If no deal is better than a bad deal, as the White House has said repeatedly, why not walk now that Iran’s refused to budge at the second extended deadline? And if the answer to that is “because they still believe they can get a good deal with a few more days of talks,” then what was the point of setting a deadline in the first place? Obama and Kerry wanted a deadline, presumably, because they thought it’d put extra pressure on Iran. If Zarif and his team didn’t cave by a certain date, the U.S. would walk and they’d be stuck struggling under sanctions for months more. Or, alternately, they’d watch the U.S. walk, panic, and then come crawling to Kerry a few weeks later to accept his offer. Either way, they’ve called our bluff — and now we’re caving. It’s almost as if we’ve set a “red line” and Iran has crossed it and suffered no consequences whatsoever for doing so.

I wonder how they knew they could get away with something like that.

[W]ith negotiations making little headway, the White House on Tuesday laid the groundwork for a third outcome: continuing talks while keeping in place a November 2013 interim agreement that provided Iran with limited sanctions relief in exchange for rolling back parts of its nuclear program.

Such an outcome would allow Mr. Obama to avoid alternatives to diplomacy to confront Iran’s nuclear program, such as military force. It gives the president political cover because the idea has support from some influential Republicans—including Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—and Israel

Iranian negotiators have increased their demands in recent days that a United Nations embargo on Tehran’s ballistic-missile program and arms trade be removed as part of a broader nuclear accord, said U.S. and European officials involved in the talks. A senior U.S. diplomat in Vienna said the Obama administration was committed to keeping them in place, at least in some form. “There will be an ongoing restriction on arms just like there will be ongoing restrictions regarding missiles,” said the diplomat…

U.S. officials have declined to outline what steps the administration would take if negotiations broke down.

We know why Bob Corker would support dropping the deadline — having already farted away the Senate’s leverage over the final agreement, he’s proved that he too prefers any deal over no deal — but why would Israel, which loathes the negotiations between the U.S. and Iran? Simple: Because they know it’s Obama, not Iran, who’s more likely to blink in the name of getting a deal if he’s forced to abide by a hard deadline. Iran can survive without a deal for now; sanctions may hurt, but once they redouble their nuclear efforts, they know western powers will start getting fidgety again and will offer them new terms to slow down the program. Obama has only 18 months left to make something happen, though, and neither of his two no-deal options are palatable to him. He won’t attack Iran’s facilities but he also doesn’t want to leave office as the man who sat by and did nothing while Iran sped towards nuclear “breakout” capacity. He has virtually nothing by way of a foreign policy legacy beyond the Bin Laden raid. He needs the deal. Frankly, I’m surprised Iran hasn’t called his bluff again by walking away from the table themselves to see how he’d react. Maybe they think even O couldn’t crawl back after an insult like that, knowing the sort of beating he’d take domestically from the GOP if he did. If someone walks, though, odds are it’ll be Iran, not us. That’s why Israel would rather see talks continue without a deadline at this point. They trust Obama to get a good deal for his side under extreme deadline pressure less than they trust Khamenei.

Speaking of foreign policy legacies, here’s what the solipsistic, navel-gazing A-holes on our nuclear negotiating team are doing during their down time while they figure out how to reach an agreement that’ll give Iran a huge economic shot in the arm and extend the “breakout” period by maybe a whole month:

During idle hours, they have debated who among them would be played by what stars, if any producer for some reason decided to make a movie about how the United States and Iran tried to overcome decades of distrust to craft an agreement limiting Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb.

Kerry, US delegation members decided, would be played by Ted Danson, while Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would be portrayed by Javier Bardem (from “No Country for Old Men”). The silver-haired Sherman would be played by Meryl Streep (as captured in “The Devil Wears Prada”). And Marie Harf, a senior communications adviser, would be portrayed by Kirsten Dunst.

The most confounding thing about the Iran nuke kabuki is that, despite that country’s regional imperial ambitions and years of treachery in developing its enrichment program, Team America really thinks this agreement will be viewed as a winner in historical hindsight. Maybe not for long, but if it holds up long enough for Kerry to get his Nobel, well, that’s all that matters. That’s the sort of thinking you fall into when everything else, from Israeli/Palestinian peace to Libyan democracy to containing Putin, has gone flat and you’re desperate for some sort of major “achievement.” Wondering who’ll play you in the Hollywood movie that’ll never be shown again once Iran announces in a decade or two that they’ve got a bomb is a logical outgrowth of that.