There was an illuminating exchange at a Defense Department briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey:
Q: … Iranian activities in and around the Gulf, taking these Marshall flag ships, required sending a U.S. aircraft carrier, required escorts. Those have now stopped. This was the activity of the Revolutionary Guard, in particular the navy.
And I’m just curious, in light of the sensitive negotiations that are going on right now, if you have any concern that the revolutionary guard units that the navy are not under the control of the government of [Hassan] Rouhani, that they are operating freelance, and that they can’t control them as — as a tool, and there is a great deal of independence.
But from a military perspective, you had to move significant assets to respond to that. Do you have that concern?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, whether I have a concern or whether it’s true, that is the government of Iran who’s responsible for their behavior. And so we are concerned about their behavior. As I’ve said frequently, there’s about six things that concern me about Iran’s behavior: one of which is the nuclear issue. And I’m certainly supportive of the efforts to try to resolve that one diplomatically, but we’ll have other issues with Iran, whether it’s surrogates and proxies, weapons trafficking, ballistic missile development, cyber activity, and on occasion, their effort to threaten freedom of navigation.
The question remains why we would we be re-energizing the Iranian economy with all of that going on and what, if anything, we are doing to stop Iran. This goes to the heart of the Sunni Arab leaders’ worries. An editorial in the Arab News points out that it is a “mystery that the nuclear negotiations have not been broadened to secure a wider outcome.” It continues:
The G5+1 may complain that it has been hard enough to reach even the framework deal agreed last month. To have thrown in more substantial negotiating points would have destroyed the talks completely. But this is blinkered and foolish. Forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program was never the key issue. A Middle East nuclear arms race is, as King Salman said, a terrible threat. But he also looked to the wider issue of convincing Iran to revert to being a good neighbor. Thus reaching a wide agreement based on a commitment not to interfere in the affairs of other states is crucial. There has never been a better opportunity for this to come about. At the heart of the solution is the hard-hitting sanctions regime. Assuming that the Iranians do actually agree to abide by the treaty obligation, one way or another the sanctions will end. When this happens a critical lever will be lost. Iran will be free to carry on with its expansionist policies and its promotion of religious division. The nuclear deal therefore needs to be recast. It must be made part of a regional treaty involving all stakeholders, including the GCC members. Tehran has been playing games for long enough over its nuclear weapons program. It needs to be convinced that its tragic regional interference must end. It also needs to understand that it has everything to gain from a stable and prosperous Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or any Republican senator could have said exactly the same thing. So now the challenge to clear-eyed opponents of the deal is to block President Obama from making (or get a veto-proof majority of Democrats and Republicans to nix it after the fact) a sweetheart deal on nukes with the vague hope it will curb Iran’s regional aggression.
The follow-up to the Corker-Menendez victory in the Senate should be prompt and multi-pronged. It cannot be merely oversight hearings or new legislation or an united front in the pro-Israel community or a public education campaign — it must be all those things. The challenge is to make the argument as succinct and persuasive as possible so that the administration, upon presenting the deal to the world, will not overstate what it has accomplished, betting that non-physicists will not bother to wade through the fine print that surely will give Iran as much running room as it needs to keep its nuclear ambitions alive. Three arguments should be paramount:
First, Iran has a history of lying, cheating and behavior that does not comport with the rules of civilized nations (see Dempsey’s list). Such a country can’t be left with its nuclear infrastructure intact. If Iran keeps Fordow, thousands of centrifuges and fissile material (that can be re-enriched in days), we cannot expect that it won’t put all the pieces together again. A pro-Israel activist analogizes this to a criminal who gets to keep his gun so long as he keeps the bullets in the basement. Oh, we’ll be standing guard. Oh, we will know when he cheats. Really?
Second, the level of economic pain and pressure on Iran must increase, not decrease, so long as it is engaged in all the activities Dempsey describes. We have no strategy for dealing with Iran, yet we’re going to let its economy revive, let its regime claim a great victory and let any incentive to curb its conduct evaporate. Congress should now pass strangling sanctions — not waivable without a vote from Congress — until all those other activities stop. Democrats will filibuster sanctions to stop Iran from supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and waging proxy wars throughout the region? I think not.
Third, to build on the analogy to a criminal left with guns and ammo, the deal would say that the guards outside have to knock on the criminal’s door or rely on security cameras that — surprise! — are not tamper-proof to make sure that the gun and bullets are not reunited. In the Iran context, we will see a myriad of restrictions, limits, complications in the text and endless squabbles on the ground about inspections. How do we know? That is what Iran has done for decades and what occurred in Iraq. Verification and detection are illusory, especially since Iran will not be forced to convey the military dimensions of the program. (Oh, in the criminal’s case, he doesn’t need to tell us about his guns and bullets in other houses.)
The case against the impending deal is overwhelming. Now on multiple fronts — with an eye toward the Democrats whose votes will be essential — the case must be made. And it needs to begin now.