One of the worst aspects of the Trump era is that it was so difficult to have a normal argument.
Take the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), for example. I was dead set against it when the Obama administration pushed it through in 2015. I thought it empowered an evil regime and that we got royally ripped off during negotiations. My biggest beef was that even in the best of circumstances — where Iran would behave like Mother Teresa and follow the deal to the letter — they would still get their nuclear arsenal if they waited long enough for the sunset clause. At best, it was a nuclear time-out.
So, when President Trump pulled America out of the deal in 2018 and began a “maximum pressure” campaign, I thought it was a street-smart move. But because Trump was so crude and polarizing, because he was so hated by so many, it was virtually impossible to calmly defend any of his policies.
The Biden era will be different.
Biden is a decent guy. In his inaugural address, he reaffirmed the value of democratic dissent and vigorous debate. The portraits of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, two classic antagonists, hang together in his redecorated Oval office. Biden’s message: stay within the boundaries of decency and democracy, and you’ll get a fair hearing.
I hope he gives a fair hearing to a piece published today in The Atlantic on the Iran deal. Written by expert commentators Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi, it is a comprehensive critique of a deal that is bound to become a controversial flashpoint within the Jewish community, and in relations between the new administration and Israel.
The piece confronts squarely the arguments of those in favor of returning to the deal, which the writers summarize as: “Only the deal’s renewal…can prevent the nightmare of a nuclear Iran.”
Slowly, methodically, they take that argument apart. I may be naturally biased because of my views on the deal, but the sheer amount of pertinent information is what makes the piece a must-read — regardless of where you stand.
The writers ask, “Why, then, aren’t Israelis and Arabs—those with the most to lose from Iranian nuclearization—also demanding a return to the JCPOA? Why aren’t they panicking over its dissolution? The answer is simple: The JCPOA didn’t diminish the Iranian nuclear threat; it magnified it.”
It’s well known that the Obama administration was highly eager to conclude a deal. As a result, the writers explain how much was left on the table:
It’s well known that the Obama administration was highly eager to conclude a deal. As a result, the writers explain how much was left on the table.
“The JCPOA allowed Iran to retain its massive nuclear infrastructure, unnecessary for a civilian energy program but essential for a military nuclear program. The agreement did not shut down a single nuclear facility or destroy a single centrifuge. The ease and speed with which Iran has resumed producing large amounts of more highly enriched uranium—doing so at a time of its own choosing—illustrates the danger of leaving the regime with these capabilities. In fact, the JCPOA blocks nothing.”
The piece is rich with such information: “Less than a decade from now, Iran will be legally able to produce and stockpile enough fissile material for dozens of bombs. The 97 percent reduction of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile achieved by the JCPOA would be swiftly undone. Breakout time would no longer be a year, or even three months, but a matter of weeks.”
Anyone interested in this issue ought to read “The Case Against the Iran Deal” all the way through. The crucial point comes when the writers look to the future and conclude: “Iran can be stopped.”
The key is that “President Joe Biden should not squander the leverage he has inherited. The reimposition and intensification of American sanctions has placed enormous pressure on the Iranian regime. After waiting out the old administration in the hope that 2021 would bring a new one, the regime is now trying to intimidate Biden into renewing the JCPOA.”
I can only add that if Biden and his team are serious about consulting with allies and being sensitive to the security of Israel and the region, it won’t get sucked in by the wily trickery of the Iranian regime, the world’s #1 sponsor of terror. Once the U.S. releases economic sanctions, all leverage will be lost. There are encouraging signs, especially from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that the new administration will not rush into doing that.
If Biden and his team are serious about consulting with allies and being sensitive to the security of Israel and the region, it won’t get sucked in by the wily trickery of the Iranian regime
In any case, if they want to make an informed decision on how to move forward, they can start by reading a dignified argument in The Atlantic.
It feels good to argue again.