Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Iran Deal: It Was Never About Nuclear Weapons

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/the_slatest/2013/09/09/syria_chemical_weapons_did_john_kerry_just_accidentally_find_a_workable/180121922.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large.jpghttp://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/files/2013/06/Barack-Obama-Stunning-Decline.jpg
(If you are selling your house, these are the buyers you want to negotiate with)

In which we are driven to seek advice from Homer Simpson . . . 

The agreement between Iran, the United States and five other nations is going to do into effect as, from the American perspective, an Executive Agreement and not as a Treaty.  It is therefore not a binding legal obligation on the U.S. and can be revoked by any President at any subsequent time, for any reason. As Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, the agreement is not being submitted as a treaty for ratification since it would not be approved by Congress, an accurate assessment, as current counts are it would be rejected by overwhelming majorities in both houses and the latest polling data of the American public shows overwhelming disapproval.

When the Obama Administration undertook negotiations THC thought it would be difficult to achieve a useful agreement but, unlike some others, felt it worth a try (though he also assumed it would be submitted as a treaty if an agreement was reached).  Indeed, if the Administration had achieved all or most of the elements it publicly deemed essential to a good deal it would have been worth taking the risk.  But at end of day, the Administration gave on all of its critical positions so here's what we are faced with in the agreement:

1.  The Iranian regime does not have to give an accounting of its nuclear weapons development program, a key demand of the U.S. and it allies, and essential to constructing a baseline of the current status of its program.

2.  Iran is subject to a very loose inspection program, from which U.S. inspectors are barred, involves a degree of self-inspection by the Iranian regime and is, in part, based on protocols between the UN International Atomic Energy Administration and Iran to which the U.S. does not have access.

3.  There will be no inspection of some of the most important Iranian installation, including Parchin which was deemed essential by the Administration in its earlier statements.
http://i.ytimg.com/vi/edKwjAPfuuI/hqdefault.jpg
4.  There is no "anytime, anyplace" inspection regime as the Administration promised it would insist upon.

5.  Most of the Iran's nuclear development infrastructure remains in place so if it decides to "break out" from the agreement it can proceed very quickly.

6.  The approximately $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets will be returned to the regime to do as it wants.

7.  Sanctions will be lifted so that Iran can sell its oil and entice companies from around the world to set up operations there, benefits worth billions annually.  And, as a practical matter, there will be no "snap-back" sanctions for violations of the agreement despite the Administration's claim.

The problem isn't that the Administration moved on a few of what it claimed were the essential elements of the deal; it's that it moved on all of them.

The bottom line is that we've left Iran with the initiative to determine whether or when to abide by the nuclear components of the deal and in the meantime opened the financial spigots for them.  Iran has not agreed to curtail any of its support for terrorist and revolutionary groups around the world.  The Supreme Leader has recently reaffirmed that "Death To America" remains the policy of his regime and we left four American still in Iranian custody (including Saeed Abedini, an Idaho pastor convicted of starting local home churches and Jason Rezain, a reporter for the Washington Post) who can be used at some future date by the Ayatollahs to extract more concessions from the U.S.  In contrast the Administration thought it important enough to get back Bowe Bergdahl, an Army deserter whom several U.S. soldiers died trying to rescue and who is now facing a charge of "misbehavior of before the enemy" which carries a potential life sentence and for whom we surrendered four Taliban terrorists.

THC thinks this is a bad deal.  If we failed to reach agreement, Iran would still have had the initiative to determine whether to proceed with the bomb but at least they would not have had the money.

It is telling that the best argument supporters of the deal outside the White House can come up with is the equivalent of:
 "Well, since the Administration screwed up the negotiations so badly that the entire sanctions regime is going to collapse anyway, we might as well go ahead with the deal since there's no Plan B anymore."
Think THC is exaggerating?  In supporting the deal a couple of days ago, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) stated "This is not the agreement I would have accepted at the negotiating table" and that he wanted to "begin the process of addressing the deal's shortfalls, unwanted impacts and consequences" (leave aside that his statement is logical nonsense, the deal is the deal once it is in place; think about what he's saying about it).  And read Senator Cory Booker's (D-NJ) statement supporting the agreement which can be found near the end of this post, in fact make sure you read the statements of all four Democratic politicians (two supporting and two opposing the deal) which THC discusses later on.
http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02128/Ayatollah-Ali-Kham_2128806b.jpg(The Ayatollah of Rock n Rolla (obligatory Road Warrior reference))

