Former senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), experts such as Robert Satloff and now sanctions guru Mark Dubowitz make the case that a better Iran deal is doable, but only if Congress votes down President Obama’s deal. After reviewing the deal’s numerous and serious deficiencies, Dubowitz writes:
There is ample precedent to amend the deal. Congress has required amendments to more than 200 treaties before receiving Senate consent, including significant bilateral Cold War arms control agreements with the Soviets like the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, as well as multilateral agreements like the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiated with 87 participating countries, including Iran, by President Bill Clinton. And it’s not just Republicans putting up obstacles. During the Cold War, Democratic senators like Henry Jackson withstood pressure from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger who insisted that the deals they negotiated go unchanged. This all happened at a time when Moscow had thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at America.
Three scenarios would be possible, he says. “In the first scenario, Iran could decide to implement its commitments in good faith despite congressional disapproval in order to trigger substantial and automatic U.N. and EU sanctions relief coming to them under the terms of the agreement.” This assumes Iran badly needs sanctions relief and is willing to put constraints on itself without getting something concrete from the United States. Alternatively, “In a second scenario, the Iranians abandon their commitments under the agreement, but don’t rush to break out toward a nuclear weapon. Iran would get none of the benefits of sanctions relief but would try to exploit the congressional disapproval domestically, claiming that it was wronged by the United States.” It also would not incur an Israeli military strike. Finally, “In a third scenario, the Iranians exploit the temporary confusion of a congressional disapproval to divide the P5+1. . . . The key for Congress and the White House will be to use diplomatic persuasion and U.S. financial sanctions to keep the Europeans out of Iran. America has that leverage now, before Europe rushes to reenter the Iranian market; relying on snap back sanctions to get the Europeans out again is a weak play.”
Dubowitz does not consider the potential that Iran will race to breakout — and for good reason. Iran’s participation in the talks shows us that Iran wants to get the bomb without risking its regime (by military strength). So long as it can cajole the West, keep its infrastructure in place and rebuild its economy, it can be patient. If it would try to make a dash, it would face the threat of military action from Israel, and theoretically from the United States. Iran was not willing to pursue that risky proposition and with the potential to get partial sanctions relief, there is no reason to believe it would do so. Ironically, “war” (as in “this deal or war”) is the most far-fetched scenario.
As Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) argues today, if the deal goes into effect, we will be in a much worse position in five or 10 years than we are now. “We have more leverage than we will ever have, but under this deal that leverage will flip in approximately nine months, when most major sanctions are relieved. Iran will further deepen its regional strength,” he argues. “Unfortunately, the agreement ties our hands in countering Iran’s efforts. If we try to push back, Iran will threaten to speed up its nuclear development since it already will have a windfall of money, a rapidly growing economy and alliances built with our partners, who will feast on the mercantile benefits of doing business with Iran.” In other words, the deal does not buy us time; it forfeits our leverage and increases Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and determination to get its bomb (even if it has to wait 10 years).
Doing the deal, then, is the risky proposition — by increasing violence in the region in the short term and practically ensuring major military conflict down the road (sanctions won’t be available) with a stronger and more confident Iran. Not doing the deal is the safe move — for it keeps our leverage, allowing for more effective coercive diplomacy by the next president. Most important, it would begin the process of reassuring our Sunni and Israeli allies that we intend to push back on Iran, a necessary precondition for limiting Iran’s influence and, not coincidentally, also instilling confidence in the war against the Islamic State.