The 7 Knowns and Unknowns of the Iran Nuke Deal
How should we evaluate the “deal” President Obama announced with great fanfare on Thursday? It is still very early, though perhaps not too early for some provisional judgments. 1. We do not have a deal yet. There is no deal, there are only agreements on the framework of a deal. 2. There may even be no ...
How should we evaluate the “deal” President Obama announced with great fanfare on Thursday? It is still very early, though perhaps not too early for some provisional judgments.
1. We do not have a deal yet. There is no deal, there are only agreements on the framework of a deal.
2. There may even be no common framework. There is the framework described in the State Department factsheet. And there is the framework described by the Iranian delegation in Switzerland. Thus far in the reporting cycle there appears to be considerable daylight between those two versions. Perhaps over time those two versions will converge, but perhaps we will have dueling versions for some time to come. Until they converge, it is premature to claim that there is an “agreed framework.”
3. The version of the framework described in the state department factsheet is better than the most recent leaks out of the negotiations. It promises tougher inspections, fewer centrifuges, longer duration, and generally better results than what the administration had been floating as trial balloons in recent weeks. The Obama team won the expectations game of the immediate news cycle.
4. The framework of the deal described in the State Department factsheet is probably better than the final deal will be, should we ever get one. It is very doubtful that the factsheet describes the framework as the Iranians understand it. If history is any guide, any eventual deal will look better for the Iranians and worse for the Americans than the State Department factsheet.
5. The deal described in the version of the framework outlined in the State Department factsheet may be the best deal that the Obama team could get — but it could have been better. If the foregoing analysis is correct, it is better than the best final deal Obama can get. But I am not persuaded it as good a deal as could have been achieved if Obama had followed a smarter diplomatic strategy from the outset. Obama was slow to start the pressure track in his first term, and he violated basic principles of Diplomacy 101 in the last several rounds. As a result, he squandered U.S. leverage and convinced everyone that he needed a deal, any deal, more than the Iranians did. We will never know for sure what tougher negotiations might have yielded; we only know for sure Obama did not try them.
6. The true “best deal” Obama is on pace to get now is not good enough to pass the generalizability test. Would Obama offer this deal to the Saudis, the Turks, and the Egyptians? If predictions about proliferations cascades have any merit, this question may not be rhetorical.
7. This “best deal” would have been called a failure even a few years ago. Senator Obama probably would have filibustered it if President Bush had submitted it to the Senate back in the day. Iran may have conceded more in the last 72 hours (or not, depending on whose version of the framework wins out), but if you measure the distance moved from the original negotiating stances of a decade ago, it is indisputable: The United States has conceded the most and Iran has won the most.
Perhaps the ensuing negotiations leading up to a final deal will change the assessment on the margins. but those seven knowns and unknowns seem likely to endure, and that means it is too early to break out the victory champagne.
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