Iran does not need the bomb in the short-term now that it has what it wants;  huge amounts of cash to fund its foreign objectives, a clear message sent to the Sunni states that it, not the U.S, is the big dog in the region, the leisure to determine whether and when it suits their needs to break out of the constraints of the deal (and even if they don't break out of the deal, Iran now has the right to have nuclear weapons when the deal expires in 15 years) and retaining the American hostages to get further goodies.

Think THC is kidding?  Here is Iranian President Rouhani's assessment:
Our objective was to have the nuclear program and have sanctions lifted. At first they wanted us to have 100 centrifuges now we will have 6,000. They wanted restrictions of 25 years now its 8. First they said we could only have IR1 centrifuges, now we can have IR6, 7, and 8, advanced centrifuges. Heavy water plant at Arak had to be dismantled but now it will remain with heavy water under conditions. Fordo had to be closed now we will have 1000 centrifuges there.
On the other hand, the good news is John Kerry is in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize he so desperately wants.

So what do we do?  When in doubt we should always consult with Homer:


But why did the U.S. give on all of its key positions?  Was it just bad negotiating?  Well, it certainly was bad negotiating but it didn't matter because the point from the Administration's perspective was to get an agreement, not its substance.  To understand why let's look at recent history and the viewpoint of this Administration.

THC will do this from the perspective of American interests, not those of Israel which have been the subject of some commentary in connection with the deal, though he will admit he finds it perplexing and appalling that the President has gone out of his way be deferential to a regime and supportive of its legitimacy even while millions of Iranians protested the 2009 election results; a regime whose oft-reiterated policy is Death To America and who have acted upon it killing 258 Americans in the bombings of the Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut, torturing to death our CIA station chief in Lebanon, killing 19 Americans in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar barracks in Saudi Arabia and supplying the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq and whose leaders continue to insult and denigrate not only America but President Obama himself, while at the same time the President personally authorized someone on his staff to tell journalist Jeffrey Goldberg for publication that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was "chickenshit" for being reluctant to bomb Iran.
http://www.voice-online.co.uk/sites/default/files/imagecache/455/khanebeni-tweet-gun.jpg(From Khamenei's twitter feed (yes, he is active on twitter), showing Barack Obama with a gun to his head; according to the President this is not "chickenshit")

The history of U.S.-Iranian relations is important because that is was this deal is really about, not nuclear weapons.  The Obama Administration believes that this deal is the key to its desired rapprochement with the Iranian regime, a approach that they think will, over time, lead to a moderation in the regime's actions and a new balance of power in the Middle East which will allow America to lower its profile in that region.  The deal only make sense in this context and, in fact, if President Obama is correct in his assessment the deal is a good one.  Your own conclusion as to the accuracy of that assessment is the key factor in whether you should support or oppose the deal as Senator Schumer points out in his statement referenced below.

Several American Presidents have attempted reconciliation or at least some improvement in relations with the Iranian regime almost from the moment the Shah was overthrown in 1979.  The hostage crisis in 1979 was triggered by President Carter's attempt to reach out to the new regime by telling them the U.S. would proceed ahead with the arms sales it negotiated with the Shah, that it would recognize the new regime and allow it access to Iranian assets in the U.S.  The radicals in the regime, led by the ayatollahs, encouraged the storming of the U.S, embassy in order to derail attempts at reconciliation.

The Iran-Contra scandal had its origins in the Reagan Administration's attempt to free the captive CIA station chief in Lebanon, held by Iran's tool Hezbollah and because the President had been told their were moderates in the regime who would respond favorably if the U.S. transferred missiles to them via Israel for use against Saddam in Iraq.  We all know how that went.

Attempting to open dialogue in late 1990s the Clinton Administration tried apologizing for U.S. actions in the Iran during the 1950s.  The Iranian regime mocked the President and Secretary of State Albright and rejected the overture.

