What does Iran have to say about its new diplomatic breakthrough? According to Reuters, on Saturday Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a mosque in Tehran, “We will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. Even after this deal our policy towards the arrogant U.S. will not change.”
An Iranian news anchor stated, “The fact is, Obama needs this deal much more than we do. … The American president needs a victory, and only a deal with Iran can give him that. They have retreated on several issues and compromised on their own red lines.”
In another meeting, Khamenei explained that “during the nuclear talks, we saw the Americans’ dishonesty over and over.”
We are still the big bad wolf to Iran. That much has not changed.
What does the Iran deal promise? 24/7 monitoring of certain nuclear facilities, nuclear inspectors who will have access to nuclear facilities after they make a request, lower uranium enrichment levels and sanctions that “snap back” if Iran breaks the agreement. But on the other hand, the agreement states that no American inspectors will be allowed to investigate Iranian nuclear facilities.
And Iran will have 24 days to grant access to any requested nuclear facilities. Three weeks is quite a lot of time. President Obama believes this period of time could not be used for devious purposes.
Others, like U.S. Representative Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), disagree. Israel argues, “A lot can be done in 24 days.”
We think so, too. So, let us go over what benefits this deal offers for the Iranians. We have ended the sanctions that had forced them into an economic crisis. We have essentially ended our arms embargo on Iran, allowing them to buy conventional and ballistic weaponry. These weapons will undoubtedly be used to attack our sole ally in the region, Israel, through proxies, while also challenging Saudi Arabia’s strategic position. We gave the Iranian theocracy the legitimacy and accreditation it has long sought in its quest to become the premier power in the region.
Admittedly, the Obama administration does not use these words to defend the deal. It speaks the two languages of idealism and pragmatism from a single mouth. Members of the administration claim that the deal will prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb, despite the fact that Iran will still spin centrifuges and that we gave up “anywhere, anytime” inspections. Some claim that this is our generation’s “Nixon in China” moment and that the agreement is not just an arms-control treaty but also a full-scale power shift.
A well can neither gush forth brackish and spring water, nor can an arms treaty gush forth a victory that is not tainted by its failures. We have failed, both pragmatically and idealistically.
All we gained was about a 12-month delay in nuclear breakout time (assuming Iran does not cheat). We also have gravely endangered our greatest ally in the region, Israel. For Israel, the Iranian bomb is a question of life and death.
Just shy of a year ago, Khamenei tweeted, “This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal regime of #Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated. 7/23/14 #HandsOffAlAqsa.” Iranian hardliners regularly erupt in “Death to America” chants. But for us, these aren’t existential threats. For Israel, a nuclear Iran is an existential threat. And only the most painfully naive think that the power of having the bomb is limited to the direct threat of using it.
Having a bomb would embolden the terrorist actors Iran funds, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. At the same time, the threat of nuclear contagion is all too real. If Iran has the bomb, should Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other nearby countries feel particularly safe? The proliferation of weapons will continue. Our problem is not with the deal in and of itself but with this deal’s failures. We should have held out for a better deal. We should not have accepted anything that allowed Iran so much leeway.
Reno Varghese is a rising senior in the School of Foreign Service. James Gadea is a rising senior in the School of Foreign Service. Exit Stage Right appears every other Tuesday.