Obama’s critics are the real gamblers on Iran
Fareed Zakira argues that the idea that forcing Iran back to the table will have international support and compel Iran to make more concessions is not rooted in reality and is "the real gamble, a high stakes one with little evidence to support it."
Finally, some who argue against the deal believe that the United States should simply stand firm and Iran will either cave or crumble. Anyone who has dealt with Iranians knows that they are a proud, nationalistic people. The Islamic republic has endured three decades of U.S. sanctions, a nine-year war against Iraq (in which Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Iranians) and other international pressures. If tiny Cuba and North Korea haven’t caved after decades of much greater isolation, it is hard to imagine Iran doing so.
As for the belief that Iran will collapse soon, there is little evidence for this hope. More important, a more democratic Iran would likely still support a nuclear program. In fact, the leader of the 2009 Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi, argued that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was making too many concessions to the West regarding Iran’s nuclear rights.
The idea that China, Russia and the European Union would maintain sanctions against Iran if Washington turned down a deal that they painstakingly negotiated and fully embrace is far-fetched. China is desperate to buy Iran’s (discounted) oil. Russia is already negotiating to sell it nuclear-power technology and machinery. And the French foreign minister has scheduled a trip to Tehran next week, presumably to do what that country’s diplomats always do: promote French corporate interests.
It is worth recalling that when the Obama administration was putting together the last round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, many Republicans dismissed the effort. In an August 2009 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Sanctions Won’t Work Against Iran,” the Bush administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, argued that the other major powers would never go along with such sanctions — and if they did, they wouldn’t change Iran’s behavior anyway. Now Republicans say that these same sanctions are wondrously effective, if only the administration would keep them on indefinitely.
The crucial reason the sanctions have been so effective — more than critics expected — is that they are comprehensive. Leaky sanctions, especially when the leaks are in major countries such as China, Russia and India, are worthless, perhaps even almost counterproductive. They don’t inflict much pain on the regime and actually benefit the hard-liners who control the few gateways in and out of the economy.
There is a profound gap between the United States and the world in the perception of the sanctions against Iran. For many in the United States, the sanctions are a mechanism to punish an evil regime. But for most of the other countries involved, the sanctions were enacted specifically to bring Iran to the negotiating table. These countries would not allow them to be turned into a permanent mechanism to strangle Iran. They all have relations with Iran, traded with it pretty freely until 2012, and intend to resume and expand these ties.
Opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran argue that the simple alternative is to reject the deal and increase sanctions pressure or the threat of military force to compel Iran to return to the negotiations table and agree to terms more favorable to the U.S. However, this approach fails to consider that for negotiations to succeed, they have to have a balance of incentives and compromises and the deal reached in Vienna reflected the best that both sides could bear.