Thomas Friedman interviewed President Obama on Saturday, April 4, about the recent deal with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, taking pains to emphasize that the Israelis have nothing to fear: “we’ve got their backs,” Obama said, adding “that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.” As Friedman wrote in a corresponding op-ed article, titled “The Obama Doctrine and Iran,” the POTUS believes the understanding between Washington and Tehran is the only diplomatic barrier that lies between allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, which would be unacceptable, and going to war, which would be of benefit to no one.
“You asked about an Obama doctrine,” the president told Friedman. “The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.” With regard to Iran, which Obama identified as “a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens,” their leadership can be deterred, like the Soviet Union. The mullahs in charge are not known to be suicidal. Nicholas Burns wrote in the Financial Times that the agreement made in Lausanne, Switzerland “makes it reasonable to hope that a final written pact can be hammered out by the summer, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Steve Coll, writing in The New Yorker, observed that the Ford administration negotiated in 1974 with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who “asserted his country’s right to build nuclear power plants.”
“The precise details of Obama’s offer are unknown,” Coll added. “Broadly, Iran would freeze its program in such a way that, if it broke the agreement, it would need at least another year to make a bomb, and it would accept special inspections. In return, the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and China would agree to the lifting of economic sanctions.” Iran would likely get caught, and punished, if it did anything to attempt to “break out,” although policy-makers would be wise to heed the following: “The record of Washington’s interventions in the sectarian landscape of Iran and Iraq is so abysmal that the case for restraint should be obvious.” In any eventuality, Coll concluded, Obama decided to opt for “the risks of nuclear diplomacy over yet more war.”
It was reported that Iran had made significant concessions. The president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), David Albright, was quoted as saying that Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani “may want to break the news back home slowly.” As an example of the discrepancies between the American and Iranian accounts of what the deal entailed, the US “statement says that Iran will be barred from using its advanced centrifuges to produce uranium for at least 10 years. Before those 10 years are up, Iran will be able to conduct some ‘limited’ research on the centrifuges. The Iranian version omits the word ‘limited.’”
In the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens opined that the deal all but guarantees “mutually assured obfuscation,” quoting Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz as saying Tehran “cheats incrementally, not egregiously, even though the sum total of its incremental cheating is egregious.” Stephens continues by carefully walking the line of fear-mongering, and closes with an unambiguous call to wage war: “Should the current deal hold, Iran will be able to develop all the nuclear infrastructure it wants by the time my youngest child is in college. … Is targeted military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities — with all the unforeseen consequences that might entail — a better option than a grimly foreseeable future of a nuclear Iran, threatening its neighbors, and a proliferated Middle East, threatening the world?” Apparently, all of “the unforeseen consequences” of any “targeted military action” against Iran are irrelevant; it should be enough that one very foreseeable consequence would be ensuring Iran gets a nuclear weapon.
There are, of course, voices of reason. One of them is Ali Gharib, who noted that “killing this deal — the result, so far, of more than two years of grueling diplomacy — would put the US back on the path to confrontation with Iran,” and approvingly quoted Dana Milbank as saying that “the alternative to a negotiated settlement is not stronger sanctions — it’s war.” As Gharib rightfully pointed out, “The progress made cannot simply be undone and remade; American credibility would be destroyed.”
Why do the loudest “patriots” demand to destroy US credibility in the name of a war no one wants? One answer is that there will not be a war on Iran.