In his 2016 State of the Union speech, President Obama claimed that his grand strategy of creating a global coalition, implementing sanctions, and then negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran will “prevent a nuclear-armed Iran” without resorting to war. Unfortunately, nothing in this statement is actually true.
There is no deal. Contrary to the President’s braggadocio, the Iranian parliament has rejected the 159 page text of the JCPOA that the world recognizes. Instead, the Parliament approved their own version of the JCPOA, more than 1000 pages long, which, among other things, strips the US’ ability to “snapback” sanctions, forbids inspections of Iranian military sites, and calls for the dismantling of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Leader Khamenei has endorsed this new version of the JCPOA, to which he attached some additional conditions.
The Obama Administration’s “deal” also does not prevent a nuclear Iran. As the President himself has admitted, the JCPOA even if scrupulously followed, would only delay – and not prevent – the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. That is because, as Gerecht & Takeyh explain, the JCPOA has “the distinction of being the most deficient arms control accord in U.S. history, for unlike all of its predecessors it promises an end to restrictions within 15 years. Historically, the objective of arms control agreements has been to impose meaningful and permanent limits on the other side’s nuclear aspirations.”
The JCPOA also contains plenty of loopholes for the Iranians to exploit. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) receives the anytime/anywhere access that is necessary to make sure no nuclear weapons work is conducted only for declared nuclear facilities, according to the Institute for Science International Security. This anytime/anywhere access does not apply to undeclared facilities and military sites. For the former, the IAEA can request access, but it has to wait possibly more than three months if the Iranians block them. This delay would allow the Iranians to sanitize the site. For the military sites, there is no IAEA access, with the partial exception of Parchin, where the IAEA is allowed to observe Iranian self-inspections. Needless to say, these procedures have been criticized as unique and risky by Olli Heinonen, the former IAEA deputy director.
Further, the “deal” makes war more, and not less, likely.
One major reason is that the Administration, in its zest to maintain the imaginary deal, continues to largely ignore Iranian aggression and provocations.
In the Middle East, Iran has expanded its support for a wide variety of terrorists and other bad actors. Iran provides approximately $6 billion a year, and Iranian troops, to the Syrian dictator Assad, who has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people. Iran has increased its influence and has sent its soldiers into Iraq, creating a wave of sectarian bloodletting against the Sunni Iraqi minority. Iran has also provided assistance and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fighters to Yemen’s Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that has taken control of much of Yemen.
The Obama Administration has also disregarded the “shadow of Tehran’s repeated efforts to humiliate the United States.” During the State of the Union, the President was very careful to avoid addressing the fact that Iranian naval forces were just then holding ten American sailors and two American ships hostage, supposedly because the ships had intruded into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. While the facts are murky, we do know that the Iranians reacted unreasonably towards the Americans, by threatening and detaining these seamen, and then presumably violated the Geneva Conventions (or international maritime law) by taking and publicizing demeaning pictures of their surrender.
Iran has also recently fired missiles in a “highly provocative” manner near a U.S. carrier, convicted an American reporter illegally held on bogus espionage charges (he was later freed in a swap for some likely Iranian spies), arrested two new U.S. persons, twice violated the UN ballistic missile testing restrictions on Iran, and continues to publically call for “Death to America.”
Only once did the Administration act to punish Iran. In response to the ballistic missile test violations, the President issued some weak U.S. sanctions on Iranian individuals and organizations. These new sanctions came right after the Administration had waived prior American sanctions, as per the JCPOA, and also paid an additional $1.7 billion to Iran.
Another reason that the “deal” makes war more likely is because the Obama Administration has provided tangible economic benefits to Iran through the JCPOA, and its negotiating process. Under the original six month negotiations with Iran, Tehran received $4.2 billion in frozen funds. For the first extension, the U.S. gave Iran another $2.8 billion. For the second extension, Iran was given $4.9 billion. The final JCPOA released another approximately $130 – 150 billion in frozen funds. The JCPOA also suspended international sanctions, which could provide Iran with another $700 billion over the next ten years.
Not surprisingly, when a rogue nation, like Iran, is rewarded for its bad behavior, then it continues its nefarious behavior. So, we have the situation we have now, where Iranian aggression and other bad acts have been incentivized. Thus, war has become more – and not less – likely. And indeed, as a result of President Obama’s assistance, Iran has already increased its military-security budget by 4.2%, and more Iranian aggression is clearly on the horizon.
The President’s grand strategy to “solve” the Iranian nuclear weapons threat is a complete and utter farce. In the end, the “deal” will accomplish just the opposite of what he claims it will accomplish. But when that happens, President Obama will long be out of office, and the problems the JCPOA creates will fall on the plate of the next American president.