THE DEAL WITH IRAN: Obama, Syria, Iran, Russia, China, and the EU.
    OPPOSED: Israel, Most of Congress (both Democrat and Republican).

    Neville Chamberlain has been unavailable for comment.

  3. Phillip

    Fareed Zakaria made the useful point that this is not like some historic rapprochement a la China 1972, but rather a tentative and very small step to alter the arms dynamic between two adversaries who are very wary of each other. (It’s important in this context to remember that the Iranians don’t really trust us any more than we trust them).

    The steps are small, and most nuclear arms experts are saying that this, if nothing else, increases by a small amount the time needed by Iran to suddenly ramp up and go full-out nuclear (in an arms capacity) without detection by international monitors. Reagan was called Neville Chamberlain for negotiating the 1987 INF treaty with Gorbachev.

    As for Netanyahu, have you considered the possibility that Netanyahu’s outlook and beliefs may not actually coincide with the best option for Israel’s national security? There is no agreement that is remotely within the possibility of reality that he would accept. I think this is a good small step, easily reversible if future indications are not positive, and gives Rouhani the cred and the operating room within his government to take more steps if they are willing to take more dramatic steps forward.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      My favorite parts of what you say are “easily reversible if future indications are not positive, and gives Rouhani the cred and the operating room within his government to take more steps if they are willing to take more dramatic steps forward.”…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And yes, it’s possible “that Netanyahu’s outlook and beliefs may not actually coincide with the best option for Israel’s national security.”

      But… this is a complex matter that doesn’t fit neatly into the realm of “Israeli hardliner attitudes.”

      It seems the Saudis, while being fairly cool about it, are less than thrilled.

      And if you draw a Venn diagram of Israel’s interests and Saudi Arabia’s interests, the area of intersection correlates pretty strongly with U.S. interests, doesn’t it?

      I guess what I’m saying is, I find it hard to dismiss this as just Bibi being Bibi. I’d like to see someone make a case that if someone else (someone electable, not just anybody) were in charge in Israel now, they’d be welcoming this agreement….

  4. bud

    More importantly is Netanyahu’s outlook and beliefs in line with AMERICA’s best interests. I’ve never bought into the whole concept that whatever is good for Israel is also good for the USA. Not sure we could get much better a deal. Frankly this is pretty good. If we lift the sanctions, at least partially, wouldn’t that give Iran some incentive not to process up to weapons grade? There just wasn’t any possibility of getting rid of centrifuges just yet. Perhaps this is a case of incrementalism that will yield good will now and big results later.

  5. bud

    Poor old Neville Chamberlain. I think he’s gotten a bad rap from history. The Munich deal bought the British some time. And, after all, the Sudetenland was occupied by German people so a case could be made that IN THAT PARTICULAR INSTANCE the Germans were simply acting in the interests of German people.

    More importantly the British just were in no way capable of fighting the Nazis in 1938. It would have been crazy. As it was they were still behind a year later but at least it was much more competitive. Was Chamberlain serious when he famously (or infamously) said “Peace for our time” or was he just stating what needed to be said? We’ll never know. But the interests of the British were clearly served by the Munich agreement. Even if Chamberlain’s place in history is forever tainted.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Wow. Let’s jump in the way-back machine and go back to 1938. Czechoslovakia actually had a defensible border that was given away in Munich. After Hitler personally inspected the Czech strongpoints along the border he said “we would have shed a lot of blood” and “that it was fortunate that there had been no fighting”.

      Britain and France were behind Germany in military production in 1938, but they had sufficient air defenses to prevent bombing of London and Paris. Also, with Russia, they could have prosecuted a successful (and likely quick) war against Germany. The Soviets (rightfully) felt that Western Europe sold out the Czechs, and that the same might happen to them. There is a direct line between the Munich Agreement and the Soviet-German non-agression pact. Stalin didn’t wan’t to be sold out by the West, so he made (what he thought) was his separate peace.

      The fact that you’re defending Chamberlain baffles me. It didn’t “buy time” for anyone. It made things worse. The Germans got stronger in the ensuing year than did France/Britain.

