The BLOG: Politics

President Obama’s Iran nuclear arms deal a non-achievement

Today I read in disbelief an article, published Nov. 24 in the National Review, about President Obama’s nuclear arms deal with Iran. Recently, there has not been much mention in the conventional media about the heated controversy that rightly surrounded Obama’s high-priority efforts to reach some kind of tough agreement. But anyone who, over the many months of seemingly endless negotiations, followed the news reports and, in particular, heard the president’s trademark professorial mini-lectures about what he insisted were highly compelling elements in the plan, should be disturbed to learn that the plan is little more than a collection of ideas for hope and change.

What has come to light is that what President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have touted as a great diplomatic triumph is actually something quite different.

The product of the long negotiations is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The title of the National Review article is, “State Department: Iran Deal Not ‘Legally Binding’ and Iran Didn’t Sign It.” This article, authored by Joel Gehrke, reports on a letter received, apparently on Nov. 19, 2015, by Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) in response to his written inquiry dated Sept. 18, 2015 to the State Department. This reply that took two months to be sent was signed by Julia Frifield, Assistant Secretary, Legislative Affairs. In D.C., ordinarily a direct Congressional inquiry to a department or agency receives high priority. Clearly in this case either the State Department’s Legislative Affairs office was woefully (and rudely) inept and inefficient or, more likely, purposefully viewed the inquiry about the president’s nuclear arms deal as of very low importance.

The article’s title summarizes nicely what Frifield admits in her letter, namely that the JCPOA “is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document. The JPCOA reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China), and the European Union. As you know, the United States has a long-standing practice of addressing sensitive problems in negotiations that culminate in political commitments.”  She goes on to write, “The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose – and ramp up – our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.”

This revelation is at best unsettling, needless to say, given the reasons insistently provided by the Obama administration for the claims of strengths and success for the deal. As many expert observers of the Iran deal warned, the United States seems clearly to have made many accommodations to Iran in exchange for some promise to abide by the deal’s contents. That is to say that in the end the U.S. capitulated in agreeing basically to trust the word of a country that has relentlessly proved itself to be untrustworthy. These experienced Iran observers predicted that it would be much more difficult – in fact, unlikely – in a year or two to reassemble a coalition of our allies in support of an effort to re-impose sanctions if Iran defaults on its word. It is hard to see what justifies any faith that the deal’s conditions can realistically be enforced.

In this regard, the extension of trust by the U.S. toward Iran seems even more naively and dangerously misplaced given Gehrke’s explanation for why Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani did not want his parliament to vote on the nuclear deal. Gehrke quotes Rouhani from last August, “If the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is sent to (and passed by) parliament, it will create an obligation for the government. It will mean the president, who has not signed it so far, will have to sign it. Why should we place an unnecessary legal restriction on the Iranian people?”

Given these revelations, and given that Iran didn’t sign any deal, and has been allowed to decide when and where the inspections of certain of its nuclear facilities can be carried out, why shouldn’t we expect Iran to proceed in whatever ways it wants?

It would seem appropriate for the American people to be given at least an estimate of how many man-woman-computer hours overall were spent working on the process that culminated in the JCPOA, and also how many dollars it has cost the taxpayers to get to this non-agreement or, as is often heard in D.C., “non-binding agreement.” It seems that those many Obama observers and critics, who have for years bemoaned his inability (and unwillingness?) to negotiate effectively on behalf of the country he took an oath to protect and defend, have been right with their warnings about the weakening of our nation.