The Dishonesty of Nuclear Deal Opponents
Bret Stephens writes a predictably unpersuasive attack on the JCPOA:
So much, then, for all the palaver about the deal providing an unprecedented level of transparency for monitoring Iranian compliance. So much, also, for the notion that Iran has honored its end of the bargain. It didn’t. This should render the agreement null and void.
Stephens once declared the interim nuclear deal of 2013 to be “worse than Munich.” That should tell us everything we need to know about how seriously we should take his analysis of any agreement with Iran. Someone so mindlessly hostile to the very idea of an agreement with Iran is bound to use anything to declare that the deal should be voided because he never thought an agreement should have been made in the first place. If you ask an ideologue to assess an agreement made with people that he hates, he isn’t going to offer a fair assessment of it. Stephens’ column is an example of the most tendentious version of the argument against the deal.
The “debate” over the nuclear deal over the last several years has a tedious, repetitive quality to it, so forgive me if I keep repeating myself. Opponents of the deal make false and misleading assertions about the deal all the time, but this never seems to be held against them and indeed they are rewarded for repeating them ad nauseam. One of their favorite claims is that the deal “paves the way” for an Iranian bomb. They need to pretend that their intense opposition to a successful nonproliferation agreement is not the result of their fanaticism and desire for conflict, and so they invent a fantasy version of the agreement that “permits” Iran to develop a nuclear weapon at some point in the future. That isn’t true, but if a false claim is repeated often enough it spreads and takes hold no matter how many times it is refuted.
Stephens says, “But the deal now in place allows Iran to amble toward a bomb,” but that is simply false. Some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire years from now once Iran has proven that its program has remained peaceful, but the intrusive inspections do not. Once Iran ratifies the Additional Protocol a few years from now (if the deal hasn’t collapsed by then), Iran would be permanently subject to the most rigorous verification measures the IAEA has. The less you trust Iran to honor the agreement, the more you should want to keep the agreement alive. Killing the deal ensures that the restrictions and these inspections will end at once. Only a moron or a warmonger (but I repeat myself again) would want to kill such an agreement without having an extremely good reason.
Ending the deal now because of Iran’s brief flirtation with nuclear weapons research that ended a decade and a half ago makes no sense. Iran is doing everything that it is required to do now to limit its nuclear program, and that is what should matter most for those genuinely concerned to keep Iran’s nuclear program peaceful. Only someone looking for the slightest excuse to blow up the deal regardless of the consequences would want to scrap an agreement that is working because of “revelations” that revealed nothing new.
Stephens gives the game away at the end of his column when he is talking about threatening to start a war:
Punitive sanctions combined with a credible threat of military force should follow.
If punitive sanctions and threats of military action follow, we should expect Iran to resume some or all of the activities that it stopped as part of the agreement. There is a remote but real possibility that Iran could leave the NPT all together in a major setback for the cause of nonproliferation. Now that we are faced with a nuclear-armed North Korea, opponents of the nuclear deal would like to repeat the Bush administration’s North Korea mistakes with Iran.
Punitive sanctions would have little effect without international support, and reneging on an agreement endorsed by the U.N. Security Council and supported by all of the other P5+1 governments will guarantee that no international support for a new sanctions regime will be forthcoming. Military action would be worse than useless, since it would drive Iran to build the very weapons that it is supposed to discourage them from building. Reneging on the deal because of old and irrelevant information would be an exceptionally stupid thing to do, and it would put the U.S. and Iran back on the collision course we were on a decade ago. That is exactly why Iran hawks want to wreck the deal, and they all but admit it in their own arguments.