      In taking Czechoslovakia, Hitler got more skilled labor, heavy industry, AND all the weapons of the Czech army. When Hitler attacked France, about a quarter of his arms came from guess where….the Czechs, which were now his.

      In hindsight, Munich was unequivocally a historic mistake. Chamberlain hasn’t gotten a “bad rap”. He made a mistake, and we would do well to learn from it.

      1. Peter Clemenza

        You know, you gotta stop them at the beginning. Like they should have stopped Hitler at Munich, they should never let him get away with that, they was just asking for trouble.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Bret Stephens, writing in the WSJ today, asserts that the Iran deal is “Worse than Munich.”

        He defends Chamberlain by saying at least he bought time. In this case, it’s Iran buying time, to complete the process of going nuclear.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          It’s not as bad as Munich. Munich was WAY worse than this nothing of an agreement. Ask the Czechs if they felt like the deal “bought time”. Remember exactly what happened in Munich? The Brits and French gave part of Czechoslovakia to the Germans, without asking the Czechs if that was cool.

          If you made this into a modern analogy, it would be like the US giving up part of Israel in order to get some kind of guarantee that the middle-east wouldn’t have a war WITHOUT CHECKING WITH ISRAEL FIRST.

          The current “deal” with Iran is a big nothing. It’s certainly not a “victory”. We’re allowing Iran’s economy to recover, and hoping they’ll like us for it later, and then give up their nuclear ambition because we’re “pals now”.

      3. bud

        Unequivocally? I say not.

        In any event lets get that Delorean out and see what may have happened. I see 3 possibilities. Two support the conventional view but a third that is more favorable to Chamberlain. But what is often lost in the discussion, an is in fact unequivocal, is that when Hitler reneged on the Munich deal ALL doubt was dispelled that he was indeed a tyrant. But lets say Chamberlain and the French had been as tough as his critics say he should have been and simply walked away from the negotiating table and said he wouldn’t budge on the Sudetenland issue. What then?

        1. Hitler would have recognized he was dealing with a no nonsense group of united western powers and simply walked away from any future designs on Czechoslovakia or anywhere else. After all Hitler showed his rational thinking tendencies for many years and he would have been more than willing to just say, Oh well, at least I tried. Not many people believe that would have happened.

        2. The Bryan Caskey outcome. The Germans would have bloodied their army so severely against a stout Czech version of the Maginot line and the newly emboldened western allies along with a reassured Stalin would have destroyed the Nazis in a few days. Really? This is silly. The German army and especially its air force were hands down the most formidable force in the world in 1938. The Russians needed time to build their military too. And they were still far from doing so even by 1941. It’s ridiculous to the nth degree to suggest the Russians wanted any part of the German army. The British air power was vastly inferior to the Luftwaffe in 1938. They had very few modern fighters and no Spitfires yet. The French were even worse. The Luftwaffe on the other hand was extremely formidable having learned may valuable lessons in Spain. Not sure what history you’re reading Bryan but clearly the allies needed time, not a war.

        3. Then there is this possibility. The German army defies Chamberlain as in the second option and even with some bloodying (Hitler never shied away from a good bloodying) destroyed the Czech army. Without knowing that Hitler would have invaded Czechoslovakia without the tough talk at Munich the world’s view is more sympathetic to the Germans and Chamberlain is viewed as perhaps too bombastic and hawkish. Why did he not pursue a peaceful option first? Ultimately Hitler’s ambitions advance faster because of this ambivalence until it is too late. And given his vastly superior military he is able to quickly conquer France and England (since their airforce is too weak to effectively fight back. Free from any western front Germany quickly overruns the hapless Russians. And the thousand year Reich becomes a reality.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “Not sure what history you’re reading Bryan but clearly the allies needed time, not a war.”

          About the few years before WWII? In the last year or so?




          What are you reading?

          Recently, I’ve moved on to Manchester’s book about MacArthur and I’m finishing Atkinson’s liberation trilogy. By the way, Atkinson is great. Manchester is a little stuffy, but a great writer. He keeps on (very formally, I guess) referring to Japan as Nippon.

