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Wrecking a Deal with Iran Is Dangerous

Paul Pillar issues a warning about the dangers of derailing a deal with Iran:

Blowing the opportunity for an agreement would be all the more a shame because, according to the preeminent criterion of preventing any Iranian nuclear weapon (not to mention other consequences of an agreement), the choice between a deal and no deal is almost a no-brainer. No deal would mean fewer restrictions on the Iranian program and lesser inspection and monitoring of it. Iran would have a much clearer path to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to take it, without an agreement than with one.

I agree entirely with Pillar, but it’s worth thinking a little more about why there is so much concerted opposition to securing a deal that is “almost a no-brainer.” Yes, other regional governments are hostile to a deal for their own reasons, but those reasons mostly don’t make any sense. The failure of negotiations with Iran would not be to the advantage of Israel or any of the Gulf states that claim to be so horrified by a deal. Failure would strengthen Iranian hard-liners, it would likely increase tensions between Iran and many other regional governments, and would leave the path open for the nuclear program’s continued development. Republicans may want to deprive Obama of a major achievement for partisan reasons, but Republican Iran hawks shouldn’t want the negotiations to fail. A deal that imposes significant limits on Iranian enrichment would restrict the Iranian nuclear program in a way that nothing else available could. Despite this, the regional governments and hawks here at home have been demanding conditions for a final deal that can’t possibly be met, and they have declared their hostility to any agreement that could be reached. The only conclusion we can reach from all this is that most of these actors are hostile to any diplomacy with Iran and want to make conflict between the U.S. and Iran more likely.

The politics of a nuclear deal are somewhat strange in that the people that are the least alarmed by Iran’s nuclear program are the ones most in favor of an agreement that would do the most to limit it, while those that claim to be absolutely terrified by it are firmly against the same agreement. The latter believe containment to be unacceptable, but they are doing everything they can to make that outcome more likely. The trouble with being an alarmist about Iran’s nuclear program (e.g., calling it an existential or intolerable threat) is that it also tends to make one a maximalist in demanding a complete end to the program. Since completely ending the program is not going to happen, the next-best result for the alarmists ought to be the program’s negotiated limitation, but because they are so irrationally afraid of Iran’s nuclear program they won’t settle for anything short of maximalist, unreachable goals. And so they will set out to wreck a deal that gives the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1 the best opportunity to prevent the development of Iran’s nuclear program that they claim to dread. The would-be saboteurs of the deal get none of what they claim to want if diplomacy with Iran fails, and all parties will be worse off if the saboteurs succeed. If the consequences weren’t so serious, it would almost be comical.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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