Quotes of the day

For many critics of the negotiations with Iran in the U.S. Congress — not to mention Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the bottom line remains the elimination of Iran’s uranium enrichment capability. Yet a dozen years of diplomacy and progressively stiffer sanctions have failed to produce that outcome, which even a costly and bloody military action could not guarantee.

On paper, at least, this framework significantly reduces the risk of Iran covertly acquiring a nuclear weapon. It drastically reduces the number of Iran’s centrifuges and the size of its uranium stockpile, dismantles or repurposes some of its most problematic nuclear facilities, places limits on its development of nuclear technology, and imposes a regime of surveillance and inspections that in some cases will continue for 25 years…

Members of Congress have every right — in fact, an obligation — to point out any flaws they see in this tentative agreement. They also have a responsibility to present a realistic alternative that, for an equal or lesser price, would accomplish the same goals.


Will there be one Republican, just one, either among the candidates or in the Congress, who will actually step forward to say something like, “You know, now that I’ve read this and talked to experts, I’ve concluded that it’s worth giving this a shot?” One? You probably laughed at the naiveté of the question. I admit it does sound naive, but this shouldn’t allow us to lose sight of the fact that it’s tragic that things have come to this point, that we simply accept in such a ho-hum way that the Republicans are going to oppose anything with Obama’s name on it, not just when it comes to tax policy and such, but matters of war and peace.

This seems a most apt time to remember some aspects of the neoconservative track record that they’d rather the rest of us forget. North Korea is one, remember that one? The Hermit Kingdom started working on a nuclear program in earnest in the 1980s. In 1993, the North Koreans threatened to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty. Diplomacy then commenced under Bill Clinton, leading to the 1994 Agreed Framework. The Framework had a checkered history—mostly because (cough cough) hardliners in Congress repeatedly refused to let the United States live up to its side of the agreement—but the long and short of it was that in the 1990s, North Korea didn’t aggressively pursue a nuclearization program.

Then came the neocons, and Dubya, and the axis of evil business, and soon enough North Korea was enriching uranium like there was no tomorrow. Remember the test bombs it was launching about a decade ago out toward Japan? All that started because Pyongyang took Bush at his belligerent word. Today it’s estimated that North Korea has enough separated plutonium for six to eight bombs. We rattle our saber, it makes smaller countries want to go nuclear. It’s really not very complicated.


If this deal is fully implemented, Iran will be unable to build a nuclear bomb by enriching uranium or by reprocessing plutonium for at least 10 years. Some of the restrictions imposed by this deal would last 15 years. The international inspections of certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear program would stay in place for 25 years…

[I]t is a profoundly good deal; there has never been a nuclear deal, with any country, that is so comprehensively restrictive. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the U.S. Congress to demand “a better deal,” but his definition of such a deal—one that bans uranium enrichment, dismantles all its facilities, and insists on a drastic change in Iran’s foreign policy—is unattainable, and, more to the point, he knows it…

If there is any chance that Iran might modify its stance over the next decade or so, might even become a “normal” nation, these talks might usher in this change. Tehran’s rulers have long justified their alliance with terrorists and their repressive domestic policies by raising alarms about the threat from demonic America. If the Iranian people see their own leaders meeting and smiling with American diplomats, even negotiating deals, trusting them enough to dismantle huge pieces of the nation’s cherished nuclear program, then the chants of “Down with America” might soon lose their potency—and the regime’s political legitimacy, the rationale for its existence, could gradually evaporate.

But even if there is no regime change, this deal is far better than no deal, and there is no deal on the table but this one, and it’s a lot better than anyone would have predicted just a few days ago.


“I would give it an A,” Stein said of the framework. When I asked why: “Because of the inspections and transparency.”…

Lewis suggested that a top item on his wish list would be inspections so robust that inspectors don’t just get to visit enrichment sites like Natanz and Fordow, but also centrifuge factories. That, he said, “would be a big achievement.”

Sure enough, come Thursday, Lewis got his wish and then some: centrifuge factory inspections is one of the terms in the framework, and it’s pretty robust. For the next 20 years, inspectors would have “continuous surveillance at Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities.”

“I was shocked to read that they got them to agree to let us walk around their centrifuge production facilities. That’s amazing,” Stein said…

“The inspections and transparency on the rotors, and the bellows, and the uranium mines is more than I ever thought would be in this agreement,” Stein added.


