by Joseph Klein
Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan famously said, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression.”
Winston Churchill summed up the fatal flaw of appeasement years earlier this way: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken these words and the lessons of history to heart. He has warned repeatedly how a bad deal with Iran over its nuclear program can have catastrophic consequences for international peace and security. Unless and until Iran is verifiably stripped entirely of its nuclear enrichment capabilities, he believes, the sanctions in place must continue in full force. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands the peril in allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Weakness will only abet the crocodile’s appetite. “I would go so far as to say that a bad deal could lead to the second, undesired option,” Netanyahu said this week. He was evidently alluding to the military option that may be the only means left to stop Iran in time if bad diplomacy leaves Iran a clear path to achieving its nuclear arms objective.
President Obama, on the other hand, is so intent on getting Iran’s signature on a piece of paper that it doesn’t much matter to him what the paper says. At least it will divert public attention away from the travails of Obamacare. But the Obama administration’s weak-kneed negotiation strategy is inviting Iran to gain new terrifying tools of aggression.
The Telegraph reported last week that a source in very close recent contact with the White House “described a meeting with White House officials that opened with Mr. Kerry’s off-repeated line ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ but ended with officials admitting that a ‘bad deal is better than no deal’ since the alternative option is ‘to go to war or accept Iranian nukes.’”
A bad deal for us is exactly what the Obama administration offered to Iran last weekend as the enticement for launching more extensive talks on a final comprehensive agreement. For Iran, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said, it was the “deal of the century.” Yet Iran still turned it down because it did not formally codify at this stage of negotiations Iran’s self-declared inherent right to enrich uranium on its soil.
In return for some immediate relief from the sanctions under the proposed deal Iran rejected, Iran needed only to partially suspend its uranium enrichment at the 20 percent level. It could keep all of its centrifuges and its existing stockpile of enriched uranium, as well as continue to enrich uranium at lower levels. Iran has exploited such openings before, gaining the breathing room it needed to move closer to the finish line of a nuclear arms capability. It is unclear what Iran would have been asked to do about its alternative potential path to a nuclear bomb – the heavy-water reactor in Arak that could yield plutonium. Construction might have been allowed to continue so long as the reactor was not put into full operational mode.
In other words, the Obama administration was prepared to begin unraveling immediately the tight sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place in exchange for a pig in a poke.
According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “the proposed sanctions relief could yield Iran $20 billion or more through the repatriation of frozen Iranian assets, gold transfers to Iran in exchange for its oil and natural gas sales, petrochemicals exports, and the lifting of sanctions on the Iranian auto sector.” The Foundation estimates that Iran’s total foreign exchange reserves would grow immediately by 25 percent and its fully accessible foreign exchange reserves currently available would double.
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz has estimated that Iran could gain an even bigger windfall from the proposed sanctions relief, as much as $40 billion or 40% of the sanctions’ total effect, because “the proposed changes would also make it more difficult to enforce other sanctions.”
A growing bipartisan group of senators and members of the House of Representatives are growing increasingly impatient with the Obama administration’s handling of Iran. Some are pressing to impose even more sanctions, a move that the Obama administration is vigorously opposing.
“We are still determining if there’s a diplomatic path forward,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “What we are asking for right now is a pause, a temporary pause, in sanctions. We are not taking away sanctions. We are not rolling them back. This is about ensuring that our legislative strategy and our negotiating strategy and (sic) running hand in hand.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday went so far as to say that lawmakers pushing for new sanctions against Iran could be putting Washington on “a march to war,” against the wishes of the American people. Secretary of State John Kerry briefed members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee behind closed doors on Wednesday regarding the status of the negotiations. Ahead of that meeting, Kerry warned that “if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions, it could break faith in those negotiations, and actually stop them and break them apart.”
The senators and members of the House of Representatives who are pressing for more sanctions, sooner rather than later, have serious doubts about where the Obama administration’s negotiation strategy is heading. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for example, was one of the senators who met with Kerry and said he asked the Secretary of State: “What is your endgame here?”
Neither President Obama nor Secretary of State Kerry have leveled with Congress or the American people as to what their endgame really is, assuming they even have one in mind. Dithering around with North Korea in fruitless negotiations led to the endgame of a nuclear armed North Korea. Are we headed down the same road with respect to Iran, relying in the future on containment of a country led by theocratic megalomaniacs? As Ronald Reagan said, “weakness only invites aggression.”
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