The Ultimatum Mentality

logo 2015 250x325Let’s forget the labels. Just for a bit, OK? No trigger words.

Some people like the idea of a nuclear deal with Iran. Some don’t. One has to assume that each and every one of these people has a reason to think as they do. That’s probably too much to wish for, but let’s be charitable.

As I understand it, and I have read most of the thing, the purpose of a nuclear deal with Iran is to trade relief from sanctions imposed by a number of countries, including the US, for certain concessions on the part of Iran that will, it is supposed, delay that county’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon in the near future, something that they currently could manage in about three months if they applied themselves. It was negotiated by the so-called P5+1 countries and it took a long time to do it.

Now, it took some time to put that last paragraph together in such a way that I am confident it represents a fair picture. Please note the following:

1) This agreement involves nuclear materials and nuclear weapons. It says nothing about conventional weapons, prisoner swaps, or what makes Netanyahu uneasy.

2) It is an agreement between the Iran and the countries of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany. These are the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, countries who banded together to place sanctions on Iran, at the urging of the US, I would add. It is NOT an agreement between the US alone and Iran. The US negotiated in good faith along with these other nations who have some expectation that we will keep that good faith with them. To not do so is to break faith and harm our international reputation.

3) This isn’t something that was done over drinks before a Bono performance. This goes back to negotiations started in 2003 between Iran and the EU-3 countries. The US got involved in 2006. This has been a long and difficult path, and the agreement reached recently is the culmination of that path.

When it became clear that progress was being made toward a conclusion of the negotiations and that an agreement was about to be reached, those people (and countries) that stood to be dis-accommodated by the lifting of sanctions against Iran began to try to undermine the agreement in any way they could. Tom Cotton persuaded 46 other Republicans to write a letter to Khamenei letting him know (in case he didn’t) that the congress would be quite willing to revoke any deal Obama made.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to the US and spoke before a joint session of congress. While much of the media attention focused on this speech as an election stunt, the text of the speech was almost exclusively about the threat Iran posed to Israel and by extension, the rest of the world.

This speech lays out what the best outcome for any Iran deal would look like: no possibility that Iran would EVER be able to create a nuclear weapon, and no possibility that it would be able to develop the means for delivering one if they had it. Netanyahu points out that Iran’s very constitution instructs the Revolutionary Guard to “fulfill the ideological mission of jihad,” that Iran is pledged destroy not only Israel, but all Jews, everywhere.   He points out that they could not be trusted in the past and that they cannot be trusted in the future.

Now it would make sense from a logical point of view that the very best outcome of these negotiations from the point of view of the entire world was that Iran would agree to NEVER develop a nuclear weapon, give up ALL means to achieve that end, blow up all existing missiles, cease any and all programs to develop missiles, proclaim Israel a BFF, and promise to convert to peaceful vegetables – oh, yeah, and return the four US prisoners they hold.

But all the countries involved knew, going in, that this was not going to be the outcome.

Instead, they negotiated the best deal they could manage. No country got what it would have preferred. That’s why it’s a negotiation and not an ultimatum.

And on the day the agreement was announced, before there had been time to read and study it, many people came forward to claim that it was a very bad deal and that congress should not approve it.

Others claimed it was a breakthrough moment and that the world would be safer because of it. Again, without having time to read and study the text.

Well, some time has now passed and more people have read the text of the deal and those who have experience in these sorts of things have had time to weigh in.

So where do we go from here?

There are really very few choices. The congress can do one of two things. It can approve the deal or it can not approve the deal. That’s it. Those are the choices. It can’t amend the deal. It can’t try to make it better. The best negotiators from seven countries put this together. It was the best they could manage.

It would appear that the biggest objection to the deal is exactly that their best was not good enough. The very best outcome was not achieved, therefore it is a bad deal and we must reject it.

So, what happens if congress says no?   First of all, they would have to pass legislation to that effect. And then, because they insisted on doing it this way, it would go to the president who would veto it. After that it would have to go back to congress and get the 2/3 override majority. Assuming that they could manage that, the United States would effectively back out of the agreement leaving France, Germany, the UK, China and Russia to lift sanctions and pursue the agreement while we presumably did something else.

