WASHINGTON, July 20, 2015 — The functional reality of the Iranian nuclear negotiations is that the deal is for all intents and purposes a fait accompli, a 15-year agreement where the only certainty is that the terms will be continually tested by the verification process.
Despite the next several months of bloviation and hand-wringing in Congress, the pact will both go into effect and be implemented.
The deal signals more than just a shift in the nuclear negotiating process; it represents an acceptance of Iranian influence across the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon crescent, and an opening of Iran to commerce with the East (China, India , Japan, Korea), the West (Germany, Britain, France), and the North (Russia,Turkey).
It gradually frees up $100-$180 billion in frozen Iranian funds, and more importantly, allows Iran to trade oil on the international market again.
The deal freezes the breakout time on Iran’s ability to race to a bomb at around 12 months for at least the next 15 years. That breakout time is currently a couple of months.
If Iran cheats and continues its nuclear weapons pursuit, or if they race to the bomb when the current agreement expires, the United States will be faced with the same timetable and need to decide whether to intervene militarily.
It has been clear for some time that the determination has been made in the White House that war with Iran would be devastating to the West. The fallacy in this thinking is that Iran has been at war with the United States since the revolution in 1979. Iran views the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut, the truck bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, the Khobar Towers bomb attack in Saudi Arabia, and the deployment of Quds force operatives to help kill and maim thousands of Americans with roadside bombs during the war in Iraq as elements of that war.
This agreement legitimizes the hegemony Iran has established in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This is part of a stunning ongoing surrender of American values and America’s commitment to the principles of developmental freedom for the region, which over the last 6 years has led to the current map of chaos throughout the Middle East.
It is also the effective end of the Iran-Iraq war with Iran as the clear victor, now occupying the government in Baghdad and the Shiite regions of what was once Iraq, and propping up the “armed forces” of Iraq with Shiite militias and Quds force commanders.
This is not an insignificant point.
It is worth noting that during the heated, last-minute discussions, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif brought up American support for Saddam Hussein in that Iran-Iraq conflict, which killed millions on either side, with chemical weapons openly used by Iraq.
Most Americans conveniently forget this episode, one of the most brutal conflicts since WW I’s trench warfare. Comb the marshes of Basra or the plains of Isfahan for the hundreds of thousands, the millions slaughtered, on both sides, victims in the Iranian mind of not only Saddam, but a complicit West.
It now seems likely that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif will be sharing the Nobel Peace prize next December, following in the steps of Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese General Le Duc Tho, who crafted another imperfect agreement whose intended and unintended consequences over the last 40 years changed Southeast Asia in ways neither side could have imagined.
Yet the reality is that the nuclear agreement with Iran is a done deal, readily acceptable to our negotiating partners. Its coverage in European media and around the world is largely positive. It reduces Iran’s nuclear stockpiles, shutters the Arak heavy water facility, reduces the number of centrifuges by 2/3, and puts in place the most intrusive monitoring and inspection regimen of any arms control agreement, from every point of the nuclear supply chain.
The degree of Iranian cooperation with the implementation process will determine whether we return to sanctions, face the same questions of nuclear war and peace that we face today, or whether the agreement proceeds smoothly.
Certainly Israel and the Gulf States are not pleased with the apparent shift in American strategic designs, but even they will agree that the agreement postpones the day of nuclear reckoning well into the future, while still leaving them on the front lines of Iranian non-nuclear challenges throughout the region.
It is this question of general Iranian behavior that seems to draw the most concern, particularly with the easing of sanctions and a revived Iranian economy. But the President is counting on Iranian and Quds force militias to do the bulk of the ground fighting in Iraq against ISIS. He has acquiesced to Hezbollah operating openly as an Iranian surrogate in both Lebanon and Syria, and he will now have to try to do a whole lot more to bring the situation in Syria to a conclusion.
Apparently, the President is also counting on a more robust Russian and Iranian role in ousting Assad himself as a pathway to a negotiated settlement of Syria’s civil war. All of the stakeholders and regional participants will be at the table. Iran will be one of those stakeholders.
It is surprising, especially to people in the region, that American passivity toward successful Iranian militarist expansion is so pronounced. However, if this is the new reality, the region will have to accommodate it in their calculations, as President Obama has clearly made it part of his approach.
Say what you like about red lines and the pitiful state of many aspects of American foreign policy in the region, one of the unequivocal successes of Obama’s presidency is Russian /American cooperation to rid Syria of its massive stockpile of chemical weapons.
It is not that Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq through Hezbollah and the Quds Force isn’t costly to Iran in lives, money, and reputation. Yet it is so essential to internal Iranian interests that they are willing to go to the wall over it, again and again, at great risk to themselves and the region, and largely unopposed by us.
Other actors in the region will make their own adjustments. The Israelis will make their own calculation regarding Iran. If they believe they have to attack Iran militarily, they will not just attack Iranian nuclear facilities, which would only cripple the program for a couple of years, but also move to decapitate the leadership of the Islamic State and the Revolutionary Guard.
Israeli submarines assure a second strike capacity and mutual assured destruction should Iran ever get a bomb and use it. That will provide little comfort to Israeli citizens already surrounded by chaos and failing states.
A tacit but not terribly unspoken alliance between Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian forces is a quasi-reality of intersecting interests and concerns. Even with the nuclear deal, the challenges from Iran may accelerate.
The United States is promising to lead coordinated efforts in the region, but regional actors from Egypt to Turkey will be forced to take matters more closely into their own hands with both Syria and ISIS.
The fact that ISIS, in Syria and Iraq, is apparently largely the function of former Saddamist Generals and Colonels and not an Islamic force at all explains, in spite of their recruitment tactics and online propaganda, the level of savagery in their operative theology and the Baathist roots of their Nazi like terror.
That doesn’t mean that their success isn’t real, and it may well take an Egyptian, Jordanian and Turkish Sunni force to coordinate some form of occupation of ISIS controlled territories in Syria and Western Iraq. If Syria is part of end game in the President’s calculations he could go a long way toward meeting that objective with some movement on Assad’s removal in the remaining 18 months of his term. Certainly Minsk or Sochi would be happy to welcome the Assad family in exile.
In the interim, the President has chalked up a substantive victory for his muscular diplomacy and assertion of American leadership and commitment with a series of vital international partners. If it prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons for 15 years, perhaps there will be a different Iran by that time. Generationally, commercially, and in a new web of interwoven ties with the West, that is probably what the President is counting on. Iranian President Rouhani and likely future President Zarif almost certainly feel that way.
Either way, the deal is a fait accompli, with the next several presidents tasked with the job of sorting out the challenges and chaos that is to follow, and restoring some sense of functional order in a region that desperately needs it.