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The status of the Iran Nuclear Deal

19/08/2015

Celebrities like Jack Black, Morgan Freeman et al imploring congress not to vote no on the Iran nuclear deal which is now circulating on youtube leads me to further reconsider my initial tepid support for the agreement. Actors should not  speculate on important diplomacy matters about which they generally know little.

Anyway since Jack Black has added his two cents, I thought this was an appropriate juncture for me to add mine since a final congressional vote on the deal is apparently happening soon. Interestingly the New York Times points out partisan gridlock may mean the deal goes ahead anyway despite strong opposition in the Republican controlled Congress since 25% of democrats would need to oppose the President for a two thirds majority to be achieved. Here are my thoughts:

Ostracizing Iran from normal international relations isn’t a sustainable solution and bringing them in from the cold could theoretically help create a more tolerant constituency from increased diplomatic and trade engagement with the west which could overturn the radical theocrats.

However this is an optimistic view. It could still be a good gamble on Obama’s part but the absence of anywhere, anytime provisions for nuclear inspections is a significant limitation. Ronald Reagan, who  pursued a two track form of diplomacy in declaring the Soviet Union evil empire in public but privately forming a close friendship with Gorbachev in the hopes of progressing the SALT agreements was criticized by military hawks for concessions made but he preached the dictum “doveryai no proveryai” trust but verify in his negotiations.

It is correct that without these provisions, the deal gives Iran an incentive to cheat but it should not necessarily be the death knell for the deal. However, while Iran has shown itself to be a more tolerant theocracy, it remains outside the community of normal states and Reagan’s favorite Russian dictum seems applicable.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netayahu has been vocally opposed to the deal and while Netanyahu’s rhetoric overstates things largely to play to a core nationalist local constituency, Obama’s breakdown in the relationship between Israel and the US is another factor which may not augur well for the deal’s long term sustainability.

There has been some absurd vitriol on the part of prominent Republicans. Mike Huckabee’s claim a few weeks ago that the deal would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven”was inflammatory and non constructive.

Nonetheless Obama’s unwillingness to engage with the republicans in crafting the deal risks ongoing political sustainability and avoids subjecting the agreement to the serious critical rigor which could help to strengthen it.

With a little over a year remaining in his presidency Barack Obama is naturally keen to secure his legacy and furnishing foreign policy credentials is the tried and true approach of Presidents past.

In pushing the geopolitical case for the TPPA, a multilateral trade agreement, Obama took on many in his own party and spent significant political capital.

I personally applaud his efforts to end the absurd trade embargo with Cuba, which in my opinion represented an odd hangover from the cold war and likely did more harm to ordinary people than the regime itself.

Since there had been so much speculation from a raft of various ill informed sources about the Iran nuclear deal, I have included links to the most informed commentary concerning the deal which I have encountered on the web. I have been a bit slow in commenting so most of these links are from last month.

President of the Eurasia Group and foreign policy wonk Ian Bremmer accepts Obama’s argument that the alternative to this deal was worse for the United States.

Ian Bremmer still thinks the Iranians will cheat on the deal.

Nice backgrounder by the Economist on the republic of Iran

Tyler Cowen, marginal revolution blogger doesn’t think the Iran deal will stick but still sees it as a big win for Obama.

Michael Mandelbaum in the American Interest argues the lack of a credible deterrent weakens the deal

More recently Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest has pointed out Iranian hardliners now seem to be in favour of the deal which may encourage Iranian efforts toward hegemony in the Middle East.

Richard Epstein from the Hoover Institution argues the deal won’t work because Iran cannot be trusted. 

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