It now looks like President Trump intends to withdraw from the nuclear deal, with the support of critics like Reuel Marc Gerecht, who enumerated in The Atlantic what he sees as the deal’s flaws. To sum up, as I understand it, Gerecht would have only accepted, and would now only accept, a fundamentally different nuclear deal—i.e. one that forever prohibited Iran from having an enrichment program, even for energy production and under international monitoring; forever banned any advanced centrifuge research and development; provided for snap, anytime/anywhere inspections (including military bases); required an admission of past deception about its nuclear-weapons development; required changes to Iranian policy in the region; and banned testing or development of long-range ballistic missiles, even if Iran agreed to all the nuclear demands. And if he didn’t get all of that he would have “walked away,” as he writes a “stronger president and secretary of state” would have done, patiently waiting for sanctions to bite deeper.
I’d take that deal too, but unfortunately we live in the real world. Insisting on an agreement that required Iran to abandon its entire nuclear program as well as fundamentally transform its regional foreign policy would mean having no agreement at all. “Zero enrichment,” after all, was essentially the U.S. position from 2003 until around 2014—during which time Iran mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and advanced to the brink of a weapons capability. The bulk of that progress was made during the administration of George W. Bush, and included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Bolton—none of whom is known for the discomfort with military force or American hegemony Gerecht attributes to Obama. (That pacifist Obama, by the way, deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, increased deadly U.S. drone strikes to unprecedented levels, bombed Libya for seven months, ordered thousands of airstrikes against ISIS, provided far more advanced weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia than any of his predecessors, authorized the development of the weapons necessary to destroy underground Iranian bunkers, and sent U.S. special-operations forces on deadly raids in the region multiple times for multiple purposes.) Gerecht’s suggestion of “patiently waiting for sanctions to bite” while no inspections are in place has also been our approach to North Korea since the mid-1990s, during which time Pyongyang produced, tested, and stockpiled nuclear weapons and developed missiles capable of hitting the United States. The Iran deal—with permanent application of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s most advanced inspections regime and a permanent ban on any nuclear weapons work—doesn’t look so bad next to that, does it?