Interestingly it was during the early phases of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and President Bush's labeling Iran as part of the "Axis Of Evil" that the regime was intimidated enough to temporarily cease work on its illegal nuclear weapons program.  It was also in this period that a frightened Muammar Ghaddafi gave up his nuclear program, which unlike the current Iran deal, actually did involve dismantling and removing the nuclear material from Libya.  And then it all went wrong as Bush got bogged down in Iraq after failing to find the WMD.

Starting in 2006 the Bush Administration, acting through the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, began using sanctions to bring pressure on the Iran to halt its nuclear weapons development program.  To its credit, the Obama Administration strengthened those sanctions increasing pressure on the regime.  In addition, as we know now, the President began secretly communicating with Iran's Supreme Leader in 2009 and making gestures of good will in an attempt to restore relationships between the two countries.  It is in this context that the Administration emphasis on the legitimacy of the reign of the Iranian theocracy in the face of the demonstrations in 2009 can be explained.

It is also based on the President's deep seated belief that the burden is on the United States to take the first step in repairing relations and that once we take steps to heal and correct our mistakes Iran will reciprocate, a view the President seems to hold broadly about American interaction with the rest of the world.  The current discussions sparked a connection THC had missed before that reinforces my thesis.

THC has written previously of Mark Bowden's book, Guests Of The Ayatollah, about the 1979-80 hostage crisis.  In it, he recounts a discussion between Nilufar Ebtekar, a young women who attended American schools while her father was obtaining a Doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.  Ebtekar, one of the most despised of the hostage takers, was lecturing hostage Tom Schaefer on the evils of the America's racist decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Schaefer responded:

"The Japanese started the war, and we ended it," Schaefer said.
"What do you mean, the Japanese started the war?" Ebtekar asked.
"The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so we bombed Hiroshima."
"Pearl Harbor?  Where's Pearl Harbor?"
"Hawaii"
After a moment of silence Ebtekar asked "The Japanese bombed Hawaii?"
"Yep" said Schaefer.  "They started it, and we ended it."
Masoumeh Ebtekar in Dizbad Village - March 22, 2015 - Nisapur.jpg(Nilufar (now Masoumeh) Ebtekar)
http://www.history.com/s3static/video-thumbnails/AETN-History_VMS/21/154/History_Becoming_Barack_Obama_SF_HD_still_624x352.jpg(Barry (now Barack) Obama)

This reminded him that in Barack Obama's first autobiography, Dreams From My Father, there is an interesting passage in which he writes of the transformative experience of listening to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, through whom he found Jesus and who became his spiritual advisor.  Obama tells us of Wright's words:
"'a world . . . where white folks' greed runs a world in need' . . . and so it went, a meditation on a fallen world . . . Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House." 
It is shared world view we find here - both believe America is in the wrong (for more on the President's reflexive use of this rhetoric read this post).  And things have now come full circle.  Ms Ebtekar changed her name, founded an Iranian Women's NGO Network, became the first female Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was named by the United Nations Environmental Program as a "Champion of the Earth" and most recently THC saw her on the BBC criticizing American foreign policy - which does indicate a difference in world views right now - President Obama thinks he has now placed America on the "right side of history" while Ebtekar still think we are still in the wrong; in fact, the Iranian regime seems to be sending a consistent message despite the President's efforts: "we're really not that much into you".

And it is only in this context of the President's belief that this agreement will lead to favorable changes in Iran's behavior that his actions make sense.  The reason this deal is acceptable to the President is because its primary purpose was never about Iran dismantling its nuclear program (though, if as part of the process the Iranians did so THC is sure the President would have been fine with that as it would have made his job easier).  In order for there to be a U.S. - Iranian rapprochement and thus for Obama's hoped for chance of improvements in relations that would lead to cooperation and allow the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East, Iran had to be managed into at least nominal compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Without that, the President would not have the maneuvering room to improve relations.  That's why a managed trajectory that eventually allows Iran to become a nuclear power if it choose that route was just as good as dismantling a program because it provided enough of a fig leaf for the U.S. and Europe to say "it's a deal!".

