Successful nuclear deal will ultimately undermine U.S. credibility in region, forcing our allies to pursue their own nuclear arsenals, and increasing the risks of nuclear conflict that draws in the U.S.
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The price to pay for this erosion of credibility and departure from established U.S. policy and interests will be grave. If this deal is completed, it will: guarantee the emergence of Iran as a nuclear power; place Israel in existential danger from Iran and the aggression of its terrorist proxies; set off a proliferation cascade that will raise the potential for conflict in the Persian Gulf, which incidentally act as bullish factor for oil prices; and empower and inspire radical Islamists across the region. With its credibility severely eroded, the United States – even if led by a new, determined president – will have significant difficulty restoring order to the region.
The most immediate consequence of a deal will be a realignment of interests in the region. It widely perceived that we have aligned ourselves with Iran, and our regional allies will continue to seek closer relations with Russia and China and distance themselves from us. Some of our allies in the region and outside it – such as India and South Korea, which are heavily dependent on oil imports – will also seek closer ties with Iran. On the positive side, our Israeli and Arab allies, who share a sense of abandonment by the United States, will intensify their quiet collaboration with one another on regional matters.
But, more consequential, some of our traditional Arab allies will seek other means of ensuring their security, and will develop nuclear programs or acquire nuclear weapons of their own. President Obama recognized with much confidence this consequence in 2012: “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons.”10 But now he dismisses it, stating in May about the Gulf Arabs, “They understand that ultimately their own security and defense is much better served by working with us.” In reality, Riyadh has good reason to question our reliability in defending them, as explained above. Though Obama warned the Saudis, “Their covert – presumably – pursuit of a nuclear program would greatly strain the relationship they’ve got with the United States,”11 it is simply implausible to suggest the United States would punish the Saudis if they develop a nuclear program.
As former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz asked in their superb Wall Street Journal op-ed on April 8: “Do we now envision an interlocking series of rivalries, with each new nuclear program counterbalancing others in the region?”12 In fact, this nuclear contagion will regionalize the challenge, so that we’ll have to monitor not just what Iran is doing on the nuclear front, but also Saudi Arabia and other countries. This will increase the chances of a nuclear conflict, whether through intent or miscalculation, among the countries that acquire the capability, and could well draw in the United States.