Not only is a nuclear deal unlikely, but Iran’s past record strongly suggests that it would not stick to a deal for long. Iran accepted an enrichment freeze in 2003 (only to immediately cheat, claiming that it was just continuing research on enrichment) and agreed to a renewed freeze in late 2003. Only later did Iranian officials acknowledge that the freeze had come at a convenient moment for Iran, which was having problems getting its centrifuges to work. Once those technical problems were solved and international pressure faded as America’s seeming victory in Iraq turned to dust, Iran broke the freeze in February 2006 and installed about 2,500 centrifuges in the next year and a half, bringing its total to about 3,000. By August 2009, Iran had installed roughly 9,000 centrifuges. It is not clear, in other words, whether the temporary two-and-a-half-year freeze actually made much difference in the pace of Iran’s nuclear progress.
A good argument can therefore be made that counting on sustained implementation of a deal is at least as risky a gamble as supporting democrats. Why gamble for the sake of a modest and temporary agreement that does not resolve the many other U.S. complaints about the Islamic Republic — such as its state sponsorship of terrorism — when the alternative is to gamble on a democratic movement? Instead of focusing on a nuclear deal, why not continue to use sanctions and covert action to slow down Iran’s nuclear program while stepping up political pressure regarding Iran’s human rights violations and providing more support for Iranian democrats, primarily through covert programs? Some may argue that political change in Iran will take time. Actually, revolutions happen quickly and blow up out of nowhere, as we have seen across the Middle East. Nobody predicted the 2009 protests that brought millions out to Tehran’s streets. So let’s be honest: We have no idea when change could come to Iran.