The nuclear deal will make substantial funds available to the Iranian regime.  One of the themes of the President has been that because Iran's economy and infrastructure is in such bad shape that the influx of billions of dollars will have to be spent on internal improvements, not on increasing havoc in the Middle East or on armaments programs.  THC believes this statement indicates the President's weakness in math.  The ending of sanctions will make about $150 billion available to Iran apart from the billions more that will begin flowing in as it sells oil and strikes business deals.

It is estimated that Iran's total financial support to the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza is about $7 billion a year.  Iran could double its financial support for these groups for the next five years and it would still have more than 75% of its financial windfall available for internal improvement and that does not even include the additional ongoing revenues from the end of sanctions related to oil.

UPDATE:  THC just came across this letter of September 2 from Secretary Kerry to members of Congress.  While the contents are not new to THC, it provides a useful insight into what looks like the overall incoherence of Administration policy.  The Administration has been acting on two different paths regarding the nuclear deal.  The first is to insist it is just about nuclear weapons and the Administration is under no illusion about Iran changing its behavior  The second is from numerous articles in which unnamed government officials talk about how the nuclear agreement is really part of a sophisticated approach to "tame" Iran and find areas where our interests and theirs converge (and certainly the President's secret diplomacy with the Supreme Leader and other related statements backs this second path).   Secretary Kerry's letter follows the first path stating:
We share the concern expressed by many in Congress regarding Iran's continued support for terrorist and proxy groups throughout the region . . . We have no illusion that this behavior will change following implementation of the JPCOA . . .
The Secretary then goes on to state actions the Administration has taken and is prepared to take to support Israel and the Arab states, including increasing financial support and further arms sales.  In other words, having agreed to lift sanctions on Iran which will allow that regime to undoubtedly increase its own arms and those of the terrorist and proxy groups they support, the United States will, in turn, fund Iran's local opponents.  In summary, we are funding both sides of an arms race.

In closing, Secretary Kerry cannot resist invoking the toothless spectre of the United Nations and the international community by referring to the continuing UN resolutions "prohibiting arms transfers to Iranian-backed Hizbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Lebanon, and Shia militants in Iraq . . . "  That delusional passage brings further into question the Secretary's judgement as it is evident to any casual observer that the existing UN resolutions have, in no way, constrained Iran's ability to arm its allies.  In the most notorious example, despite UN resolutions barring rearming and the presence of UN "peacekeepers", Hizbollah not only completely rebuilt its military structure after the 2006 war it provoked with Israel, it is now better-armed than ever thanks to tens of thousands of short-range missiles provided by Iran.

THC reiterates; a deal along the lines the Administration originally sought would have been worth the risk.  The deal they actually agreed to is not.  It becomes more and more clear who the real JV team is.


This is a sampling of the specific issues on which the Administration caved:
the deal we’ll accept is — they end their nuclear program; it’s very straightforward.” President Obama in 2012 campaign:
Nope.  They continue R&D under the agreement and nothing is dismantled.

We will not agree to uranium enrichment by Iran.
"There is no right to enrich.  We do not recognize a right to enrich."
John Kerry, November 24, 2013
The U.S. started by conceding to Iran the right to have its own nuclear reactors but not to develop the capacity to enrich nuclear fuel.

The U.S. ten conceded to Iran the right to enrich but under strict limitation.

Finally, the U.S. conceded to Iran that the strict limitations on enrichment would expire at a set point in the future.
http://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/media/images/82006000/jpg/_82006770_arak_ap.jpg(Arak heavy water plant)

The underground research facility at Fordow will be closed.
"We know that they don't need an underground fortified facility like Fordow to have a peaceful nuclear program"  President Obama December 7, 2013
“We know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful nuclear program,” - See more at: http://www.foreignpolicyi.org/content/fpi-analysis-what-us-officials-said-iran-what-we-know-now-0#sthash.ylMWaFwr.dpuf
Fordow stays open under the agreement.

Iran would be subject to "anytime, anywhere" inspections.

