Shadow Government

The Sun Sets on a Good Iran Deal

Debunking Obama's favorite tactic on Iran: the "Bush made me do it" canard.


There’s so much wrong with the emerging Iran nuclear deal that it’s hard to know where to begin. But as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear in his speech this week to congress, the biggest flaw is almost certainly the deal’s so-called sunset provision.

Amazingly, the Obama administration is prepared to sign an agreement that will expire in a mere 10 years’ time. At that point, any restrictions that the deal imposes on Iran’s nuclear program would vanish. Iran’s economy would be free from all nuclear-related sanctions and its government would be treated the same as any other non-nuclear-weapon state that is a non-proliferation treaty member in good standing.

That means that Iran could be like Holland, which spins hundreds of thousands of advanced centrifuges to produce reactor fuel. It could be like Japan, which maintains enough stockpiled plutonium for thousands of nuclear warheads. It could be like Brazil, which plans to produce bomb-grade uranium enriched to 90 percent to power its nuclear submarines.

All that will be perfectly permissible under the deal that Obama is negotiating. And it would have the full blessing of the United States and the rest of the international community, not to mention billions of dollars in trade and investment that’s likely to flow once sanctions are eased.

In exchange, all Obama requires is a decade’s worth of nuclear restraint from the mullahs — a decent interval, if you will — that will allow him to claim victory and get out of Washington without the embarrassment of a mushroom cloud over the Iranian desert, while leaving the resulting mess to his successor or (if we’re really lucky) to his successor’s successor.

The bottom line: The Obama administration is prepared to allow the Islamic Republic to get within the proverbial screwdriver’s turn away from the bomb, regardless of whether in 2025 Iran is ruled by the equivalent of Ahmadinejad 2.0, regardless of whether it remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and regardless of whether its leaders continue to call for the destruction of Israel.

At that point, with Iran having a massive nuclear infrastructure in place, Obama’s so-called breakout time of at least a year would be history. The ability of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to detect a small covert weapons effort would virtually evaporate. The time it would take Iran to sneak out to a bomb would drop to a matter of days. By the time the world realized what was happening — much less mobilized an effective response — it would almost certainly be too late.

That’s why Netanyahu said that Obama’s deal “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” He was right.

The Obama sunset clause is truly a catastrophe. It almost guarantees that America, Israel, and our Arab allies will have to confront the nightmare of an Iran with nuclear weapons in the not-too-distant future, at a point when the economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation that have done so much to shackle the mullahs will be but a distant memory. Talk about a ticking time bomb.

The Obama administration knows this is true. That’s why it really doesn’t want the debate to focus on the sunset clause. The logical implications, as described above, are just too awful to contemplate, much less defend. It’s a poison pill, a flashing neon sign that screams, “BAD DEAL.”

When pressed, administration officials fall back on claims that at least their deal might buy the world another 10 years before we have to confront the prospect of an Iran on the nuclear threshold. And during that time, who knows? Perhaps the mullahs will be tamed, or, better yet, overthrown, and Iran will be transformed into a normal, non-revolutionary power, prepared to forgo its almost four-decade-long war with the Great Satan and its ambitions to dominate the Middle East.

Yeah, right. Nice thought. But seriously: Is President Obama really ready to mortgage the country’s future, to bet America’s national security, on the hope — the hope! — that the Islamic Republic will stop being the Islamic Republic 10 years hence? Really, given the stakes at play both for us and our regional allies, what responsible national leader could possibly roll the dice and run that risk? Especially if the mantra guiding his Iran policy all along has allegedly been “no deal is better than a bad deal”?

Predictably, if somewhat pathetically, the last refuge that the administration will seek to account for its disastrous sunset clause is almost sure to be an effort to shift the blame to George W. Bush. At a Senate hearing in January, and then again at a public forum two weeks ago, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken previewed the argument that the sunset clause had really been a Bush concoction all along. According to Blinken, “The Bush administration put on the table the proposition that Iran would be treated as a non-nuclear weapons state after it complied for some period of time with any agreement. And that is exactly what we are doing.”

In a word: bunk. Blinken is referring to an annex of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1747, passed in 2007. The annex set out the latest P5+1 offer to Iran for a long-term agreement on its nuclear program — the centerpiece of which, it should be stressed, was the suspension of all of Iran’s enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. Included in the offer was a vague commitment to “review” the moratorium on Iran’s restricted nuclear activities at some undetermined future date, but only after two conditions had been met: 1) confirmation by the IAEA that all outstanding questions about Iran’s program had been satisfactorily resolved, including those pertaining to possible weaponization efforts; and 2) confirmation that there remained no undeclared nuclear activities or materials in Iran, and international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s civil nuclear program had been restored.

Did you get that? No enrichment. No arbitrary deadline of 10 years. No commitment to do anything other than “review” the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities. And no review before the world — read, the United States — was convinced that Iran has come totally clean about its nuclear activities and has confidence that Iran has truly given up its quest for the bomb. An American veto, in other words, based on our assessment of whether there had been a genuine strategic shift in the Ayatollah’s nuclear ambitions.

Needless to say, that’s a far cry from where we find ourselves today. I suppose you can call both of these approaches sunset clauses, if you like. But as a negotiating strategy, they occupy different universes. One gives away virtually nothing, the other nearly everything.

No one should buy the “Bush made me do it” excuse. It’s of a piece with Obama’s effort to blame his predecessor for his disastrous decision in 2011 to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, which helped pave the way for the rise of the Islamic State. It was Bush, Obama complained, who negotiated the 2008 Status of Forces agreement that allowed for a U.S. departure in the event that Washington and Baghdad failed to reach a follow-on deal. In this telling, Obama was merely sticking to the Bush script. When the Iraqis balked, his hands were tied. Left out was the fact that securing a follow-on deal would have been Bush’s highest priority, one he would have been prepared to invest hundreds of hours of his own personal time and prestige to ensure was achieved.

Obama, by contrast, seems to have devoted all of two phone calls to the effort — the first to inform the Iraqi prime minister that the United States was ready to negotiate a follow-on deal, the second several months later to tell him that the United States was getting out. In between, he was largely AWOL. And then he spent the entire next year campaigning for re-election on the claim that he had fulfilled his 2008 pledge to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Make no mistake: The sunset clause now under negotiation is entirely an Obama production. He owns it. It puts us on a glide path to a world in which a militant Islamic theocracy — with the blood of at least a thousand Americans on its hands — that wants to destroy Israel and spread terror and violence across the Middle East is but a stone’s throw away from having the capacity to achieve a nuclear arsenal that, as a practical matter, no one will have time to stop. This is exactly the outcome that U.S. policy has fought so mightily to prevent for the better part of two decades.

That strikes me as a pretty good definition of a bad deal. While we should all hope that a better deal, a good deal, is out there to be had, whether it is or not is irrelevant to the standard that the president himself has repeatedly insisted would guide his strategy. That is: No deal is better than a bad deal. Not that no deal is better than a bad deal — but only if a better deal exists. Rather, no deal is better than a bad deal, period. Full stop. End of sentence. The president is right. Now, difficult as it may be, he needs to follow his own policy.


John Hannah is a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

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