The reputation of the United States would be severely lowered in the world community, and the major nations of the world would have no reason to assume that the US could be trusted in any future international negotiations.

This appears to be a bad option. But, let’s say congress decides to take that option anyway. World opinion be damned and all that. Then what do we do?

Well, there aren’t many options. If the goal is to assure that Iran NEVER gets a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver one, and if this deal doesn’t go far enough toward that end, then what?

Congress can impose further, harsher sanctions on Iran, but that will have little effect since the four other countries will be lifting theirs. We aren’t going to talk them into going back to the sanctions option. They are trade partners with Iran. Iran has oil they want. They negotiated the best deal they could; their countries agree it’s a good thing; they are all in.

Congress can do nothing at all, just punt. Wash their hands of the whole mess. Again, this isn’t going to work. Neither those in congress nor those in the world community will allow that.

Congress can initiate some sort of “military solution.” They can take “pre-emptive action” to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Almost to a man, military experts warn that this is a disastrous mistake.

And that’s right back to where we were before the negotiations began that led to this deal. It has been stated all along that either this deal was made, or we had to have another war in the Mideast to make sure Iran didn’t get nuclear weapons. The whole purpose of the deal was to avoid another war.

But the deal was made.

What happens if congress approves the deal?

According to most military experts and the IAEA this negotiated deal will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for the near future. Estimates of what “near” means vary, but it is probably somewhere in the area of ten years. It provides a better than anticipated inspection regimen, and provides for reinstitution of sanctions should Iran fail to live up to the terms of the agreement.

In short, the world is better off than it was, and the military option is STILL on the table.

There is absolutely no reason for congress not to approve this agreement if the real issue is nuclear weapons. In fact, it has little choice.

And that is exactly why Republicans are so angry.

Is there a chance Iran will cheat and violate the agreement? Yes.

If they cheat, will it be harder than before to re-impose the sanctions? Yes.

Can they still enrich some uranium? Yes.

Can they keep their centrifuges and still operate some of them at a reduced output? Yes.

Will lifting sanctions mean they will increase their influence in the area? Yes.

Can they still increase their conventional weapons? Yes.

Can they still improve their missile program? Yes?

Would scuttling this deal do great harm to America’s place among nations? Yes.

Will they develop a nuclear device any time soon? NO!

Can we still bomb the shit out of them whenever we feel like it? Yes.

In fact, presidential candidate Scott Dream-Walker has promised that if elected he will “rip up the Iran nuclear deal on Day 1 of his presidency.” And then he goes on to talk about how a candidate must be ready to take military action on day 1.

When asked if he would do that even if our allies didn’t want us to, he essentially says “screw ‘em.” We’ll go it alone.

Because, well, America, hell yeah!

(In case you didn’t notice, the part where we avoid trigger words is now over.)

Conservatives live in a past that never really existed. America does not exist in a vacuum and hasn’t for a very long time. We can’t say “screw ‘em” and just drop bombs unilaterally any more. The idea that we are limited in this deal by a need to consider the interests of other countries and by our commitment to them drives the right crazy. They cannot abide the idea that American power is limited, and that limited power requires prioritizing goals. They are stuck in an ultimatum mentality.

The idea that Iran will cave in and abandon their nuclear program because we threaten military action when we have been threatening military action for over ten years is like expecting that after 50 years of embargo and calling them a terrorist state Cuba will embrace a different way of life if we only would keep doing the same thing.

Threatening military action is useless. The only real option is to take military action. You have to be willing to go to war.

Any presidential candidate that stands up and says he will bomb Iran back to the 4th century on his first day in office will fire up the Republican base, but I wonder if people are really ready for the aftermath of that. I wonder if they understand what the aftermath would be any more than they did when we invaded Iraq, disbanded the Republican Guard, turned the government over to the other religious sect, and then wondered why things went south.

Any presidential candidate that stands up and says he opposes this nuclear deal because it paves the way for an Iranian nuke is dissembling. Their way is clear right now.

Any presidential candidate that says he opposes this nuclear deal because it is a bad deal needs to explain how going to war against the Iranian people is a better deal… for anyone. Because that is the only other choice.Lair Logo

Your Humble Servant,

The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

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