Blowing up the Middle East to save it: The Iran deal's collapsing rationale

What about “snap back sanctions”? This is the make-believe mechanism whereby the slightest Iranian infraction will swiftly be detected and countered by a majority vote of a special multilateral committee that will instantly and forcefully reapply all the sanctions that were previously lifted.

Because this is how multilateral committees across the ages have always worked. Efficiently and without regard to political or commercial considerations.

But notice something else about the deal: Just as the U.S. can claim the deal is being violated, so too can Iran. If the West gets sanctions snap back, Tehran gets what Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies calls “nuclear snap back.”

In practice, the threat of the latter will inevitably prevent the application of the former. Iranian violations of the deal, especially if they are technical and incremental, will be tolerated for the sake of preserving the deal. Violations will be treated as differences of interpretation as to what the deal requires, or as arcane disputes over technical issues, or as responses to some Western provocation. Pretexts will be contrived to revise the deal to suit new and more expansive Iranian demands. Editorialists will enjoin “all parties” to reason and restraint.

“When enough bureaucratic prestige has been invested in a policy,” Henry Kissinger once wrote, “it is easier to see it fail than to abandon it.” That’s the future of the Iran deal.