Saturday, November 30, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The recent deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries negotiated by the Obama administration over the former's nuclear weapons program has been lambasted, with good reason, by all but the most sycophantically pro-Obama commentators. But while it's certainly a foolish giveaway, with lots of drawbacks and no significant redeeming features, its overall long-term effects are widely misunderstood. Here are a few of the most prominent myths:
- The deal profoundly imperils Israel's security. As I've argued before, Iran's offensive nuclear capability--and it will almost certainly have one, sooner rather than later, irrespective of this deal--will be effectively deterred by both the Israeli and American capabilities, just as the Soviet Union's was. Iran's very likely possession of nuclear weapons is thus not a major direct threat to Israel, let alone an existential one.
- The deal is intended first and foremost to weaken Israel. As I've also argued before, the Obama administration's guiding foreign policy principle is the desirability of diminishing American power and influence around the world. This deal contributes substantially to that goal, and while it also harms Israeli interests, it's American interests that by far suffer the greatest harm, more than enough to amply justify it under the president's worldview. (Of course, the two effects are directly correlated: given that Israel is a strong ally and supporter of the US, a blow to Israeli strategic interests is highly likely to damage US strategic interests as well--and vice versa.)
- The primary effect of the deal is to clear the way for the Iranian nuclear weapons program. In fact, the Iranian nuclear weapons program has been moving forward at full speed for many years now, and this deal scarcely affects it. Rather, the primary (and wholly negative) effect of the deal is to undermine the sanctions regime against Iran. Once the sanctions are lifted--and given this deal, that lifting is now inevitable--Iran will have more cash to spend on conventional mischief in the region, such as propping up its puppets in Syria and Lebanon, extending its influence in Iraq, fomenting unrest in the Gulf monarchies, and sponsoring terrorist plots around the world.
- Israel is now more likely to launch its own pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. I don't believe that such a strike was ever remotely plausible. The risks--of failure, of casualties, of a diplomatic backlash, of Iranian retaliation--are huge, and the likelihood of delivering a substantial setback to the Iranian program is negligible. It's possible that the Netanyahu government sees things differently, but my guess is that if they did, they'd have launched a strike years ago. More likely, the entire "do something or I'll be forced to act on my own!" charade was simply a ruse to get Western governments to impose sanctions. If so, then it worked brilliantly--there's absolutely no way any sanctions, let alone the fairly substantial ones that were in effect until now, would have been imposed without this threat. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has from the beginning hungered for reconciliation with Iran as part of its overall strategy of snubbing friends and courting enemies, the more effectively to undermine American power and influence abroad. It was therefore something of a miracle that Netanyahu was ever able to huff and puff his way to a global sanctions regime, and probably inevitable that Obama would eventually find a way to dismantle it.
- The deal dramatically improves Iran's strategic position. In the short term, no doubt, the extra revenue that will accompany a lifting of sanctions will expand the Iranian regime's freedom of action. But it still finds itself in dire straits in the medium term: its most important satellite, Syria, is mired in an unbelievably bloody civil war that has already begun to spread to its second most important satellite, Lebanon. The Saudis and their allies are certain to be even more determined than ever in their efforts to support the rebel factions in Syria and Lebanon--not to mention domestic dissidents within Iran itself. The Iranian economy will be helped but not saved by the lifting of sanctions--it's still a corrupt quasi-command economy dominated by the leadership's relatives and cronies in the clergy and the Revolutionary Guard. And a global oil and gas production boom is very likely to lead to a decline in oil prices in the near future, with consequences for Iranian government revenues that could easily end up dwarfing the recent sanctions in their severity.