The White House is understandably freaked out by a congressional definition of what constitutes an acceptable deal with Iran. (One report suggests the White House is again figuring out how to abuse executive authority in bypassing any congressional action on sanctions.) The clearer the definition of what is required to dismantle the Iranian nuclear threat, the more obvious it will be that whatever flim-flam the president and the Iranians come up with is insufficient and a reason to pursue other means (sanctions, military action) to force Iran’s capitulation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech during a press conference at the CICG (Centre International de Conferences Geneve) after talks over Iran's nuclear programme in Geneva on November 24, 2013. World powers on November 24 agreed a landmark deal with Iran halting parts of its nuclear programme in what US President Barack Obama called "an important first step". According to details of the accord agreed in Geneva provided by the White House, Iran has committed to halt uranium enrichment above purities of five percent. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEINALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/Getty Images Secretary of State John Kerry (Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images)

This was driven home by a report from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which found:

Iran would have to remove 15,000 centrifuge machines and take other drastic measures to forge a comprehensive nuclear agreement with the West, according to a report by a U.S. think tank that drew from conversations with senior U.S. officials.

The steps required to preclude Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons illustrate the challenge the U.S. and other world powers will face in moving over the next six months from an interim deal to a final one. . . . In addition to removing the thousands of centrifuges that enrich uranium, Iran would have to shut down an underground uranium-enrichment site, convert a heavy water reactor and agree to a 20-year inspections regime.

This is not a “particularly harsh or hard-line” view, according to the news account (e.g. “Iran will maintain some ability to continue producing nuclear fuel as part of a final agreement through the enrichment of uranium at low levels for civilian use”). But it is nevertheless miles from anything Iran is likely to agree to.

If the minimum deal we can agree to is far beyond what Iran will accept, then there is no chance for a final deal, a conclusion at the center of critics’ complaints about the Obama strategy.

This might have not been the case had the Obama administration changed the mullahs’ calculus. If sanctions had been instituted sooner and upped (not weakened) and the threat of military action had been made real, Iran might be willing to accept a lot more of what the West requires. It was only the threat of economic or military destruction that made a deal possible. With both those factors greatly diminished, there is little, if any, reason for Iran to agree to the terms the West must have. (And had the Green Revolution succeeded, of course, we might have had different negotiating partners far more amenable to a deal along the lines acceptable to the West.)

When President Obama now says a deal isn’t “possible” along the lines of the U.S. resolution, what he is inadvertently acknowledging is that  Iran won’t agree and we lack the leverage to force agreement. In other words, the policy he implemented failed. So the choice will remain: Does Obama accept Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity under the guise of a “final deal,” or does he carry through on his promise to use all options to remove the threat? If he intended the latter, he wouldn’t now be straining to shut down and evade Congress. He wants to capitulate to Iran and Congress, darn it, keeps getting in the way.