While national security experts will debate the merits of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration for years to come, one thing is clear: the pact always ensured Washington and Tehran were headed towards a nuclear crisis. The only question was when it would happen—not if.
And none of that is President Trump’s fault. In fact, we can thank President Obama for this growing international crisis – one that could even balloon into a shooting war.
The devil is in the details of the deal itself. How it was structured, and the items that were omitted, by President Obama, Ben Rhodes and their allies, ultimately sowed the seeds of its own self-destruction.
But before I get to the deal’s flaws, I must give credit where credit is due: The deal itself was not a complete failure, in that it does do one thing quite well (albeit temporarily), and that is it does, for a long stretch of time, keep Iran’s nuclear bomb aspirations locked down. Tehran agreed to, among other things, intrusive international inspections, a cap on its uranium stockpile to 300kgs (a 98 percent reduction) and limits on uranium enrichment far below anything that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. Additionally, the path to a plutonium-based nuclear weapon is largely eliminated as well.
That’s all for the good. Before the 2015 accord was signed, Iran had enough centrifuges and nuclear material to build as many as 8 to 10 nuclear weapons, perhaps creating the first one within three months—with the potential of sparking what could be a nasty regional war with large losses of life.
Today, that timeframe has been pushed back to a year. For that, the Obama administration surely deserves praise.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends, in large part because the agreement itself has several massive problems that turn it from a historic and transformative accord into a giant band-aid that ensures a crisis, sooner or later.
For starters, the deal clearly leaves intact large sections of Iran’s civilian nuclear program—with the ability to still enrich nuclear fuel—intact. While credit should be given for the large restrictions put in place by Obama’s negotiating team, the problem is never truly eliminated, just scaled back.
History will show that it was President Obama’s band-aid approach to foreign policy that deserved the credit for this disaster.
And that problem will surely get worse over time, as the poison pill in the deal was always that almost all its restrictions, designed to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear bomb, expire within 12-15 years after the deal was signed. That’s right, in a little more than a decade, Iran would have been free to do whatever it wanted with its nuclear program, unless a new accord was signed.
And that’s not all. The deal itself never addresses the ways in which Iran could deliver a nuclear weapon. That means no restrictions on Iran’s quickly growing capabilities to research and develop ballistic and cruise missiles. That’s like taking a criminal’s ammo away but allowing him to keep the gun, and worse still, allowing him to build better and better guns—think long-range missiles like ICBMs that could hit the U.S. homeland or allies like Europe—while waiting to get his ammo back.
There was also no attempt in this agreement dealing with Iran’s thug-like behavior internationally. Tehran has been causing problems throughout the Middle East for decades. From screaming “death to America” and threating Israel for decades, to arming terror groups around the region and more, Iran is perhaps the ultimate of rogue nations. It is hellbent on dislodging America from the Middle East for good. And yet, none of this was addressed in the nuclear accord, nor was Iran held accountable for any of its aggressive acts throughout the region.
Taking all of that into consideration, the Trump administration was put in a terrible bind upon taking office.
Staying in the deal meant the threat posed by Iran would only grow over time, and would leave an economically powerful and rich Iran—thanks to its sales of oil and gas—with the ability to develop a nuclear arsenal shortly after Trump left office.
The other option—which it seems Trump has chosen—was to take on Tehran now, when it is much weaker, rather than leaving the problem to a future U.S. president to deal with (much like Obama did to Trump on North Korea). That meant pulling out of the deal, imposing sanctions and trying to force the issue to a head now, when America’s position is much stronger.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. At least for the moment, Iran seems to be pushing for talks with Europe. Tehran threatened 60 days ago to abandon many of its commitments under the deal if Europe didn’t meet a deadline this weekend to somehow relieve sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Only a week ago, Iran exceeded the cap on its stockpile of low-grade uranium. Then, to make matters worse, it said it will resume purifying uranium beyond the 3.67 percent enrichment allowed under the agreement. While it would need to get to 90 percent enrichment in order to build a nuclear weapon, all of this put together means only one thing: a showdown is coming.
Whatever happens now – whether it is a regional war in the Middle East, or a time of tense negotiations that lasts for years – it makes no rational sense to blame President Trump for a crisis with Iran. History will show that it was President Obama’s band-aid approach to foreign policy that deserved the credit for this disaster.