How to make sense of the nuclear deal with Iran? Is it a necessary compromise that’s preferable to the alternatives and potentially beneficial for the Middle East? A feeble and indefensible sop to Iranian leaders bent on further destabilizing the region? A practically satisfying but morally troubling gamble, born of bad options? The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, David Frum, and Jeffrey Goldberg debate the new agreement—and the swift and fierce reaction to it.
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Peter Beinart: David and Jeff, the thing that strikes me most about the reaction to the Iran deal is that proponents and opponents are judging it by radically different standards.
Opponents keep saying that this deal isn’t as good as the Obama administration promised it would be and that it violates previous U.S. red lines. That’s true. It allows Iran to keep some enriched uranium. It also doesn’t include anytime, anywhere, right-away inspections, which I think the Obama administration was foolish to promise (a kind of parallel to when they said no one would lose coverage as a result of Obamacare).
Proponents, like myself, compare it to the alternatives: which are doing nothing, war, or trying to increase sanctions in hopes of getting a better deal down the line. What frustrates me is how rarely I see opponents explaining in any detail how any of these alternatives would be preferable. A few years ago, one saw more hawks arguing for a military strike. (I detailed some of the folks who did last year.) But one rarely hears anyone these days arguing that a military strike makes sense. Some say that a “credible threat of force” would make Iran concede more. But Israel and America have been threatening force for a decade now. Why would more saber-rattling work now? Besides, to have your threat of force be credible, don’t you have to be willing to follow through—which requires explaining why military action would be effective in retarding the nuclear program and wouldn’t make the current regional conflict far worse? More often, deal opponents talk about increasing sanctions, which would supposedly force Iran into concessions. But I rarely hear them explain how that will work given the internal politics of Iran. Seems more likely to me that scuttling this deal, and passing more sanctions, would devastate [Iranian President] Rouhani and [Iranian Foreign Minister] Zarif politically. Rouhani was elected to improve the economy; torpedoing the deal would make him a failure. That would empower those hardline opponents who never wanted any deal. Beyond that, what basis is there to believe European and Asian countries, which have strong economic interests in Iran, will maintain sanctions indefinitely? The lesson of Iraq in the 1990s is that sanctions erode over time. British and German diplomats have warned that if the U.S. destroys the deal, sanctions could unravel. So why should we believe economic pressure will go up and lead to more Iranian concessions? Seems at least as likely to me that economic pressure will go down.