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There were recently reports that the multi-party talks about Iran’s nuclear program were approaching a deal that would have the Iranians pause their nuclear program for a decade in exchange for lifting of sanctions. This was promptly reported in the conservative press as some variation of “Obama Gives Iranians the Bomb in Ten Years.”
It didn’t sound like an especially bad plan to me. A lot can happen in ten years, especially if tensions between nations are allowed to deescalate. I’m also a firm believer in the Churchill notion that “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” But I could be wrong. Perhaps this is a bad deal. However, I’m also a firm believer in the notion that complaining about something without offering a solution is just whining. So I have a question for everyone here on Ricochet: What kind of negotiated solution would you find acceptable?
But before that, I need to remind everyone of some important elements in the equation:
- The Iranians aren’t crazy. To the extent that any government is, the Iranians are rational. There’s this idea floating around that the Iranian government is populated by lunatics who want to see the world reduced to a cinder to bring about the Islamic equivalent of the Second Coming. This is simply a fantasy. It’s folly to assume the other side are all crazy. They may be odd, they may be different, they may have different values, but to assume that they are incapable of rational thought is nonsense.
- They’re fighting the Islamic State. Iran is a Shia country with strong cultural and political ties to Shia dominated Iraq. Sunni ISIS is a threat not only to their coreligionists, but to their interest in Iraq. As a result, the Iranians are helping to fight ISIS. Negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program have a lot of dimensions, this is one of them.
- Agreement isn’t bilateral. The US and Iran are only two parties in these talks. They also include Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia. So when you’re tempted to talk about how “Obama is doing X,” remember that these are seven-party talks, and keep in mind the larger context of what is going on in Europe.
- The threat isn’t imminent. The Iranians don’t have a functioning nuclear device. They haven’t tested one. (We would know). If they have access to designs that they may have purchased, we don’t even know of those designs actually work. And if you examine their uranium enrichment program, they don’t have the capacity to build a weapon yet.
While reading this, no doubt, some of you are ready to respond that no negotiated solution is possible, and the only thing we can do is bomb Iran. A few points about that:
- The Osirak thing isn’t an option here. As we all know, the Israelis took matters into their own hands in 1981 and stifled Iraqi nuclear ambitions by bombing the Osirak reactor. Knocking the Iranian nuclear program out the same way is not an option here. First of all, the Iranian program is spread out over multiple locations. Second, those locations are fortified, in anticipation that somebody might try that trick again. Third, the Iranians have built a substantial air-defense system to defend these nuclear sites. If it can be done at all (which is highly doubtful), knocking out the Iranian program isn’t going to be done by a handful of F-16s.
- Airstrikes would mean going to the mattresses. Its well known and well established that the Iranians have no problem supplying and supporting various terrorist organizations. If we were to bomb the Iranians, it would mean a war, and the Iranians would go to the mattresses. They would press the buttons, pull the strings, whatever metaphor you want to use, on their various client terrorist organizations, and they would hit back in a substantial way.
- It would mean war with Iran. Bombing Iran wouldn’t be like shooting a few missiles at a couple of aspirin factories, it would mean a war. It would probably mean the Persian Gulf would be closed to oil shipping. Iran has a population larger than Afghanistan and Iraq put together, and a land area larger than Afghanistan and Iraq put together. Occupation is simply not an option, and there won’t be public support for an extended war.
So, with these factors in mind, what is your solution? (Keep in mind that any negotiated agreement now needs to be a treaty that can pass with a 2/3 vote, because 47 Republicans in the Senate just shot to hell any chance of any other kind of agreement).
So let’s hear it. What negotiated agreement would you find acceptable?