There are two avenues to bring about change in the Mideast — diplomacy or war. The American public rightly has no stomach for more war. And the alternative to the Iranian nuclear arms deal announced Tuesday could well be a horrifying regional arms race.
But can the deal work?
Some aspects seem promising. Noteworthy are the reductions in Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium and number of centrifuges, as well as multiyear bans on its ability to import conventional weapons and missiles. The easing of crippling sanctions would come only after Iran takes initial steps toward dismantling its program. And if Iran violates the agreement, the sanctions “snap back.”
Still, uncertainty abounds.
How unfettered will the inspection regime be? Does “anytime anywhere” mean just that? Will the deal really extend the “breakout” time to at least one year that Iran would need to produce a nuclear weapon if it decides to abandon the deal? And will it keep it there for at least a decade? What shape will Iran’s nuclear industry be in after 10 or 15 years? Will Iran ramp up its sponsorship of terrorism with the money coming from the lifting of sanctions?
These questions about what is a detailed arms-control agreement need careful study by experts. Other questions will be answerable only by history. We simply don’t know the impact of future world events or how Iran will behave as it rejoins the community of nations.
The virulent, canned attacks that greeted the announcement — much of it from people who had not yet studied the text of the agreement — were predictable. The messy politics of the Middle East, the brewing 2016 presidential campaign and strident rote opposition to anything done by President Barack Obama combine to make a toxic stew of dissent. We all need to replace the rhetoric with a sober discussion of the best way to implement and monitor the terms of the deal. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to try to block the agreement. It should use that time to seriously examine it and keep the posturing to a minimum.
For people who believe Iran will never live up to any agreement, no deal is possible other than abject surrender of its nuclear capability. That was never going to happen. Obama recognizes, like George W. Bush did before him, that Tehran has the right to build nuclear power plants to produce electricity. There also were deep concerns about whether the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table — specifically, the commitments from Russia and China — would have stayed in place without a deal. All negotiations are gambles, but continuing the present course is a losing bet. It’s time to move forward.
Retain all skepticism about Iran; its past behavior demands that we be wary. But understand the wisdom behind Secretary of State John Kerry’s observation that “confidence is never built overnight.” It is part of a long process, Kerry said, and that’s the road we must start down.
Not because it’s easy, but because no other road leads where we want to go.