As usual, the media coverage of the Iran deal tends to focus on the political aspects: can Obama get the votes he neeeds? Will the Democrats be split? What will the voters think? But in a decade, historians looking back will judge the wisdom of the deal, or the idiocy of killing it, on three key points, based on whether we (1) simply reimplement sanctions, (2) launch a full on invasion, or (3) pursue a ‘limited’ airwar. It’s frankly hard to see which option is worst, but the past decade and a half has shown that none are good as good as the deal we’re presented with:
1. We’ve played this game before – and lost- in North Korea. George W. Bush slammed the door shut on rapproachment with Iran, North Korea, and Iraq (the last of whom, to be fair, little rapproachment had been attempted with) in January of 2002 by declaring them part of an ‘Axis of Evil’. Part of the fallout was the collapse of US-N. Korea diplomatic negotiations,as Bush ‘got tough’ with Kim Jong Il. What did it get him? A nuclear armed North Korea (which I discussed at the time here, a quagmire in Iraq, and the current situation in Iran. Bush’s strategy was ultimately futile, because after stopping negotiations with North Korea, he lacked the wherewithal to back up strong words with strong action, and the sanctions alone, while devasting for the North Korean people, couldn’t effectively stop the development of nuclear weapons. I would argue the failure of this strategy should have been predictable at the time, but to repeat the same error today would be even less forgivable.
2. There’s no excuse for hubris today. The alternative to making a deal or allowing -indeed, pressuring- Iran to go nuclear (as Bush did with North Korea) is to go to war. In 2002, it seemed like maybe American military might had reached such a pinnacle of power that it could ignore what had previously been common sense, and so the major argument against the Iraq war was that it was immoral, not that it was impossible. That is no longer the case: having seen the difficulty in accomplishing our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the epitome of irresponsibility to openly consider going to war with a country with a more powerful military and larger population than both of those states combined.
3. It would aggravate the chaos we’ve already created in the region, and undue any nation building that’s been accomplished. Even if we try to cripple Iran merely with airstrikes to save our own troops, a destabilized Iranian regime would spell disaster for our efforts to contain the Islamic state and achieve some sort of stability in Afghanistan. All in all, it would likely be a humanitarian disaster on the scale of what we’ve already done under Bush, and a geopolitical catastrophe to boot, removing the Islamic State’s most powerful opponent and futher destabsilizing the region with inevtiable millions of refugees. And the worst part? An air war on Iran couldn’t hope to secure the fissile material already there, meaning that we would not only make negotiation impossible but would leave fissile material, nuclear scientists, and the like unsecured and untraceable.
The Iran deal may be unpalatable politically, but it is better than any alternative, and responsible statesmen and women will accept it.