An Iran deal, again, with equally bad consequences
When it came to the Middle East, President Barack Obama concluded that it was an endless quagmire into which large amounts of American blood and treasure would flow. While Obama might have appropriately diagnosed the problem, his solution was to create a hegemonic power that would provide stability to the region and remove the need for American intervention. Obama chose Iran.
The Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was less about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, which it was not designed to do, and more about releasing sanctions funds that would rebuild Iran and facilitate its quest for a Shia crescent from the Tigris Euphrates Valley to the Mediterranean.
Obama's combination of narcissism and self-adulation made him think he was the smartest guy in the room, as British prime minister David Cameron observed, at least according to Cameron's aid Steve Hilton.
Clearly, Obama knew little about foreign policy, but what he did know was that the American people have little interest in events that take place across the oceans, absent a dramatic incident like an oil embargo that hits them in their pocketbook.
Domestic policy in contrast is the stuff on which elections are won and legacies are written. It is for that reason that Obama hesitated to give the order to assassinate Osama bin Laden. The political risks were great even if the benefits might strengthen the presidential image.
How mindless was the JCPOA? The Iranians got the release of large amounts of their funds which had been sequestered in the West. For this, they promised to delay enriching uranium to the point of weapons grade. The emphasis was on delay, not on never producing a bomb. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Iran, despite denials, had had a covert nuclear weapons program for a decade and had been stockpiling nuclear material. The former accusation was brushed off because it had been known, and for the latter, Iran's denial sufficed.
The Europeans hungry for Iranian oil and trade were all too eager to have this agreement in place. The Obama administration was less concerned about Iran's expansionist interests than finding an excuse to leave the Middle East with its endless wars and instability.
President Donald Trump terminated the agreement and reimposed sanctions because while the international inspectors found that Iran had generally followed the JCPOA, it was not in compliance with limitations on ballistic missile development and sanctions imposed on Iranian officials.
Democrats saw this as creating a pathway for Iran to have a bomb, but Iran was always going to have a bomb. The issue was never "if," but "when."
Among the initial policy decisions of the administration of Joseph R. Biden was a strong attempt to resurrect the JCPOA. So far, the Iranians have been clever negotiators, despite their economy suffering from the weight of Trump-imposed sanctions. Iran is playing hardball and demands that the sanctions be lifted before meaningful negotiations can take place.
Despite promises to Congress that no lifting of sanctions would take place without consultation, the Biden administration waffled in the face of Iranian determination. The American administration permitted both South Korea and Japan to release funds owed Iran. There is dispute whether the funds can only resolve debts owed in those countries or be transferred back to Iran.
The unspoken reality of these talks is that, like the Obama administration, the Biden administration and the Europeans do not really care if Iran gets a bomb, for an Iranian bomb is an inevitability. Iran is not going to target America or Europe with a nuclear device. The Iranians might pay lip service to an eschatology that embraces the end of days, but in the final analysis, the Iranians are pragmatists rather than zealots.
An Iranian bomb is designed for one country, Israel, and to many in both Europe and increasingly in the United States, the elimination of the Jewish state would solve a series of problems.
Of course, an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would lead to nuclear war in the Middle East.
So why, then, does Iran want a bomb? Iran seeks to overrun Israel by conventional warfare and checkmate Israel's use of nuclear weapons.
In the end, the great curse for all the people of the Middle East is that they will bear the burden of American and European policies that have the potential to manufacture chaos if not nuclear war.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.
Imgae: Elvert Barnes.
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