Nope.  Limited inspections with advance notice, some self-inspections by the Iranians and certain sites completely off limits.  You may have heard concerns that in backing away from "anytime, anywhere" inspections the U.S. has agreed to inspections with 24 days notice.  It's actually much worse than that.   Here's what really is going to happen according to pages 42-43 of the Agreement:
Step 1:  Requests for access "will be made in good faith with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary".
Step 2: "The IAEA will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification"
Step 3:  There is no time limit set forth for Iran's response to the IAEA.
Step 4:  "If Iran's explanations do not resolve the IAEA's concerns, the Agency may request access to such locations"
Step 5:  "Iran may propose to the IAEA alternative means of resolving the IAEA's concerns."
Step 6:  If the matter is not otherwise resolved with 14 days of the IAEA's request for access under Step 4, the IAEA and Iran must reach agreement on access. 
 
Step 7: If the IAEA and Iran fail to reach agreement within the 14 days, within the following 7 days, the Joint Commission, by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members would advise on the "necessary means" to resolve the IAEA's concerns.  Commission members are China, Germany, France, U.K. Russia, U.S., Iran and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Step 8:  Iran must implement the "necessary means" within 3 days.
So just how long do you think it will take to go from Step 2 to Step 4?   And one other point; assuming that in any dispute Iran, China and Russia will be difficult to deal with it means that the European countries will be the "deciders" - take what comfort you can in that.  Senator Schumer doesn't take much; as he noted "It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections."
“We know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful nuclear program,” - See more at: http://www.foreignpolicyi.org/content/fpi-analysis-what-us-officials-said-iran-what-we-know-now-0#sthash.ylMWaFwr.dpuf

Conventional arms embargoes, including those on ballistic missiles, will stay in place. 

US lead negotiator Wendy Sherman (former social worker and chief negotiator of the landmark nuclear and ballistic missile deals with North Korea during the Clinton Administration which successfully restrained . . . oh, wait a minute) to Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014:

The joint plan of action does address the fact that their ballistic missiles that could be used as a delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons must be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution because it is part of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. So it is true that in these first six months we have not shut down all of their production of any ballistic missile that could have anything to do with delivery of a nuclear weapon, but that is, indeed, going to be part of something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.
As late as April 2015 the White House was distributing a fact sheet claiming the restrictions would remain in place.
 
The reality in the final deal:
The conventional-arms embargo will stay in place for five years, and the ballistic-missile embargo will be in place for eight years but will be lifted sooner if the IAEA definitively clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. The IAEA is very unlikely to find evidence of current nuclear-weapons work, as it won’t be allowed to inspect non-declared nuclear sites where this activity is taking place.  This means these embargoes could be lifted much sooner.
http://dailysignal.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/iran_missiles090414.jpg
(This one's for you!)
"Snap-back" sanctions are readily available for quick implementation if Iran violates the agreement.

But as Rob Satloff at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy points out
There is only one penalty for any infraction, big or small — taking Iran to the UN Security Council for the “snapback” of international sanctions. That is like saying that for any crime — whether a misdemeanor or a felony — the punishment is the death penalty. In the real world, that means there will be no punishments for anything less than a capital crime. . . . But the problem with snapback gets worse. The agreement includes a statement that Iran considers a re imposition of sanctions as freeing it from all commitments and restrictions under the deal. In other words, the violation would have to be really big for the Security Council to blow up the agreement and reimpose sanctions. That effectively gives Iran a free pass on all manner of small to mid-level violations.
The problem is actually worse.  Once companies have made substantial investments on the ground in Iran they will become effectively lobbyists for the Iranian government in order to protect their investments.  Every country that is a party to the agreement will have a powerful internal lobby against doing anything to upset the apple-cart.

In addition, it appears that under the Corker process, the U.S. sanctions will expire meaning Congress will need to pass entirely new sanctions in the future, normally a lengthy process and one that will likely place it in conflict with its allies. That's how the real world, not John Kerry's fantasy land, works.

THC could go on and on in the same vein but it's too depressing.  If you'd like to read more a useful summary of the key defects in the agreement can be found in the Senate testimony of Dr Robert Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and the man who negotiated the dismantling of the Libyan nuclear program in 2003 and for one of many lists documenting the Administration's progressive folding on what it insisted was essential aspects to the deal read this piece.


Now let's take a look at some of the statements from those supporting and opposing the agreement.  We'll be partisan and only look at Democrats.

