“Desperation” is the most common adjective one hears about the administration’s negotiating posture in the P5+1 talks. William Tobey, a veteran of arms talks with the Soviets and the former deputy administrator for nuclear nonproliferation, writes:

“There’s a bit of a sense of desperation about coming up with ways to break the logjams, on the nuclear talks and the larger relationship” a participant in the talks told the New York Times recently.
So the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain, plus Germany) are scrambling to propose ways in which Iran could maintain its installed base of uranium enrichment centrifuges, while disconnecting some of their plumbing. Putting aside sensible questions about why western diplomats would be thinking creatively about how Iran might keep more of its capabilities, it is also clear that those diplomats are fighting a losing effort on questions even more fundamental to preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had failed to provide necessary information on two agreed work-plan items aimed at resolving the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, which were originally detailed in November 2011. The missing information relates to initiation of high explosives and to neutron transport calculations.

He is not alone in surmising that if  “Western negotiators, driven by their sense of desperation, want an agreement in the worst way, that is exactly what they will get — the worst agreement for those seeking to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Analysts at the conservative Foreign Policy Initiative explain, “Tehran’s goal in these talks has long been clear — to simultaneously break free from international sanctions while retaining the capability to break out as a nuclear weapons power on short notice. Western negotiators are working to determine just how short that notice must be — with the reported goal of lengthening Iran’s breakout time from less than three months to between six and twelve months.” And lo and behold, it is working. As we have observed, the P5+1 countries “are moving dangerously closer to Tehran’s position.  Called ‘creative solutions’ by their advocates, these proposals would in reality leave Iran with the ability to resume large-scale production of nuclear material in a short period of time, effectively leaving Tehran’s nuclear weapons program intact.”

This is why we have seen a parade of ludicrous ideas such as letting Iran keep thousands of centrifuges while disconnecting some connecting pipes. (Presumably a trip to Home Depot would fix that in no time.) Any plan that relies almost exclusively on inspectors to detect when Iran is moving to break out is flawed. It is highly unlikely we will have the ability (see the failure to foresee the Islamic State’s rise) or the will to detect a potential violation (or undue limitations on inspectors) and then mount a response before Iran goes nuclear. Essentially it has been downhill since the signing of the flawed interim deal and the White House threats to veto any conditional sanctions legislation. (“The administration’s arguments have it backwards — sanctions-in-waiting would have enhanced prospects for successful diplomacy by setting a clear price if Tehran remained defiant at negotiations. Instead, by signing an interim agreement that offered sanctions relief in exchange for minimal Iranian concessions up front, the P5+1 gave Tehran little incentive to compromise.”)

The president — who thought the Taliban prisoner swap was a winner and catering to “war weariness” was good politics — may actually think one of the harebrained schemes will pass muster with the public, Congress and allies. The best way to disabuse him of this notion and avoid his concluding such a disastrous deal would be for Sunni allies (already afraid of a sellout), Israel and a bipartisan super-majority of Congress to make crystal clear that any of these schemes do not resolve the issue and in fact offer Iran both immunity for past nuclear activities and a carte blanche for future nuclear weaponization. Oh, and if Hillary Clinton really wanted to differentiate herself from a failed presidency and disastrous foreign policy, she would be leading such an effort in Congress.