The Boundless Bad Faith of Nuclear Deal Opponents
John Bolton reminds us that Iran hawks always argue in bad faith about the nuclear deal:
Today is the 3rd anniversary of the horrible Iran deal that gave Tehran billions in sanctions relief but didn’t end its nuclear ambitions, missile tests, support for terrorism or regional expansionism. Thank you President Trump for ending this deal & imposing maximum pressure.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 16, 2019
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been and remains one of the most successful nonproliferation agreements ever negotiated. It has peacefully restricted Iran’s nuclear program, ensured that Iran’s compliance with those restrictions is verifiable, and in return for Iranian cooperation it has required that the sanctions imposed on Iran to pressure it into making these concessions would be lifted. Limiting Iran’s nuclear program and ensuring that it remained peaceful were the only goals for the nuclear deal, and it has delivered everything that its supporters said that it would for the last three years. Despite the Trump administration’s reneging on U.S. commitments and violating the deal with their illegitimate reimposition of sanctions, Iran has been in compliance with the agreement the entire time. That is why all of the other parties to the deal continue to support and defend it, and that is why all but a handful of states approve of the JCPOA.
There is no evidence that the Iranian government still has “nuclear ambitions,” since they had given up on anything resembling a nuclear weapons program more than a decade before the deal, but even if they did have them the JCPOA makes it practically impossible for them to pursue those ambitions. The restrictions and inspections that Iran has agreed to as part of the deal make their “ambitions” or lack thereof irrelevant. Sanctions relief is the price of Iranian cooperation. Complaining about sanctions relief when the targeted state makes the desired changes to its behavior is an obvious tell that you have no interest in a diplomatic solution. Trying to deny them the benefits of the deal by reimposing sanctions, as the Trump administration has done, jeopardizes Iran’s compliance with the deal, and the economic war that the U.S. is waging on them may drive them to withdraw at some point in the future. If that should happen, the fault would lie entirely with the Trump administration for working to sabotage a successful agreement. If Bolton were genuinely concerned about Iran’s “nuclear ambitions,” he would not be a fanatical opponent of the JCPOA, so we know that his real problem with the agreement has nothing to do with the nuclear issue itself. Iran hawks that seek either war or regime change or both hate the nuclear deal because it has deprived them of their main pretext for conflict, and they can’t stand any agreement that allows Iran to resume normal commerce with the rest of the world.
Nonproliferation agreements are not panaceas for every foreign policy problem or disagreement that our government has with another. There is no agreement that the P5+1 and Iran could have reached that would have addressed all of the other issues that Bolton lists, but then this complaint is also being made in bad faith. Bolton doesn’t have any interest in a more comprehensive diplomatic agreement with Iran. He loathes the Iranian government and doesn’t want the U.S. to negotiate with them about anything. Bolton recites a laundry list of complaints about Iranian behavior to raise the bar for judging the JCPOA so high that no agreement could ever measure up. This is a rhetorical trick, not a serious criticism of the substance of the agreement.