Let's start with Leon Panetta (full statement here), former Secretary of Defense under President Obama.  Read this excerpt and guess his position.
In itself, the Iran deal would appear to reward Tehran for defying the world, make funds available for its extremist activities and generally make it stronger militarily and economically. Although the agreement provides for a temporary delay in Iran's nuclear enrichment capability, it allows Tehran to retain its nuclear infrastructure and obtain sanctions relief. The risk is that Iran could become an even bigger threat to the region.

Let's face it, given the situation in the Middle East, empowering Iran in any way seems like a dangerous gamble. Islamic State is on the march; the Arab Spring is in shreds; Syria and Yemen are failed states; Iran is supporting Syria's Bashar Assad, Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen; the Saudis are fighting in Yemen; Egypt is fighting in the Sinai Peninsula; Hamas and Hezbollah are rearming to confront Israel; the Palestinians are languishing; Libya is fighting itself; Turkey is fighting ISIS and the Kurds.

The response of the United States to these threats is driven more by the crisis of the moment than by any overarching geopolitical or military strategy. The principal driving motivation appears to be to avoid being trapped by another war in the region.
http://www.tabletmag.com/wp-content/files_mf/panetta1.jpg
He's endorsing the agreement!  This is what THC means about the arguments of the agreement's supporters.  Panetta then goes on to outline what he thinks essential to making the deal work:
Enforce the deal. A certain inertia follows the approval of any arms deal. That cannot happen in this case. The United States must work diligently with its allies, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency to fully implement the constraints in the agreement. Any violation, even a small one, must be swiftly and strongly addressed.

Maintain a strong military presence. Force projection by our naval, air and ground forces is vital for defending our interests.

Expand intelligence capability. If Iran violates the agreement, it will do so covertly. For that reason, the United States must restore its cooperative intelligence relationship with Israel and invest in intelligence operations with our other allies. Monitoring Iranian activity, targeting terrorist leaders and networks, and assessing potential threats and hidden activities will be crucial for both stability and security in the region


Make it clear that force is an option. Although the use of force should never be the first response, the argument against military action has been made so often that it has created uncertainty about our will to do what we say. For that reason, Congress should pass a resolution authorizing the current and future presidents to use force to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is U.S. policy; there should be no doubt that force can be used if necessary to stop Tehran from building a bomb.
Does anyone who has watched the White House for the past seven years think any of this likely?

This is from New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer opposing the deal (here is the entire piece):
After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.

In addition, we must consider the non-nuclear elements of the agreement. This aspect of the deal gives me the most pause. For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza. That is why the U.S. has labeled Iran as one of only three nations in the world who are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.
http://s3-origin-images.politico.com/080402_secondsschumer2.jpg
Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.

When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.

Using the proponents’ overall standard — which is not whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it — it seems to me, when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.

Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.
Probably the best, and most comprehensive, statement of opposition is from Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) which is worth reading in full. Some excerpts:
“Unlike President Obama's characterization of those who have raised serious questions about the agreement, or who have opposed it, I did not vote for the war in Iraq, I opposed it, unlike the Vice President and the Secretary of State, who both supported it. [A reference to President Obama's recent cheap shot] My vote against the Iraq war was unpopular at the time, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
http://static01.mediaite.com/med/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/sen-bob-menendez-01nov2012-620x413-600x350.jpg

“We know that despite the fact that Iran claims their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, they have violated the international will, as expressed by various U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and by deceit, deception and delay advanced their program to the point of being a threshold nuclear state.  It is because of these facts, and the fact that the world believes that Iran was weaponizing its nuclear program at the Parchin Military Base -- as well as developing a covert uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, built deep inside of a mountain, raising serious doubts about the peaceful nature of their civilian program, and their sponsorship of state terrorism -- that the world united against Iran's nuclear program.

“In that context, let’s remind ourselves of the stated purpose of our negotiations with Iran:  Simply put, it was to dismantle all -- or significant parts -- of Iran's illicit nuclear infrastructure to ensure that it would not have nuclear weapons capability at any time.  Not shrink its infrastructure. Not limit it. But fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.

