Sunday, September 13, 2015

Iran Treaty Analogy

This reached PRIMER by a circuitous route. Author unknown.

Let’s say you have a religious fanatic living on your block. He periodically threatens to kill you and your family. He also threatens some of your neighbors, especially your Jewish friends next door. In fact, he threatens to wipe them off the map.

Now, you and your neighbors desire to live in peace. So you ban together and sit down with your fanatic neighbor, to negotiate a circumstance where you can all live in peace. You reach an agreement where the fanatic gets a bunch of cash up front and a machine gun but no bullets. In fact, he is prohibited from having bullets for 15 years. Now you don’t trust him because he’s been known to cheat in the past so you say “we trust you but we will verify.” To which he says I will monitor myself to insure I don’t get any bullets.

You agree.

Satisfied with the agreement you go to bed that night … do you sleep?

Nope, didn’t think so. Neither would I.

Think about it!!!!!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mr. Obama, Try These Arguments for Your Iran Deal

A friend asked me to analyze the column by that name written by Nicholas Kristoff. It seemed a shame to just send my analysis to her, so here it is, with some closing advice to the president about how he should try to undo the damage caused when he failed to use the leverage Congress gave him in the past.

This analysis includes quotes from Kristoff's column followed by analyses.

It would be a catastrophe for American influence in the world if Congress killed the Iranian nuclear deal.

Congress has rejected or sent back for renegotiation over 200 treaties, including over 80 multilateral treaties, without any serious consequences for American influence in the world. There's no basis for asserting it would be any different for this one. European leaders have privately told Malcolm Hoenlein they were very unhappy with the deal, acquiesced only because of immense pressure from us, and would not be unhappy if Congress rejected the deal and there was an opportunity to try to get a better one. It might be a catastrophe for Obama's prestige, but not for American influence.

Constituent calls to congressional offices are overwhelmingly against the deal, and with Senator Chuck Schumer defying the White House by opposing it, the opposition is more bipartisan than the support is. That's tragic, for killing the deal would infuriate many allies, isolate America rather than Iran and ultimately increase the risk of ayatollahs with nuclear weapons.

See above. There's no basis for these assertions, while there's plenty of evidence that the deal increases the probability Iran will get nuclear weapons.

The great majority of arms experts support the deal, some enthusiastically, some grudgingly. They recognize shortcomings, but on balance, as 29 of America's leading nuclear scientists and arms experts wrote in an open letter last week, it has "much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated nonproliferation framework."

None of which have worked. And the holes in the agreement make it inaccurate to refer to the constraints as "stringent."

Likewise, three dozen retired American generals and admirals released a joint letter declaring the deal "the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."

After which about 190 retired American generals and admirals released a joint letter asserting the opposite and the number who have expressed agreement is now over 200.

Iran would go from maybe a few months from a bomb to a year away. The agreement doesn't solve the underlying problem, but it may buy us 15 years.

Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Iran only goes from a few months to a year if it adheres to the agreement. With entire nuclear infrastructure intact, just not using some of it for a while, if Iran decides to make its final sprint and reactivates the mothballed centrifuges, it will be no further from breakout than today, perhaps even closer since it will be improving its infrastructure. Indeed, we're committed to helping Iran improve its nuclear infrastructure.

Yes, it would be nice if Iran gave up all its enriched uranium. But isn't it better that it give up 98 percent of its stockpile than that it give up none?

It's not giving it up. It's diluting it and will be able to re-enrich it when it decides that's in its interests.

Everyone knows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel opposes the deal, but not everyone realizes other Israelis with far more security expertise support it. Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, describes it as "the best possible alternative." And Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, says, "What is the point of canceling an agreement that distances Iran from the bomb."

It's obviously absurd to call this horrible deal "the best possible alternative." They don't give reasons for their opinions. On the other side, the leaders of all the mainstream parties, including those in opposition, are unanimous in their opposition to the agreement. One would expect Herzog, Livni and Lapid to take the position opposite to that of Netanyahu, but they're standing firmly with him in opposition to the agreement even as they criticize him for not being effective enough in his opposition.

Second, it's true that Iran may try to cheat, but it's easier to catch and stop the cheating with the deal than without.

It may be marginally easier to catch cheating, but not by much. Iran's leaders aren't idiots. so they'll almost certainly not bother to seriously cheat at their declared sites (from experience with their cheating on the interim deal, they know Obama won't call them on their cheating unless he has no choice), cheat at the undeclared non-military sites in ways it's confident it can hide the evidence in 24 days, and do its serious cheating at its military sites to which it's been very clear it will never allow outside access.

At this point, having abandoned the sanctions, we're not going to be able to stop their cheating, with or without the deal.

That 1994 agreement was indeed flawed, and North Korea violated it. But even so, in the eight years the agreement was in place, North Korea made zero nuclear weapons, according to American intelligence estimates. After the deal collapsed in 2002, the Bush administration turned to a policy of confrontation, and North Korea then made perhaps nine nuclear weapons.

The deal collapsed when the CIA discovered North Korea was secretly enriching uranium for weapons.

Third, if all goes south, or if Iran is stalling us and after 15 years races to a weapon, we retain the option of a military strike.

Against a much stronger Iran and a nuclear infrastructure we've actually helped them secure against attack.

To me, this deal is ugly and flawed - and infinitely better than the alternatives. The criticisms of the deal strike me as reasonable, but the alternatives that the critics propose seem unreasonable and incoherent.

Proponents keep repeating that as a mantra, but it's just his opinion. There have been many reasonable alternatives put forth.

So President Obama should hit the restart button. He should acknowledge that the deal has shortcomings but also emphasize that it must be judged not by a referendum on its terms but rather as a choice: deal or no deal.

The first assertion is right. But it's not a choice between deal or no deal; it's a choice between this deal or trying to get a decent deal. One rule in bargaining is that if you're not willing to walk away from a deal, you're going to get taken. Congress would be doing Obama a tremendous favor if it rejected the deal; it would be giving him the chance to bargain effectively. Unfortunately, it's impossible to expect him to accept the gift.

He can also take steps to reassure doubters. We could boost funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency to make oversight more effective. We could do more to speak up for human rights in Iran and to counter Iranian meddling in the region, especially in Syria.

He should do all that, but it won't provide much reassurance. I'll explain what Obama should do after the next comment.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the patriarch of Republican security experts, tells me that he supports the Iran deal in part because it exemplifies American leadership on a crucial global issue.

Neither party has a monopoly on leaders making insupportable arguments. This deal is the antithesis of what American leadership should be.

I agree, and for Congress to kill it will not just set back American leadership, it will also increase the odds that Iran gets the bomb.

There he goes again.

Advice for President Obama:

Okay, here's what President Obama should really do and still can if he decides the safety of the world is more important than saving face:

He should secretly work with the remaining undecided Senators to make sure the filibuster doesn't succeed.

After he vetoes the resolution rejecting the deal, he should quietly work with the Congressional leadership to secretly orchestrate announcements by enough legislators that the bellicose behavior of Iran, including the chants of "Death to America," and the revelations about the secret side deals have led them to reconsider and they will vote to override Obama's veto. He should thus secretly ensure that Congress does override his veto.

He should then go back to the P5+1 and essentially tell them, "Look, guys, I thought I could pull it off, but Congress just will not go along with a deal that ends the sanctions so quickly, has so many potential problems with verification and doesn't automatically snap back all the sanctions if we catch Iran cheating, not to mention while Khamenei keeps shouting 'Death to America' and still holds Americans hostage. I don't have any choice. America is a democratic country. We've got to go back, start over and get to a deal that will actually work."