Perhaps feeling left out when former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz’s masterful op-ed helped turn the debate against the flawed Iran framework, former secretary of state James Baker, infamous in conservative circles for antagonism toward Israel and embrace of a formula for retreat in the Iraq Study Group report (properly dropped in the trash by President George W. Bush), tries his own hand at an op-ed. But he cannot help himself from lavishing praise on President Obama or trying to fix the unfixable. He asserts Secretary of State John Kerry has “done a herculean task getting the talks this far” (What — in tossing mounds of concessions at Iran’s doorstep in exchange for nothing?) and “commend[s] the president and his national-security team for trying to solve this difficult problem short of military action” (by making the military option entirely unimaginable?). Worse, he says that with only a short list of fixes the deal would be swell: “These include verification mechanisms (including access to Iran’s military bases for inspections); the ‘snapback’ provisions for reapplying sanctions; and Iran’s refusal so far to provide historical information about its nuclear-enrichment program so that there is a baseline against which to measure any future enrichment. The proposed snapback and verification provisions, while still being negotiated, look like they will be particularly bureaucratic and cumbersome.”
Now, it’s noteworthy whenever Obama fails even to get someone like Baker on board (where is Colin Powell by the way?), but Baker misses the critical point: Even if all those “fixes” are made, the deal would still be entirely unacceptable.
Part of the problem here lies in Baker’s infatuation with snapback sanctions. As multiple foreign policy commentators, including Shultz and Kissinger, have noted, “Undertaking the ‘snap-back’ of sanctions is unlikely to be as clear or as automatic as the phrase implies. Iran is in a position to violate the agreement by executive decision. Restoring the most effective sanctions will require coordinated international action. In countries that had reluctantly joined in previous rounds, the demands of public and commercial opinion will militate against automatic or even prompt ‘snap-back.’ If the follow-on process does not unambiguously define the term, an attempt to reimpose sanctions risks primarily isolating America, not Iran.” Sanctions expert Mark Dubowitz and former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht explain:
The president’s much-hyped “snap-back” economic sanctions, now the only coercive instrument Mr. Obama has against Iranian noncompliance, will also surely fall victim to the Security Council’s politics and human greed. Already the Russians are resisting any snap-back provision that will neutralize their rogue-regime-protecting veto.The sanctions against Iran are the product of years of dogged effort and good luck (especially the increase in oil supplies). Mr. Obama now seems likely to abandon his position that sanctions be lessened over years to test Iranian compliance. And once strictures are loosened, with major international, especially European, corporations competing for the Iranian market, it will be politically impossible to demand that these companies leave again.Worse, Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal will fracture the Western alliance against Tehran. Most egregiously, we will lose the French, who have, despite their abysmal economy and the political chaos of the European Union, tried to hold a firm line against Iranian nuclear aspirations and Mr. Obama’s reflex for concessions. Faced with other countries rushing to the Iranian market and Americans who have given up the fight, the French will probably abandon us, as they did with Iraq 20 years ago. Without the French, economic sanctions on Iran would never have had much European bite.
How do you snap back sanctions once a pipeline built by China is installed? You can’t.
Moreover, Baker ignores the central flaw in the deal: Allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure (6,500 centrifuges, the Fordow facility, not ship out its fissile material, etc.) is a recipe for disaster and lets Iran at some point break free to create an industrialized nuclear program while maintaining its regional aggression. David Rothkopf gets it, writing:
Should Iran then also be entitled to economic normalization and the boon it would entail simply by putting its program on hold for a specified period of time? Such a deal — in that light — sets a new standard. The underlying message effectively says that the United States and other major powers will only impose sanctions on countries that get very, very close to having nuclear weapons — say less than a year away. But so long as those countries’ nuclear weapons programs remain in the state at which we are willing to freeze Iran’s, then those countries are still free to go about their business and run their economies in ways that enable them to better fund those programs in the future. The problem is compounded by the fact that Iran’s nuclear program is not viewed by its neighbors as the main threat the country poses. A systematic, 35-year campaign of regional meddling, destabilization, and extension of Iranian influence is seen as a much bigger issue. And restoring cash flows and assets to Iran, as well as giving the country greater international standing, clearly exacerbates that threat.
In sum, by agreeing to keep the issues of Iran’s human rights atrocities and regional aggression out of the talks, we have paid a high price. Those problems have worsened, we are less willing to confront Iran and, with respect to the latter, our allies are more unnerved than ever. Allowing Iran to eventually have a bomb and keep on abusing its people and destabilizing the region are Iran’s goals; they cannot be ours.
So, no, Baker’s model is not one we should embrace. His is simply a tougher form of managing Iran’s nuclear capacity. The point is to deny Iran one and to make the mullahs risk their regime if they do not give it up.