In the dead of night Wednesday night in Lausanne, Switzerland, Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz and his Iranian counterpart haggled over one of the last issues holding up a nuclear agreement with world powers: Iran’s future research into next-generation new centrifuge designs that can accelerate its path to a nuclear weapon…

But how that key issue was resolved remains fuzzy. An Obama administration fact sheet on the deal says only that Iran will be able to conduct “limited research and development” into the centrifuges — which are far more efficient than the relatively crude devices Iran now operates — “according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to” by Iran, the United States, and five other world powers…

Critics of the agreement were quick to zero in on the question. “This is a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous deal,” said an Israeli government source in Jerusalem, who cited as a key complaint the fact that Iran “will continue its centrifuge research and development.”

The research-and-development question is just one of a handful of key issues left unresolved, at least in public, and which could endanger the agreement’s survival.


The president has a terrible record of initial public pronouncements on national security. He has a habit of confidently stating things that turn out not to be true. Three times in the last four years he has appeared in the Rose Garden and made assertions that were later proven to be false. He and his national security team have again and again described a world that does not correspond to reality. No reason to assume these concessions to Iran will be any different

I believe other nuclear experts, such as Charles Duelfer, can also confirm that this agreement has major holes, such as the spotty effectiveness of inspections and the failure to get Iran to disclose fully the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. And there’s always the tricky issue of sanctions relief: The United States says the process of lifting sanctions will be gradual and contingent on Iranian compliance, but Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif says it will be immediate.

What the president and Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled Thursday was another fancy, another fairy-tale, another fable about what might happen in an ideal world where enemies and allies share common interests and objectives, autocratic and theocratic regimes adhere to compacts, and moral sincerity is more important than results. Best be skeptical—these so-called triumphs of Obama’s diplomacy have a way of falling to pieces like ancient parchment. And keep in mind this rule: When the president enters the Rose Garden, run for cover.


Obama assured the world that, if Iran cheats on this agreement, “The world will know.” Yet there is no reason to be sanguine about this. In the first place, even if “the world” determines that the mullahs have violated the Lausanne agreement, what is to be done? Obama has made clear that the choice now is binary: Either his peace deal or a GOP-led war against Iran. Is the president, then, willing to embark on the path of war if Tehran reneges? Short of that, getting sanctions put back in place on a recalcitrant Iran will be difficult and slow, since it took a decade of multilateral diplomatic wrangling to get them set up in the first place. A redo will be neither quick nor decisive.

Moreover, there’s the problem of who, exactly, will know. In what represents the worst aspect of this flawed deal, Obama has placed responsibility for verifying the agreement back on the United Nations. This is a hazardous repeat of the flawed UN response to Iraq’s proliferation after the Gulf War. Simply put, the UN Security Council will have veto powers over anything Iranian and nuclear when it comes to verification. This gives Beijing, and even more Moscow, a critical lever over the process…

Why Obama would agree to such a flawed deal is an important question. There is ample evidence that the president is more interested in the domestic political impacts of this issue than anything else. In this calculation, what’s a nuclear arms race in the Middle East when the GOP and Fox News can be shamed and given their comeuppance?


For all the praise Obama is claiming, the Iranian regime counts the most remarkable achievement. It has engaged in nuclear negotiations with the United States while actively engaged in a regional conflict against American friends and proxies. Since Obama has prioritized the nuclear negotiations — the only alternative to which, he constantly reminds us, is war — other concessions have seemed small in comparison. Opposition to Bashar al-Assad has become muted, even as he crosses every blood-red line of brutality, to avoid disrupting relations with his Iranian patron. Human rights issues within Iran have become secondary to avoid giving offense. Obama has sometimes seemed more tolerant and empathetic toward Iranian positions than those of allies and partners such as Israel.

Will Iran continue to hold U.S. policy in the Middle East hostage — causing the United States to hush its reactions to Iranian aggression for fear the regime will walk out of a nuclear deal? This is precisely what American friends in the region fear. The real test — for allies and for members of Congress — will be whether Obama can accompany a final nuclear agreement with a much more aggressive resistance to Iranian ambitions in places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Otherwise, Iran will simply use the wealth that comes from lifted sanctions to cause more havoc.


As John Podhoretz at Commentary explains, “The ‘framework’ codifies the Obama administration’s cave-ins but casts them as thrilling reductions in Iran’s capacities rather than what they are—a pie-in-the-sky effort to use inspections as the means by which the West can ‘manage’ the speed with which Iran becomes a nuclear power.”

