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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

For those who don't get it yet...

In an interview with Max Fisher, Michael Doran, who oversaw Middle East policy on George W. Bush's National Security Council from 2005 to 2007 and is currently a scholar at the Hudson Institute, explains why President Obama's agreement with Iran is a bad deal.
Max Fisher: Whatever the end strategic goal, certainly there may at some point be an agreement on arms control. And a goal of that is for Iran to surrender its ambitions for a nuclear weapon. That specific objective seems worthwhile, but is it achievable?
Michael Doran: I don't think it is achievable without a significant coercive component. I think this is one of the most faulty assumptions of the administration. What makes the administration believe Iran has made a strategic shift away from a desire to have, if not a weapon, then a turnkey capability?
I rarely see any attempt to analyze these negotiations from the Iranians' point of view and to ask, "What are their fundamental goals, and why do these negotiations make sense to them?" In that context, I don't believe they have made a strategic shift, and I don't see why the administration believes they have.
If the argument is that the very willingness of the Iranians to sit down and negotiate with us and to stick to the agreement over the last 18 months is proof of a strategic change of some kind, I don't buy it for a second. It's just proof to me that they want sanctions relief and they're going to get it, and they see that they're going to get it, and they will stick with this process as long as they get direct, immediate, and very desirable benefits from it.
Max Fisher: What is it about Iran, you think, that makes it so bent on a nuclear weapons program that it would take so much to deter them from that?
Michael Doran: First of all, there's just the record of what they've done. They have pursued this program doggedly and at enormous cost to themselves. They have been willing to take their economy to the brink of disaster in order to preserve this program.
They belong to a category of regimes, like the North Koreans, that calculates that if they can get this weapon then the world will treat them differently.
We need to look at the fundamental nature of the regime, the ideology of the Islamic Republic, and the mindset of the men who run it. They have a very well-known ideology that is hostile to the American order, that is hostile to the system in the region. They have a vision of Iran's place in the world, in the Islamic world especially, that they have not given up on.
If I were going to talk about basic assumptions of the Obama administration that are wrong, one is that Iran is a fundamentally defensive power. This reads Iran's nuclear program in a rather bilateral fashion, to think that a show of a desire to cooperate and find common ground on the part of the United States would generate an equal and opposite reaction on the Iranian side.
In fact, the starting point is that the Iranians want hegemony in the region, and they're reading American policy with respect to their regional aspirations. The goal of Iran's nuclear weapons program is not to defend against the United States or Israel — it's to advance its regional agenda.
From an American point of view, in 2011 or 2012 we had them in a very advantageous position. Because the sanctions were really biting.
Max Fisher: But the size of Iran's nuclear program was growing, the number of centrifuges was growing.
Michael Doran: But at a greater and greater cost to them, every step they took.
Max Fisher: I wanted to ask you about that, about coercion. Under any reading of what Iran ultimately wants, their incentive to stick to a nuclear deal would be the fear that if they cheat, they'll be caught and then they'll be punished for it.
Arms control analysts I've spoken to say the inspections regime described in the framework would be very effective at catching Iran if it cheats. But they acknowledge that the agreement is not going to talk about enforcement — it's not going to spell out what happens if Iran cheats — because that's just not how these agreements work.
So then you have this big question mark of what happens if Iran gets caught cheating. It's not just us wondering; the Iranian leaders are surely gaming this out, as well. And I honestly don't feel like I know what the answer is.
Michael Doran: First of all, I thank you for asking the question, because I think it is the crucial question.
The way the president has set this up, he has incentivized Iran to pocket huge benefits up front. This has put them in a position to be able to go for a bomb when they want in a position of much greater economic strength and diplomatic strength. Because the very process of the negotiation is destroying the sanctions regime we established, which is the greatest nonmilitary instrument we have for coercing them. This is the fundamental flaw at the heart of the coercion strategy.
He's going to use his waiver authority to free up all this money that is in escrow accounts across the globe that is going to pour into Iranian coffers nearly immediately. At the same time, the United Nations Security Council is going to bless the agreement, which is then going to free up the Europeans and others, including the Russians and the Chinese, to engage in commercial activity with the Iranians. And so we will have effectively gutted the sanctions regime.
Iran's status in the international community is going to be greatly improved, and then there's going to be an international commercial lobby and a diplomatic-military lobby, which includes the Chinese and the Russians, in favor of the new order in which Iran is a citizen in good standing in the international community that they can do business with.
Two comments: First, I am not as confident as Doran is that Iran is a rational actor that would scale back to suspend the nuclear program in response to crippling sanctions or a military strike. They didn't stop it for very long (if at all) in 2003 in response to the US targeting Saddam, and they didn't stop it in 2011-12 when the sanctions were at their most crippling.

Second, it bears pointing out that if Obama had not insisted against all advice and all rationality on withdrawing US troops from Iraq (a decision that he apparently made before ever receiving a national security briefing, although I'm not sure how much of a difference that would have made given Obama's inclinations and tendencies), there never would have been a situation where the US would have 'needed' Iran to control ISIS in Iraq. As I pointed out a couple of days ago, many of the people behind ISIS are former Saddam officials who were likely underground so long as there was a US presence in Iraq.

Read the whole thing.

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