So here we are. Most Americans and most members of Congress oppose the nuclear deal with Iran. But because of global politics and the corner we have painted ourselves into, an outright rejection could even be worse.
So how about a “yes, but ” or — if it suits your temperament — a “no, unless ” In other words, there are things about the proposed deal that may be worth preserving, but only if we can add some things and take some other steps.
Of course, that requires a rejection of the “it’s this deal or war” meme and some serious negotiating between (as opposed to politicking by) Congress and the White House.
A standing congressional authorization for the use of military force should Iran seriously violate the agreement seems a no-brainer. The president has promised that all options would be on the table should Iran break out or sneak out, so why not cut to the chase, remind the Iranians of what “all options” really means and relieve this president and any of his successors of later time-consuming negotiations with Capitol Hill.
It seems equally obvious that lifting sanctions changes a lot of geopolitical calculations in the Middle East and some rebalancing, including military rebalancing, will be necessary. That means more arms for our Arab friends and for Israel. And, for the latter, I would include (as former administration adviser Dennis Ross suggests) a promise of the “MOP,” the 30,000-pound bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator capable of destroying the hardened Iranian nuclear facility at Fordow.
President Obama said that Fordow had no place in a peaceful nuclear program. He was right. It’s too small to make enough fissile material for nuclear energy, but it’s big enough to make enough for a weapon. Fordow somehow survived the negotiations (in an admittedly modified, but still reversible, form).
I feared giving the Israelis the MOP. I thought it gave them the means and the temptation to put America at war. On reflection, though, when it comes down to whom to trust on Fordow, I’ve decided it better to bet on our friends than on our adversaries.
American forces are part of the military balance in the region, and their continued strength — threatened by the last decade’s ops tempo, today’s budget cuts and tomorrow’s threat of sequestration — needs to be assured.
Whatever the deal may or may not do to the Iranian nuclear program, Iran’s ability to do mischief through proxies and conventional forces will be increased by the ending of international isolation, sanctions and the arms embargo. That the Navy has to gap its carrier coverage in the Gulf now should make a prima facie case that the cost of any deal must be making the DOD budget healthy. Period.
In that light, we also need the ability to meter the windfall that will come to the Iranians from the future sale of oil should we see that it is being used to support terrorism, threaten Israel, bolster dictators such as Syria’s Bashar Assad or destabilize countries like Iraq or Yemen. Whatever the economic arguments for easing restrictions on American energy exports, they are now joined by the strategic argument that lower energy prices can help limit Iranian (and Russian) adventurism.
Within the nuclear deal itself, there are short-, mid- and long-term issues that need to be addressed, and they translate to the three critical components of a nuclear arms program: weaponization, delivery systems and fissile material.
The weaponization component is immediate: The IAEA is due answers from Tehran by mid-October on previous efforts to design an actual bomb and must report out by mid-December. Ideally, congressional action would be delayed until then since Iranian forthrightness (or lack thereof) will say a lot about how the overall deal will be implemented.
At a minimum, Congress should demand the administration publicly account for the access Iran did (or did not) provide to facilities, documents and scientists, and consider this accounting in any congressional decision to permanently end (as opposed to the president temporarily suspending) sanctions.
In the mid-term, at year eight, international sanctions against the Iranian ballistic missile program will end, an almost-inexplicable result of eleventh hour negotiations in Vienna since Iran had declared this off the table when the U.S. earlier attempted to restrict the program.
Congress should direct the executive to aggressively apply tough and broad secondary U.S. sanctions against any state, business or entity that assists Tehran’s ballistic missile program before or after the eight-year mark.
The long-term issue is the production of fissile material.
The Iranians will be allowed to deploy far more capable centrifuges in year eight of the agreement. Limits on the number of centrifuges expire at year 10. Limits on the quality and volume of stockpiled enriched uranium expire at year 15.
The president has admitted that by then, breakout time — the time needed to dash to a weapon’s worth of highly enriched uranium — would be near zero. This is more an act of faith than statecraft.
We wouldn’t concede these things to today’s Iran; why do we presume that tomorrow’s Iran will be different? U.S. adherence to this course should be conditioned on the totality of Iranian behavior over the next decade. Congress should preserve the option that if “that Iran” looks like “this Iran,” bets are off, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned.
Ideally that would be a product of the executive formally renegotiating the terms of the agreement. With or without that, Congress should express its will in American statute. That’s inconsistent with the deal that’s been agreed to, but the American president has characterized this as merely an executive agreement, not a treaty, and the Iranian president has said that it is not legally binding.
Even with these changes, the Iranian nuclear deal is far from a safe bet. But these changes will make it a safer bet, putting some steel — and perhaps some political consensus — into the way forward.
It might even have some staying power, representing as it would the will of America rather than just that of an outgoing president.
• Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the third of three columns on the Iran nuclear agreement.