That is, the administration is preemptively negotiating an arms-control treaty with what it has accepted will eventually be a nuclear Iran. Announcing the framework now, and pretending we are just negotiating a nuclear agreement, is a way to sideline Congress. In this, the White House is suborning foreign policy priorities to domestic political ones, as it often does…

In this context, it doesn’t take a nuclear expert to see that Iran, freed from sanctions and able to walk right up to the edge of attaining a nuclear weapon, might see fit to take the final step and tip the regional balance of power in its favor, even at the risk of Western sanctions. Perhaps the administration sees that, too, and has been negotiating from that premise, looking to manage Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon rather than prevent it altogether.


Zarif convinced his interlocutors that they needed a deal more than Iran and persuaded them that their red lines were unrealistic. Even more impressively, he used deadlines devised to pressure Iran into tools to call their bluff. Every time the Americans and the Europeans hinted that the interim agreement negotiated in November would not be renewed, Zarif played for time. His opponents invariably blinked first, agreeing to extensions and, as it eventually happened this week, endorsing more concessions they had previously rejected as dangerous…

Even after all these Western red lines were eroded, Iran negotiated as if it could afford more than its interlocutors to walk away with no agreement. This posture paid off as the March 31 midnight deadline came and went. In the deal that emerged two days later, Iran extracted even more concessions. Under the agreed terms, Iran will eventually see sanctions irreversibly removed without the need to submit to intrusive “anytime anywhere” inspections, to close down facilities, or to ship machinery and fuel abroad. The deal is, in short, a successful attempt to delay Iran’s march to nuclear weapons’ capability, not to block it.

Western diplomacy may still find this sufficient — after all, it just bought itself an additional 15 years. Except there is a silver lining in this agreement. While Western chanceries will be patting each other’s backs tonight on what they are already touting as a historic deal, Iran’s regional rivals and foes will see through the rhetoric and know this deal’s score — namely, that Iran’s nuclear program will now enjoy full international legitimacy while keeping its regime at best a year away from nuclear breakout. What Iran gets to keep under this agreement, they will also want for themselves.


The failure of the United States and Israel in the face of Iran’s nuclear ambition, and the West’s failure in the face of Arab chaos, are converging into one clear and trenchant threat: a Saudi nuclear bomb. In the last few years, Saudi Arabia has become a formidable regional player: It put down the Shiite rebellion in Bahrain, it paved the way for General Abdel al-Sisi’s regime in Egypt, it funds anti-Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq and is now leading the fight against the rebels in Yemen. In the last year, the Saudis went even further and did their part to crash oil prices, thereby hurting Iran—and the United States. But if the large desert kingdom senses that the West has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran—and that it prefers Iran to Saudi Arabia—then it will not hesitate to make the ultimate counter-move: nuclearization. Because of its unlimited resources and its close ties to Pakistan, it will have no difficulty acquiring and transporting a few nuclear bombs from the cellars of its great, poor friend, carried by the planes of its modern and costly air force.

If this happens, the terrifying scenario will begin to emerge. A bomb will lead to another bomb, nuclearization will lead to more nuclearization, and the Middle East will become a nightmare…

[T]he truth is that there is quite a worrying resemblance between the Iraq war project and the Iran peace project. In both cases, intentions are noble. In both cases, ambitions are far-reaching. In both case benign American idealism is completely disconnected from the cruel reality of the Middle East. Just as the 43rd president wanted to promote democracy but instead sowed destruction and chaos, the 44th president wishes to advance reconciliation but instead might sow destruction and chaos. But if Iran becomes the new Iraq, the ramifications will be far, far greater than those of the previous Middle East adventure. They might actually transform the world we live in.


“Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It seemed a sheet of sun.” That is from the first pages of “Hiroshima,” by the journalist John Hersey, published in a full issue of the New Yorker magazine almost exactly a year after the Aug. 6, 1945, dropping of the atomic bomb on that city. Soon after, the article was published as a book. Both caused a sensation, painting for the first time, in plain, subdued style, the facts of what really happened when a nuclear weapon was used on a human population. He wrote of people vaporized, radiation sickness and poisoned water. “The fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks.” A man reached for a woman and the skin came off her hand like a glove. In a city of 245,000 almost 100,000 were immediately killed, and another 100,000 left desperately sick and wounded.

“Hiroshima” did a huge and historic thing. It not only told the world what happened when a nuclear weapon was used, it single-handedly put a powerful moral taboo on its future use. After “Hiroshima,” which sold millions of copies, no one wanted it to happen again.

But now it is almost 70 years since that book. It isn’t required reading anymore. In that time nuclear weapons have only become more powerful. But the world hasn’t really thought about nuclear war since 1989, as if the threat ended when the Soviet Union did.

What do the wild, young, apocalyptic warriors of the Mideast know of the old taboo?


Via RCP.

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