“We said we would accommodate Iran's practical national needs, but not leave the region -- and the world -- facing the threat of a nuclear armed Iran at a time of its choosing.  In essence, we thought the agreement would be roll-back-for-roll-back: you roll-back your infrastructure and we'll roll-back our sanctions.

“At the end of the day, what we appear to have is a roll-back of sanctions and Iran only limiting its capability, but not dismantling it or rolling it back.  What do we get?  We get an alarm bell should they decide to violate their commitments, and a system for inspections to verify their compliance.  That, in my view, is a far cry from ‘dismantling.’

“While I have many specific concerns about this agreement, my overarching concern is that it requires no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for 10 years.  Not even one centrifuge will be destroyed under this agreement.  Fordow will be repurposed, and Arak redesigned.
http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/images/Fordow_21Dec2013_DG.jpg
(Fordow Facility)

“The fact is -- everyone needs to understand what this agreement does and does not do so that they can determine whether providing Iran permanent relief in exchange for short-term promises is a fair trade.

We lift sanctions, but -- even during the first 10 years of the agreement -- Iran will be allowed to continue R&D activity on a range of centrifuges – allowing them to improve their effectiveness over the course of the agreement.

“It will, in the long run, make it much harder to demonstrate that Iran's program is not in fact being used for peaceful purposes because Iran will have legitimate reasons to have advanced centrifuges and a robust enrichment program.  We will then have to demonstrate that its intention is dual-use and not justified by its industrial nuclear power program.

Within about a year of Iran meeting its initial obligations, Iran will receive sanctions relief to the tune of $100-150 billion in the release of frozen assets, as well as renewed oil sales of another million barrels a day, as well as relief from sectoral sanctions in the petrochemical, shipping, shipbuilding, port sectors, gold and other precious metals, and software and automotive sectors.
“Iran will also benefit from the removal of designated entities including major banks, shipping companies, oil and gas firms from the U.S. Treasury list of sanctioned entities.

“As the largest State Sponsor of Terrorism, Iran – who has exported its revolution to Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and directed and supported attacks against American troops in Iraq -- will be flush with money, not only to invest in their domestic economy, but to further pursue their destabilizing, hegemonic goals in the region.  If Iran can afford to destabilize the region with an economy staggering under sanctions and rocked by falling oil prices, what will Iran and the Quds Force do when they have a cash infusion of more than 20 percent of their GDP -- the equivalent of an infusion of $3.4 trillion into our economy?

If Iran can violate its obligations for more than a decade, it can't then be allowed to avail themselves of the same provisions and protections they violated in the first place.  We have to ask:  Why would our negotiators decide to negotiate access to other IAEA documents, but not these documents?  Maybe the reason, as some members of Congress and public reports have raised, is because it will be the Iranians and not the IAEA performing the tests and providing the samples to be analyzed, which would be the equivalent of having an athlete accused of using performance enhancing drugs submit an unsupervised urine sample to the appropriate authority.  Chain of custody doesn't matter when the evidence given to you is prepared by the perpetrator.

For me, the administration's willingness to forgo a critical element of Iran's weaponization -- past and present -- is inexplicable.  Our willingness to accept this process on Parchin is only exacerbated by the inability to obtain anytime, anywhere inspections, which the Administration always held out as one of those essential elements we would insist on and could rely on in any deal.  Instead, we have a dispute resolution mechanism that shifts the burden of proof to the U.S. and its partners, to provide sensitive intelligence, possibly revealing our sources and the methods by which we collected the information and allow the Iranians to delay access for nearly a month, a delay that would allow them to remove evidence of a violation, particularly when it comes to centrifuge research-and-development, and weaponization efforts that can be easily hidden and would leave little or no signatures.

“Mark Dubowitz, the widely-respected sanctions expert from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has said:

‘For Secretary Kerry to claim we have absolute knowledge of Iran's weaponization activities is to assume a level of U.S. intelligence capability that defies historical experience. That's why he, President Obama, Undersecretary Sherman and IAEA chief Amano all have made PMD resolution such an essential condition of any nuclear deal.’

“He goes on to say:
The U.S. track record in detecting and stopping countries from going nuclear should make Kerry more modest in his claims and assumptions. The U.S. missed the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.  Washington underestimated Saddam's program in 1990. Then it overestimated his program in 2003 and went to war to stop a nonexistent WMD program.’

