Former defense secretary Robert Gates warns us, “The notion that betting that this regime is going to temper its behavior in the region because of this nuclear deal I think is mistaken. I think that will not happen,” he told an interviewer. Like many critics, he suspects the president was too “eager” to get a deal. He derides the idea that there are moderates we have helped empower. He says, “As I like to tell people . . . [in 1979 I] began my now more than three-decades-long quest for the elusive Iranian moderate.” He concludes, “My view is that the belief that Iran over time is going to evolve into a regular nation state and abandon its theological revolutionary underpinnings, its aspirations in the region, or even its aspirations for nuclear weapons is unrealistic.”
The results of the deal speak for themselves. Whatever “moderates” exist got wiped out by the most hard-line elements in Iran in recent political jousting. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Days after Iran secured relief from economic sanctions under a contentious nuclear deal, the country’s powerful hard-liners are moving to sideline more moderate leaders who stand to gain from a historic opening with the West. Almost two-thirds of the 12,000 candidates who applied to run in next month’s parliamentary elections were either disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council or withdrew.” If we intended to help whatever less hard-line elements there are, we appeared to cause the opposite result.
Likewise, in the wake of the deal, we saw two illegal ballistic missile tests and Iran’s vow to conduct even more. BBC reports, “Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan told the Fars news agency that the new US sanctions would have no effect. He said: ‘We will prove it in practice by unveiling new missile achievements.'”
Iran’s regional behavior has become more audacious as well. In addition to putting its forces on the ground in Syria, Iran is finding new ways to foment terrorism. “A new Iranian-backed terror group is making inroads in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where it operates underground with the potential capacity to deliver devastating attacks to Israel, according to regional experts who have been investigating the organization’s rise,” the Free Beacon reports. “The group, which goes by the name Harakat al-Sabireen, was established around May 2014 but has begun in recent months to boost its public profile on social media and brag about its plots to wage jihad against Israel.” After signing the deal, Iran last year also began increasing its support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
Then there is the increased use of kidnapping as a tool of statecraft. Yes, the Iranian government released four Americans, but it kept two others and got a total of 21 of its own freed, relieved from prosecution or protected from investigation. Then, to show it won’t be afraid to grab more Americans, it seized 10 U.S. sailors at gunpoint and used them for propaganda. And are we supposed to believe the militias that Iran supports in Iraq did not get encouragement or approval from its backers before kidnapping more Americans?
And finally, there is Iran’s nuclear program itself. We allowed Iran to stonewall us on inspection of military sites. We agree to allow Iran to reach nuclear breakout in 10 years. And now, we learn: “The head of Iran’s atomic energy organization announced on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic, with assistance from Russia and China, will move forward on the construction of two new nuclear power plants, according to comments published in Iranian state-controlled media.” Since we conceded Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, this does not run afoul of the JCPOA, but it does tell us that Iran intends to stay in the enrichment business — as it is permitted to do research on ever-more-efficient centrifuges. It is one more obstacle in making certain Iran does not develop a new supply chain, batch of centrifuges and fissile material that will make inspections and enforcement even more difficult.
And all this has occurred within the first six months since the deal’s signing, when Iran is presumably on its best behavior. The nuclear deal is now an umbrella that protects Iran’s mischief in other areas. The deal has not only inhibited the administration but also has unnerved our allies and strengthened Iran’s hand. In short, our national security interests are damaged by the deal. There is a reason Iran’s conduct has gotten worse: the rotten Iran deal.
The rational approach would be to discontinue the deal, which is driving Iran’s behavior, not continue it and start haggling over this and that violation. Perhaps Trump, Kasich and Clinton do not appreciate that “policing” the deal with a closed society led by a regime determined to cheat is an exercise in futility. Even if we find violations (good luck, since we never got complete disclosure of past military dimensions of the program and cannot go anywhere, anytime), Iran will dispute them. There will be reviews and debate. The United Nations will take Iran’s side. And besides, do you want to go to war over a little cheating? That’s how the game is played.
One has to be committed to the deal for the sake of the deal and without regard to its ongoing consequences to disfavor pulling the plug. That is not without complications either, but if we are to directly confront Iran, as Clinton says we should on a range of issues, we cannot also continue with a sweetheart deal that boosts their economy, their regional ambitions and the convictions of our allies that we are fools.