Deal with Iran worries Israel
An agreement with Iran marks the end of international efforts to force that country to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
When it comes to foreign policy, the undeniable reality is that countries often face choices that range only from bad to worse.
It is on that basis that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is touting the merits of a six-month agreement in which Iran accepts a "pause" in its long-standing effort to build a nuclear weapon while the international community agrees to a relaxation of some economic sanctions against Iran.
Kerry defends the agreement on the grounds that without it, Iran would be "moving closer to a (nuclear) weapon" and contends that it "opens the door to our going into a larger, more comprehensive arrangement by which Iran will have to prove that its program is really peaceful."
Kerry's first argument is undeniably true; his second is mere wishful thinking that everyone should pray comes true.
What Kerry did not say, however, is that the agreement formally abandons multiple United Nations resolutions demanding that Iran suspend nuclear enrichment. It is a huge concession.
Iran will keep the 10,000 centrifuges that are key to uranium enrichment, and it can repair or replace any that fail. That it has agreed not to build more — at least for now — isn't much of a concession.
Iran also has agreed to limit enrichment to a level of 5 percent rather than proceed to 20 percent, another arrangement that can be easily reversed.
In other words, Iran can quickly make up whatever delays its concessions produce. That may not the case with the weakening of the economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
The leaders of Iran's theocracy care deeply about two issues — preservation of power and acquisition of nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran would dominate the Middle East, a possibility that terrifies Saudi Arabia.
Economic sanctions designed to deter Iran's nuclear program have caused considerable pain to the Iranian people, creating much unhappiness with the government. Although Iran is an authoritarian regime that will never give up power, its ruling elite recognizes that public discontent could cause problems it prefers to avoid. That's why it wants to limit the sanctions.
But, in the end, Iran is no less committed to nuclear weapons than it ever was. And it now appears that, Iran, like North Korea before it, eventually will get its nuclear weapons absent some startling intervention.
Despite his many statements to the contrary, President Barack Obama is no longer prepared, if he ever was, to intervene militarily to stop Iran's nuclear program. His real goal now would appear to be to slow and limit Iran before, ultimately, accepting Iran's nuclear capability.
If that conclusion seems unduly pessimistic, people should remember that Obama repeatedly demanded that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad step down or be removed by force. This past summer, he went so far as to declare his intention to launch airstrikes in pursuit of that goal.
Now the United States, acting in concert with Russia's Vladimir Putin, not only has accepted Assad's rule, but legitimized it by negotiating with him over removal of Syria's chemical weapons.
No one should underestimate the difficulty of achieving the goal of forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear intentions. Kerry himself conceded as much when he said "this negotiation is not the art of fantasy" but "the art of the possible."
That also was the case when the United States sought to dissuade North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons during the Bush and, later, Obama administrations. North Korea repeatedly won concessions in exchange for promises to ease up on its nuclear program and then repeatedly broke those promises.
Now Iran is making promises. But, even if it keeps them, it will soon be free to go back to its old ways.
That's why it's a good deal for Iran. One can see how good by the degree to which Israel and Saudi Arabia object.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting that Iran has repeatedly threatened to destroy his country by nuclear attack, has said Israel might act alone to destroy Iran's nuclear program. Obama is betting that Israel lacks the wherewithal to do so.
Saudi Arabia continues to distance itself from the United States, although it has no place else to turn for protection.
Kerry has argued that this agreement will create a more stable Middle East. Given the nature of the deal and our Middle East allies' reaction to it, that's a hard claim to accept.