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 6,000 centrifuges that President Obama is leaving intact inside Iran’s heavily fortified enrichment facilities will soon be matched by similar sized nuclear programs in neighboring countries. Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia will expect the right to have the same as Iran and will not ask the Obama administration permission to pursue it.
This will ultimately be the legacy of the Obama presidency. The Middle East has just become a much more dangerous place for that.