          By the way, that ain’t the “Bryan Caskey scenario”. I didn’t just make that up. Also, bud, you’re just wrong about the relative German military strength in 1938. It would take longer than a little comment here to give you all the details, but that’s ok. It makes you feel better about your own beliefs to think that. I’m not going to change your mind about that if you haven’t already figured it out, and I ain’t your momma.

          But since I’m here, I’ll drop some konwledge on you: The Czechs had more infantry units than the Germans, but the Germans had a distinct advantage in air-power. You’re right about the German air advantage over the Czechs. However, weather in Czechoslovakia in September, October, November ain’t so grand for air operations, due to limited visibility. So, the air power angle gets significantly weaker. As for the ground units, remember the rule of thumb of 3:1 attacker to defender? One other note, the Czechs weren’t shrinking violets. They were spoiling for a fight.

          Also, we haven’t even addressed the fact that the French and British would have come in rather quickly. (With their air units, further negating the German air power.)

          Hitler probably wasn’t bluffing, but he would have very likely been pushed back, the German Army would have then likely staged a coup, and you’d have a different looking Europe, and lots more people alive (Mostly Jews).

          Instead, what you got was a good position for the Czechs, sold out to the Germans, who got it without firing a shot. The Czechs can’t hold the rest, since they lost their defensive position and Germany gets stronger relative to the rest of Europe.

          The Munich Agreement made WWII MORE likely, not less likely. Bad treaties make war more likely, not less.

          So yeah, in hindsight (and arguably at the time), unequivocally, it was a bad treaty.

  6. Phillip

    Moreover, Bud, there was no “Sudetenland” granted to the Iranians. As I referenced in my earlier comment, there hasn’t been a negotiation with any adversary that hasn’t been greeted with cries of “Munich” or “1938” or “Chamberlain,” for as long as I can remember. This is such a small step, and we may yet find that we can go no farther, but if it sets the stage for more talks, perhaps more incremental progress, isn’t this really the best chance for more peace in the region, for the hope that maybe Iran (a society, by the way, that we may well have much more in common with than Saudi Arabia, for example) can reintegrate themselves into the community of nations. The onus is mostly on them to be sure, but negotiation requires some give on both sides.

    1. Peter Clemenza

      The onus is mostly on them to be sure, but negotiation requires some give on both sides.

      I just don’t see what the Iranians “gave”. What are they giving up?

  7. Herb

    Actually, Iran does fight against some of the same extremism that the U.S. does (see the recent explosion in Lebanon), so both countries have something to gain by rapprochement. And I think we always have to keep in mind that we appear somewhat hypocritical in that part of the world when we insist on keeping a stockpile of nuclear weapons (which I suppose we must to some extent), but insist that others not have them. Makes sense to us, but not necessarily to other nations.
    And I’m not sure why Israel always gets the benefit of the doubt. They get a pass on taking over Palestinian farms and territory, which goes unreported in the US press. The only ones who will bring that out generally is the BBC or a European news service. We are too one-sided, I think.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s kind of hard to reason with people who would see us as “hypocritical… when we insist on keeping a stockpile of nuclear weapons.”

      We can’t unilaterally disarm, not in a world with Russia and China. And since the U.S. is the mainstay of collective security in the world, a weakened U.S. is a much, much greater deficit to the world than any other country doing the same thing.

      But one doesn’t have to accept that. A reasonable person, thinking rationally, should be able to see that a world with nine nuclear powers becomes less safe when there are ten, or eleven, or twelve.

      PARTICULARLY when the added country is Iran, which exports trouble in the form of Hezbollah, Assad, etc.

      When we’ve had government-sanctioned rallies full of people chanting “Death to Iran” in this country for a generation or so, I’ll be willing to sit down with someone and discuss the possibility of there being some moral equivalence. Until then, fuggedaboudit.

      1. Phillip

        We may view ourselves as “the mainstay of collective security in the world,” but not everybody sees us that way. (Or rather, it might be asked, whose collective security?) In the particular relationship involved with this recent negotiation for example, there’s been only one example of one of the two countries using its resources and power to depose the democratically elected government of the other country.

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