“It is precisely because of this track record that permitting Iran to have the size and scope of an industrialized nuclear program, permitted under the JCPOA is one of the great flaws of the agreement.

“Whether or not the supporters of the agreement admit it, this deal is based on ‘hope’--  hope that when the nuclear sunset clause expires Iran will have succumbed to the benefits of commerce and global integration.  Hope that the hardliners will have lost their power and the revolution will end its hegemonic goals.  And hope that the regime will allow the Iranian people to decide their fate.

“Hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy.

“The Iranian regime, led by the Ayatollah, wants above all to preserve the regime and its Revolution, unlike the Green Revolution of 2009.  So it stretches incredulity to believe they signed on to a deal that would in any way weaken the regime or threaten the goals of the Revolution.
  
THC doesn't know whether Senator Menendez's current legal problems will land him in jail but thanks him for his thoughtful statement.  He certainly hopes that if the Senator does end up in the clink by that time we will have gender-neutral prisons where Secretary Clinton can join him.
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(Future cellmates?)

And finally this is Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), perhaps best known for videos with Governor Chris Christie, announcing his support for the agreement on the grounds that the Administration has so hopelessly compromised the sanctions regime we have no alternative but to go ahead with the agreement:
Despite its significant shortcomings, we have passed a point of no return. 
We began negotiations with Iran at a time when our sanctions regime was having its most significant impact on the Iranians. We were gaining maximum leverage on Iran through coordinated economic sanctions with our international partners. We joined with our partner nations at the outset of negotiations with the stated intention of preventing Iran from having the capability to get a nuclear weapon.

Unfortunately, it’s clear we didn’t achieve that objective and have only delayed — not blocked — Iran’s potential nuclear breakout.

But, with the JCPOA, we have now passed a point of no return that we should have never reached, leaving our nation to choose between two imperfect, dangerous and uncertain options. Left with these two choices, I nonetheless believe it is better to support a deeply flawed deal, for the alternative is worse. Thus, I will vote in support of the deal. But the United States must recognize that to make this deal work, we must be more vigilant than ever in fighting Iranian aggression.
http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/AP_cory_booker_tk_130821_16x9_608.jpg
But this deal has clear flaws and substantial risks even beyond the obvious and disturbing short duration of its term. With this deal, we are legitimizing a vast and expanding nuclear program in Iran. We are in effect rewarding years of their deception, deceit, and wanton disregard for international law by allowing them to potentially have a domestic nuclear enrichment program at levels beyond what is necessary for a peaceful civil nuclear program.

Even under sanctions and with a crippled economy, Iran had the means with which to fund and arm its destabilizing proxies in the region, support terrorism against Israel, and fund the murderous regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Now, with the deal, the Iranian economy stands to grow five percent annually, creating a potentially more reliable and steady pipeline of funding and resources for destabilizing activities and terrorism. Easing sanctions will further put our allies at risk and demand a far greater level of engagement and investment in the security of the region, particularly our critical ally Israel.

Finally, this deal includes the termination of the United Nations embargo on Iran’s conventional arms and ballistic missile technology after five and eight years, respectively. Even with increased vigilance by the United States and our allies, this will bolster Iran’s conventional weapons threats in the region.

If we don’t approve the deal, we risk our sanctions being quickly and thoroughly weakened when other nations and companies worldwide stop cooperating. Future prospects of tightening and enforcing sanctions will dim.

They came about through diplomacy and negotiation with other members of the P5+1 with the intention of bringing about a specific end. Our partners in the P5+1 believe we have accomplished that end and will not consent to maintaining the sanctions regime this deal modifies.

Regardless of our path forward, we are faced with an Iran on the verge of breakout to a nuclear bomb at some point in the next 15 years. If we proceed with the deal, that point likely occurs about 15 years from now, albeit with the added serious concern that the international community has legitimized a significant portion of the path Iran would take to a nuclear weapon.
And with that ringing endorsement we'll bring this post to a close and hope for the best - though as Senator Menendez reminds us that is not a good basis for America's national security policy.

Homer, any final thoughts? 










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