President Barack Obama has hailed the agreement to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program as a good deal that is far preferable to war, and he’s right: The framework outlined April 2 is better than war.
If those were the only options — take this deal or launch a war in the Middle East — we could endorse the framework. But that’s a false choice.
Continuing negotiations would be better than war. Enhanced sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran would be better than war. Walking away with no deal and leaving the existing sanctions in place would be better than war. All of those options also would be better than the new framework.
What’s curious is the president’s determination to make a deal, any deal, with Iran the signature foreign policy achievement of his administration.
Obama declared his desire for direct diplomacy with Iran when he was president-elect in December 2008, but then he insisted that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and threats against Israel were not acceptable. More than six years later, Iran has ramped up its support for terrorists, has undermined Arab governments and regularly issues fresh vows to destroy Israel, but none of that seems to matter in Obama’s diplomatic quest.
If, as Obama said in 2008, the United States negotiated for nothing less than the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program, we could understand letting the other goals slip. But the framework — even the State Department emphasized that it’s not a deal, just a step toward resolving the many details of a deal — would let Iran keep a nuclear program, keep 6,000 centrifuges running to enrich uranium and keep a research facility buried deep in a mountain among its many nuclear sites.
Far from eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, the framework would let Iran maintain the ability to achieve a bomb within a year, with the clock starting whenever a sanctions-free Iran chose to break the agreement or as the provisions began to expire in a decade.
But to listen to the Obama administration, forcing Iran to work a full year for a nuclear breakout is a great achievement because today Iran is only two to three months away.
Yes, the same administration that has spent years downplaying, denying and even mocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings about Iran’s nuclear threat now is endorsing the most extreme assessment of that threat. Maybe the administration is acknowledging that it has been wrong all along. Or maybe Obama is changing the story to make a bad deal look good, assuming that a gain of nine or 10 months is worth crowing about.
We can’t help noticing that the new assessment of Iran’s breakout time matches the period until the June 30 deadline to transform the framework into an actual deal. Shouldn’t we be worried that we’ll start the summer with the announcement of a nuclear weapon instead of a nuclear deal?
The best-case scenario with this framework is that Iran is sincere and waits at least 10 years to finish its work on nuclear weapons. It would be economically stronger, still supportive of terrorists and still obsessed with destroying Israel. It could be ringed by supportive Arab governments it helped establish, and it would be confronted with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey also poised for a one-year sprint to breakout.
We shudder to think what a war among nuclear-armed Middle East nations would look like, but we’re sure the Obama agreement of 2015 wouldn’t look so good then.