President Costanza and the Nuclear Deal with Iran
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama made it clear that any attempt by a bipartisan majority in Congress to pass new sanctions legislation on Iran would be promptly vetoed. As the president said, "For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed."
The president has seemingly determined that the Iranian theocratic regime is trustworthy, and perhaps a potential ally for us in the Middle East, even though Iran: 1) is technically at war with the U.S.; 2) has a long history of lying in its diplomacy; 3) continues to be the leading state sponsor of international terrorism; 4) cruelly suppresses the human rights of its people; 5) backs the vicious Assad regime in Syria; 6) routinely threatens the extermination of our close ally Israel; and 7) often acts to undermine the stability of other Middle East nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain. His positive view is echoed by Obama's team of foreign policy professionals, which includes Secretary of State John Kerry, a man who has already impressed some foreign leaders as a true "reality-based" thinker.
But personally, I have to admit I still harbor a little concern regarding our dealings with Iran.
The six-month interim deal, implemented on January 20, 2014, whose text will not be publicly released by the Obama Administration, will give Iran billions of dollars in cash and sanctions relief that it desperately needs.While exact numbers have been hard to determine, so far there have been reports that the U.S. has already released $8 billion in frozen assets cash, that the U.S. will release $4.2 billion, also of frozen assets, over the six months, and that the U.S. will provide Iran with sanctions relief amounting to "well more than $20 billion dollars."(It seems unlikely that the $4.2 billion is part of the $8 billion, and it is unclear if either amount is part of the $20 plus billion.) The Obama Administration originally claimed that the total sanctions relief would be worth only $7 billion, but that estimate seems to be wrong; although this has not stopped many media sources from continuing to mention it. Even the Iranians claim it is substantially more -- the Financial Times reported that Iranian economists are estimating the value of sanctions relief to be $15 billion. Sure enough, just the announcement of the interim deal "opened the investment floodgates for Western companies seeking to capitalize on a new business environment in Iran." And now, post-January 20th, it can clearly be seen that Iran has benefitted economically.
Meanwhile, in return for all this money, Iran has promised precious little of any real value to the West. In the agreement, Iran promises not to enrich its uranium to 20%, and to convert/dilute the 20% uranium supplies it currently has. What this means is that -- contrary to what the president said -- Iran did not agree "to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium." And this is not a permanent reduction -- the conversion/dilution process can be reversed within weeks. Iran also promises "to halt key work on a half-built heavy-water nuclear reactor at Arak." Arak is an alternate way to develop a nuclear bomb, and is "widely viewed as unnecessary" for the development of peaceful nuclear power. However, the deal does allow Iran to continue with some work at Arak that is "deemed secondary." Iran also agrees to give the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) more access in Iran to monitor the agreement. But it still falls short of what the I.A.E.A. says it needs. The agreement does not, for example, say anything about the U.N. agency's repeated requests to visit the Parchin military base, in which Iran has previously done work on nuclear weapons design and components. In fact, according to a recent analysis by the group United Against Nuclear Iran, if Iran fully complies with the requirements of the nuclear deal, its ability to build a nuclear weapon will be delayed for just one month. (But it may already be too late.)
I am also disturbed that the Obama administration has celebrated this deal by ruthlessly attacking its domestic opponents, both Democrats and Republicans alike, for attempting to "march (the U.S.) toward war (with Iran)" for merely supporting legislation that imposes new sanctions on Iran if it breaches its diplomatic commitments. The administration's argument is that the new legislation, sponsored by Democratic senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Mark Kirk, would cause the Iranians to leave the negotiating table. And the Iranians, of course, have confirmed that this is indeed what would happen. The only flaw in this logic is that the sanctions were what forced the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place, so how could the Iranians leave?
Further, Iranian actions since the deal was initially announced have been alarming, to say the least. The Iranians have celebrated the interim deal by boasting that the West had capitulated to them; denying the Obama administration's statements regarding what the deal actually entails; continuing to grow its nuclear program, by reportedly introducing a new generation of centrifuges to its facilities in Natanz and Fordow, vigorously building its Arak heavy-water facility; and referring to the U.S. as "the Satan." (Perhaps, under President Obama, we have been downgraded from the "the Great Satan" to "the Satan?")
It's worth noting that the president's track record in the Middle East has not been stellar. Consider President Obama's handling of policy towards Iran's ally Syria. Obama's Syrian policies prompted one British foreign policy expert to deride the President as "chronically incapable" of formulating a military strategy, and for handling the ongoing civil war in Syria in a "crazy" manner that has "actually devalued the deterrent effect of American military capability...."
The Obama administration's Iranian policy has likewise been excoriated by many experts, from both left and right. Dr. Charles Krauthammer declared, "I think the deal is a catastrophe. I think it is the worst deal since Munich..." Bill Kristol stated, "This peace deal makes war, or makes military action at least much more likely, because the one real chance to avoid it was to keep on tightening the sanctions in such a way that the Iranian regime would defy just out of self-interest..." CNN host Fareed Zakaria, whom Obama values as a foreign policy thinker, has even gone so far as to categorize the deal as a diplomatic "train wreck," observing that "the Iranian conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart."
To my knowledge, however, none of these foreign policy heavyweights has proposed such an obvious solution to this administration's continuing foreign policy ineptitude as I have. Perhaps they should join my call for President Obama to implement the Costanza Doctrine, and, like the chronically inept Seinfeld character, do the opposite of whatever his instincts are?
Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security law.