With the Obamacare fiasco threatening to engulf the President’s second term, the Obama Administration is hoping they have secured an important diplomatic victory in Iran that will help remind the country of his impact on foreign policy while his domestic agenda remains imperiled. The diplomatic victory being examined and second-guessed right now is the recent agreement between the United States and Iran that in a nutshell trades a loosening of the economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for reductions to Iran’s nuclear program. The New York Times reported on the deal here, stating:
At one level, the flurry of diplomatic activity reflects the definitive end of the post-Sept. 11 world, dominated by two major wars and an epic battle against Islamic terrorism that drew the United States into Afghanistan and still keeps its Predator drones flying over Pakistan and Yemen.
But it also reflects a broader scaling-back of the use of American muscle, not least in the Middle East, as well as a willingness to deal with foreign governments as they are rather than to push for new leaders that better embody American values. “Regime change,” in Iran or even Syria, is out; cutting deals with former adversaries is in.
For Mr. Obama, the shift to diplomacy fulfills a campaign pledge from 2008 that he would stretch out a hand to America’s enemies and speak to any foreign leader without preconditions. But it will also subject him to considerable political risks, as the protests about the Iran deal from Capitol Hill and allies in the Middle East attest.
The deal holds promise because it signals the first diplomatic agreement between the United States and Iran in over 30 years during a time when much of the world is anxious about Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons. Diplomatic engagement with Iran holds the promise of achieving important U.S. objectives without resorting to costly and bloody military interventions. The deal however does not come without risks.
First, by negotiating with Iran unilaterally and in secret, the Obama Administration has more or less assumed full responsibility for what happens next. Consider that with the Syrian debacle, the United States was just another observer on the world stage until the President’s “red line” speech promised American involvement in the country’s civil war; the situation ultimately ended with American embarrassment and a Russian victory.
By taking on the Iranian problem themselves, rather than allowing the international community as a whole to figure it out, America will be expected to act if the Iranians renege on some of the deal’s terms, or if the Revolutionary Guard in Iran starts rattling its saber again. While President Barack Obama has eschewed President Bush’s use of military force in the Middle East (with the notable exception of drone warfare), he seems to have embraced the former President’s desire for unilateral action.
Second, the terms of the agreement seem much more favorable to Iran, and the agreement itself is merely a stopgap measure. While the Israelis and Republicans alike would be expected to criticize almost any deal with Iran, consider the fact that Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer was upset by the terms. He said that the concessions were insufficient, and stated “It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table”; Senator Schumer indicated that he would support passing additional sanctions once the Senate returned to session.
Consider also that a number of foreign countries have denounced the deal, including Saudi Arabia and France. The French feared that Americans were being too lenient and essentially accepted a “sucker’s deal.” Also keep in mind that this is a temporary agreement that is supposed to last just six months; recent history suggests that it isn’t always easy to build upon temporary deals. This could represent a small first step towards a permanent deal, or it could be a mistake that grants concessions to the Iranians with no real consideration.
Third, the negotiations have an eerie pall over them because of the unflattering parallel to a different set of negotiations conducted over 70 years ago over the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. While the United States certainly has interests at stake in the Middle East, everyone knows that the most likely target of any Iranian nuclear missile would be Israel, not the United States. Like Prime Minister Chamberlain in 1938, the President has essentially bargained the terms of a deal that principally effects Iran and Israel without even inviting Israel to the table. While President Obama believes he is on the road to peace in our time, he may have made it more unlikely; unlike Czechoslovakia, Israel does have a formidable military, and could launch a pre-emptive strike if it felt threatened by Iran and abandoned by the United States.
This whole episode raises a series of questions about America’s role in international affairs and whether Iran can even be trusted in the first place to comply with any deal. Of more immediate concern is whether this deal is successful or not, and how it impacts relations with America’s allies around the world. While only time will tell for certain if the gamble pays off, it is clear that President Obama has decided to risk America’s standing and Israel’s safety on a secret treaty with one of the world’s least friendly regimes.
*Thomas Warns is a J.D. Candidate, class of 2015, at NYU School of law, Staff Editor on the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty , and author of the weekly column "Consider This a Warning."