By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
The question is not whether the deal struck between the American-led coalition and Iran is a good option. The question is, is it the least worse of a lot of bad options?
The deal would cut in half Iran’s number of centrifuges, require it to redesign one of its reactors, and allow inspections. In return, economic sanctions would be lifted, Iran eventually would be allowed to import and export conventional weapons, and after periods of years it could research advanced centrifuges and produce unlimited amounts of nuclear fuel. Supposedly in the short-term, the deal expands the “breakout time” – how long Iran would need to produce enough fuel to build its first bomb – to at least a year. The long term is a different story.
Iran is a fundamentalist Islamic state that sponsors terrorism, uses “Death to America” as a rallying cry, and seeks to destroy Israel. Its previous president was probably the world’s leading Holocaust denier. It’s the country that 35 years ago was holding hundreds of Americans hostage. Any deal with this country – especially one that lets it keep its nuclear program – must be a bad one.
On the other hand, will the currently imposed sanctions prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon forever? They haven’t stopped it from getting close now. Moreover, sanctions cause significant hardship for average Iranians, who, TV images to the contrary, are mostly going about their lives and have little influence over their leaders. If staying with the sanctions won’t stop Iran from eventually obtaining a bomb, then that’s a bad option, too.
How about increasing the sanctions – make them even tougher, so that the Iranians really suffer? That option leads to some difficult moral questions, it’s bad PR, and most importantly, the rest of the international community won’t support it. So it’s probably out.
That leaves war – not the video game kind, but the real kind, like the conflicts the United States hasn’t been able to completely stop fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since the early 2000s. Anybody who wants war should be prepared to drive down to the military recruiting station and sign up. That’s not many of us.
I do not fault President Obama for choosing bad option number one. Every day he hears a briefing about the world situation that, the evidence has clearly shown through the past few presidents, turns a person’s hair gray. He concluded that continuing bad option number two, the sanctions, would not stop Iran from developing a bomb, and the best alternative is to get into that country and inspect.
Nor do I fault Arkansas’ congressional delegation for its opposition – including Sen. Tom Cotton, who attracted a lot of attention earlier this year with his open letter to Iran warning the ayatollah that any deal could be rescinded by the next president.
Diplomacy is not Cotton’s strong suit, but who can blame him for planting the flag on this one? Regardless of which bad option we dislike the least, we all are horrified at the prospect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. If an officeholder truly believes this deal makes that more likely, he or she must fight it with every tool available.
It should be pointed out that the deal did not provide for four American hostages: pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for being a Christian; Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian; former Marine Amir Hekmati, who was visiting his family in Tehran when he was abducted; and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and CIA contractor who vanished in Iran in 2007 and whose whereabouts are not publicly known.
Of all the big, bad, scary things in the world right now, a terrorist obtaining a nuclear weapon is the biggest, baddest, and scariest.
One reason it’s the scariest is that it seems almost inevitable. Someday in some part of the world, something terrible eventually will happen. The national debt? Maybe we’ll start paying it down. Climate change? Maybe the scientists are wrong. But to prevent nuclear terrorism, the good guys must pitch a perfect game from now until mankind is no longer here.
Because nobody is perfect, the best we probably can hope for is to keep pushing that terrible day back as long as we can without giving up everything that matters in the process. And so presidents and members of Congress will continue to choose from bad options, trying to select the least wrong one.