by Bruce Thornton
The real path to a more peaceful world.
President Trump this week withdrew the United States from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. It’s about time. In the long history of delusional diplomatic agreements, Obama’s pact with the genocidal mullahs to halt their development of nuclear weapons was was one of the worst since Neville Chamberlain handed Czechoslovakia over to Nazi Germany. Like Trump’s abandoning of the feckless Paris Climate Accords, ending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action may contribute to a needed reevaluation of the West’s antique paradigm of diplomatic engagement as the best way to stop aggression and protect our country’s interests and security.
The Europeans, of course, are unhappy. They’ve been doing a bustling business with Iran ever since Obama delivered $1.7 billion in cash on pallets as the payola to the mullahs for going along with the charade. At home, the evangelical internationalists of both parties and the foreign policy establishment are caterwauling, with grim predictions of doom of the sort we heard about North Korea until Kim, his mind apparently focused by Trump’s tough talk, agreed to meet with the president. They all assert that Trump’s move is counterproductive, that under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the agreement was working and that Iran had stopped it progress. Not counting ballistic missiles, of course. Now, they warn, Iran is free to start the program back up and obtain a weapon sooner than they would have if the deal remained.
This is what counts as a diplomatic triumph for delusional internationalists: for nearly forty years, a brutal, apocalyptic, fanatical cult has been at declared war on us, threatened our closest ally Israel with genocide, murdered our troops, kidnapped our citizens, fomented terrorism across the world, and declared openly and repeatedly its hatred of us and its intentions to harm our interests––this failing state that brutalizes its own citizens and rampages throughout the Middle East will see its acquisition of nuclear weapons delayed for maybe a decade.
Forget the lies of the plan’s supporters, forget the despicable John Kerry, whose began his political career in the seventies by cozying up to the brutal North Vietnamese and slandering his comrades, and lately graduated to giving comfort and aid to another enemy. Forget the talk about us not keeping our word, when the only “word” that counts in international relations is a treaty ratified by our Senate. Forget the bipartisan gaggle of apologists who either are lying about the efficacy of the plan, or are terminally naïve. The only sure fact we know is that we have no real clue what Iran has been up to over the last few years. We don’t know how much progress they have secretly made as they have pretended to comply with the terms of the agreement. That’s because the only way to know is to demand intrusive, unannounced inspections without limits on what to inspect. But Obama discarded that trump without even playing it.
Consider carefully The Wall Street Journal’s wording in its brief for the deal: “Most experts believe that the accord largely ensured that by removing roughly 98% of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile, mothballing two-thirds of its uranium-spinning centrifuges, limiting research and development, and removing the core of the Arak reactor.” Not “know” or “have confirmed,” but “believe.” Apparently, many foreign policy wizards in this country and Europe are willing to roll the nuclear device based on an unverified “belief.” This is nearly as feckless as Neville Chamberlain telling his cabinet that Hitler “would not deliberately deceive a man whom he respected and with whom he had been in negotiation.” Maybe that’s why John Kerry has been canoodling with Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, the slick and soothing “moderate” who pulled off this diplomatic swindle.
Worse yet, even if the Iranians have complied, so what? The fatal flaw of the agreement––that it terms out after a mere decade––is that it won’t keep the regime from the bomb, but merely delay it. Analysts disagree over how quickly the Iranians could create a nuclear device and a delivery system, but the main point is that deal or not, they possess and will keep all the infrastructure, enriched uranium, equipment, and technical know-how, along with help from Pakistan and North Korea, necessary eventually to succeed.
Again, how do we know? We don’t. We just trust but don’t verify. But history tells us that every significant arms reduction or arms control agreement has been violated by most of the signatories. Germany in the twenties and thirties, the Soviet Union and Russia for decades, Saddam Hussein in the nineties, North Korea for the last thirty years, and now the Iranians. Especially the Iranians, given that they have not allowed inspectors unannounced access to all suspected facilities. And even with more intrusive inspections, we can’t be completely sure we’ve seen everything. Hussein managed to rope-a-dope international inspectors and intelligence agencies for several years until he just kicked them all out, even while Iraq was occupied by foreign troops, its army had been degraded and disarmed, and two-thirds of its country’s air-space dominated by its enemies. Only after the George Bush coalition invaded and removed Saddam from power in 2003 did we finally know for sure he had only a program.
No doubt numerous dire consequences will be prophesized by the disappointed keepers of worn-out foreign policy paradigms. Iran will restart its program! Though we don’t know if it’s even slowed it down that much. So it will get sooner rather than later what the deal already gave it. The Europeans will go their own way, refusing to cooperate with reimposed economic sanctions! As though we don’t have powerful economic incentives to concentrate the minds of E.U countries currently underperforming economically and facing intensifying resistance to Brussel’s high-handed ways. Iran might resort to terrorist attacks! Which suggests they have been restraining themselves lately, even as they have been brutally rampaging throughout the Middle East, empowering the terrorist gang Hezbollah, propping up the mass-murdering Assad, hijacking Lebanon, and threatening Saudi Arabia from Yemen.
On the other hand, turning off the economic respirator and restoring the deterrence that the feckless Obama squandered could have other, more positive effects. Reimposing sanctions could further weaken Iran’s economy, and increase its people’s anger over the ruling elite’s corruption, galvanizing the forces for regime change. Iran might provide some casus belli in the Gulf that could give us an opportunity to teach them the grim wages of arousing America’s might. Or Iran could lash out at Israel, which would invite a response they are unlikely to survive––especially if the U.S. keeps its nerve and backs Israel up with action rather than empty threats and Security Council tsk-tsking.
Obama’s bad agreement, however, is just climax of a bipartisan failure to accept the eternal lesson that weakness and restraint in the face of an aggressor only breed more aggression. We have never punished Iran for its offenses against our interests and honor: the hostage crisis, when Jimmy Carter dithered then paid ransom to Khomeini; the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, when the Reagan administration did not punish the Iranian-backed perpetrators, a failure that disgusted even the French who did strafe and bomb the camps in the Bekaa Valley over the attack on their embassy; the training, munitions, and money supplied to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups who have killed our troops in Iran and Afghanistan; and its continual support, throughout the region and beyond, for terrorist outfits targeting us and our allies. And, of course, Barack Obama’s groveling appeasement of them that has brought us to this pass, when time is running out, and the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are so severe for our interest and security, and those of our regional friends and allies.
Trump’s rejection of this deal can be the first step––and only a step–– in restoring our confident independence and willingness to take action when our security and interests are threatened. It must be followed up, however, with attention-getting action when it’s needed, with all the risk and uncertainty force always entails.
For a century we have indulged delusional fantasies, serially discredited by history, that multilateral negotiated agreements can give us the luxury of not having to take the politically risky and costly action required to stop aggression. It’s time to awaken from our foreign policy dogmatic slumbers. Returning our foreign policy to the tragic realism that, as Plato said, “war is the natural state of relations among states, and peace is just a name,” will restore our prestige, strengthen our power of deterrence, and create not world peace, but a more peaceful world.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy's Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.
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