In a never-ending search for moral equivalence, the mainstream media regularly attribute similar motives and political problems to the Iranian regime and to Western democracies with whom it is negotiating. That’s how we get notions such as “remove the breakdown in trust” and “dispel misunderstanding.” And in the New York Times’s telling, both sides suffer from “constraints at home.”

Let’s get real. It is not misunderstanding or mistrust that keeps the parties apart. Rather, one side consists of Western, transparent democracies with independent media and one is a tyranny, the largest state sponsor of terror and the builders of an illicit nuclear program. Iran has routinely lied about its program, falsely insisting that it is for peaceful purposes, and has denied repressing its own people. We – at least people outside the Obama administration – understand the Iranian regime all too clearly. The problem is that the two parties’ aims are diametrically opposed, and Iran no longer fears the consequences of failing to make a deal.

Nevertheless, you get this sort of analysis from those who see both sides in pretty much the same terms:

[T]he Iranians appeared taken a bit by surprise when their supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a speech in Tehran last week that went into extraordinary detail about how much nuclear enrichment capacity Iran would need — statements that seemed to circumscribe their ability to come up with face-saving ways to dismantle a good portion of Iran’s facilities while still portraying their program as moving forward.
The Americans face their own constraints at home: A letter from key members of the Senate to President Obama describes what a deal to prevent Iran from producing a weapon should look like, and suggests that anything short of that would not lead to the lifting of sanctions, the only incentive the American team can dangle in front of the Iranians.

No, not even close. These “constraints” are not equal and, in fact, one is not a set of constraints at all. The supreme leader doesn’t restrain negotiators, he directs them, and the major question all along has been whether the “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani was a front for the same hard-line, nuke-seeking regime that has been in place for decades or a legitimate representative of his regime’s newfound desire for reconciliation with the West. Those of us who believe that Rouhani was play-acting all along and that the regime never intended to dismantle any of its nuclear program aren’t surprised by the supreme leader’s words and don’t buy that the negotiators were surprised either. This has been one big stall from the get-go.

The “constraints” on the U.S. side ironically are nothing more than reminders of what the administration’s own policy has been, and its predecessor’s as well, not to mention the emphatic edict contained in six United Nations resolutions. Congress is trying to keep President Obama from moving the goalposts in Iran’s favor, not to impose new and more stringent demands on the White House. You can tell how badly the administration wants to give away the store when it conveys to a reporter that “westernized negotiators from Iran’s government have given a bit of ground on how some of the country’s facilities will be used and how others will be inspected, according to officials who have been in the rooms where the wording was being discussed.” Yikes. (A bit?!)

But the moral equivalence is not invented by the media. This is a U.S. official talking: “Everyone is using the constraints they face back home as a reason to avoid compromise. And the fact of the matter is that there are many generals in Iran and many members of Congress in Washington who would like to see this whole effort collapse.” Really, Congress wants the deal to collapse? Next thing you know the Obama team will be back to calling opponents of its no-bottom-line negotiations “war-mongers.” In fact, Congress is desperately trying to convince the administration to project finality and strength for it is only then that Iran might be forced to choose between its nukes and economic survival.

Former Obama adviser Dennis Ross has been remarkably candid since his departure, in essence telling his former boss to stop sounding so desperate. On Sunday, Ross opined that there will be no deal by July 20 and further observed:

You know, they have 20,000 centrifuges right now. If you are rolling them back to, say, 1,000, then you put them back a couple of years, and then you add — if you have very extensive verification means and I would like to see much like what we had in Iraq. If you have that then you’d have a high level of confidence if they tried to cheat you could catch them and you have plenty of time to do something about it. And I would suggest if you had that kind of a deal we should work out with the Israelis very soon before such a deal what would be the consequences if you caught them cheating, and agree on what those would be. That puts you in a very different place. Right now even that deal isn’t in the offing, because Iran doesn’t want to roll back their program. They want to roll back the sanctions, but they don’t want to roll back their program. They say we have peaceful intent … We have peaceful intent, and all you need to do is have some verification here to see it. Well, this is a country that has basically violated all of its obligations under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty for a long time, so there’s no reason to accept the peaceful intent. There’s a very important reason to impose the set of verification requirements on them that are extensive and give the world a little of confidence they don’t have today. . . .The  only way [a deal] happens in my mind is if the Iranians come to the conclusion that they have much more to lose from – of diplomacy than we do.

So when the current U.S. official is exasperated that Congress is trying to get Obama to stick to the international community’s positions, Congress’s action is an effort, maybe in vain, to remind the administration it has the leverage. It has sanctions and the ability to impose more sanctions. It has the potential for a military strike. But the problem all along has been that this administration wouldn’t know leverage if it was delivered on a silver plate. The hapless team of John Kerry and Wendy Sherman seems entirely at a loss to practice coercive negotiations, and the president long ago gave up a credible threat of military force. Rather than use Congress as a tough negotiator to convince Iran that there is no alternative but to give up its nuclear program, Kerry-Sherman reveal their own anxiety by objecting to measures that strengthen their own hand. Is it any wonder there is no deal?

Right now the only things making possible an eventual deal dismantling Iran’s nuclear program are congressional staunchness on sanctions and the threat of the Israeli military. Congress should do everything possible to enhance both (e.g. pass more sanctions; approve transfer of bunker buster bombs to Israel). Whether Obama realizes it or not – and plainly he doesn’t – that is not a constraint, but the only path to the peaceful removal of an Iranian nuclear threat. The alternative is war or a nuclear threshold Iranian state.