Robert Satloff’s 10 Questions to President Obama about the Iran Deal:
You have argued that the Iran deal enhances Israel’s security and those
of our Arab Gulf allies. At the same time, your administration has
offered the Gulf states a huge security package by way of compensation
and you have expressed frustration that the government of Israel has not
yet entered into discussions with you to discuss ways to bolster its
security. But isn’t this a paradox? If the Iran deal bolsters their
security, shouldn’t their security needs be going down, not up?
It is surely legitimate for you to argue that the Iran deal enhances
U.S. security but it certainly seems odd for you to claim to understand
Israel’s security needs more than its democratically elected leaders.
Are there other democracies whose leaders you believe don’t recognize
their own best security interests or is Israel unique in this regard?
Constructive, respected, well-informed observers, like your former
[National Security Council] Iran policy advisor Dennis Ross, have urged
you to propose transferring to Israel the “mountain-busting” Massive Ordnance Penetrator as a way to boost Israel’s independent deterrence against Iran. But you have not done so. Instead, in your letter
to Congressman [Jerrold] Nadler, you highlighted your administration’s
plan to send Israel a much less capable weapon. Why are you reluctant to
send Israel the best item we have in our inventory to address this
4. You have said that the Iran nuclear
agreement provides a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the threat of
nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Would you agree, therefore,
that the pursuit of an independent nuclear option by another Middle East
country—say, Saudi Arabia—would be clear evidence that the Iran deal
In your letter to Congressman Nadler, you refused to spell out the
penalties Iran would suffer for violations of the agreement, saying that
“telegraphing in advance to Iran the expected response for any
potential infractions would be counterproductive, potentially lessening
the deterrent effect.” On the surface, this is difficult to
understand—after all, as a constitutional law professor, you can
appreciate that having clarity in terms of penalties for lawbreaking is a
basic element of our legal system. If you aren’t willing to publicly
spell out this approach to penalties, can you guarantee that the United
States and its European partners have already agreed, in writing, on
precisely what actions they will collectively take in response to
different types of infractions? Will you share these details with at
least the leaders of the relevant committees in Congress? Or is the real
you aren’t willing to “telegraph” these penalties in advance [is]
because we and the Europeans can’t agree on them?
6. In your
letter to Congressman Nadler, you also said you “reserved the right to
deploy new sanctions to address continuing concerns.” Can you spell out
what sort of new sanctions you have in mind? Specifically, wouldn’t it
make sense for you to ask Congress to articulate new sanctions now that
would come into effect if our intelligence agencies reported that Iran
was using its sanctions-relief windfall to transfer large sums (or
expensive weapons systems) to its allies and terrorist proxies?
You have argued that the global sanctions regime falls apart if
Congress rejects the Iran deal. But the key variable here is not Europe,
China or some other foreign country—it’s the United States.
Specifically, the sanctions regime only collapses if the U.S. stops
enforcing the sanctions with the same vigor it has enforced them [with]
in recent years, and instead goes back to the policy of the Clinton and
Bush administrations, which refused to enforce ILSA
[Iran and Libya Sanctions Act] despite overwhelming votes for that law
in Congress. In the event of a “no” vote, can you promise that your
administration will expend the same effort and resources to enforce U.S.
sanctions laws against Iran as has been the case the last few years?
And if that’s the case, what’s your explanation for how or why sanctions
The supreme leader clearly wants the benefits of the deal—both in terms
of sanctions relief and the international validation it brings for
Iran’s nuclear program. Yet you seem to bend over backwards to be wary
of saying things that might upset him. (Given the supreme leader’s
continued hostility toward America, this is a characteristic that he
doesn’t seem to share.) Specifically, in your letter to Congressman
Nadler, why did you resort once again to the “all options are on the
table” formulation in the event Iran dashes toward a bomb? Since a
“dash” implies Iran would be hell-bent toward achieving its goal, why
not state bluntly that we would use force to stop them? If they are
dashing, haven’t they already violated the core commitment in the Iran
agreement not to pursue a weapon? If they are dashing, the threat of
renewed sanctions surely isn’t an effective deterrent. Wouldn’t candor
produce more deterrence than subtlety?
9. In your American University speech,
you said the Iran agreement produced a “permanent” solution to the
threat of the Iranian nuclear bomb. But just a few months ago, you told an NPR interviewer
that Iran’s breakout time toward a bomb “would have shrunk almost down
to zero” when restrictions on centrifuges and enrichment expire in after
10-15 years. Can both statements really be true?
In your final debate
with Mitt Romney in October 2012, just before you came before American
voters for the final time, moderator Bob Schieffer asked you
specifically what sort of Iran deal you would accept. Your response was:
“The deal we’ll accept is that they end their nuclear program.”
Notwithstanding the significant achievements of the Iran agreement, it
clearly falls short of “ending their nuclear program.” Moreover, you and
your spokespeople regularly disparage as warmongers those who advocate
what you once called for. Why did your own position in 2012 become
warmongering by 2015?
To read Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic referencing these questions, click here.