Stephen Walt and the Phantom Iran Nuclear Deal
When it comes to the most asinine response to the purported deal between the world’s main powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, top honors to go Harvard University’s Stephen Walt.
Walt was the co-author, with his academic colleague John Mearsheimer, of “The Israel Lobby,” a badly researched, poorly argued screed about how a cluster of pro-Israel organizations have cajoled successive U.S. administrations into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t have done.
Paranoically obsessed with what he regards as the malign influence of Israel and its supporters, Walt has made it his personal mission to defend the Iranian nuclear deal. Like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he thinks it’s the deal of the century; unlike Netanyahu, he thinks the main beneficiary is not the Iranian regime, but the United States!
Hence Walt’s recent tweet: “75% of NatSec experts support Iran deal. So what explains Congressional opposition?” Great wit that he is, Walt added, “(Hint: maybe a powerful lobby?)”
Just who are these “National Security experts” to whom Walt refers? The answer is found in a survey carried out by the National Journal, a title popular with Washington, DC insiders. And, indeed, 75 percent of those questioned did believe the deal is a good thing—but with so many qualifications added, the notion of “support” becomes almost meaningless. As one of the analysts pointed out, “If it becomes the final deal, it’s disastrous.”
Quite. And to that, we can add that it’s a very big “if.”
The immediate question mark hanging over the Iran deal isn’t related to the objections of Israel and its congressional supporters, though important voices those are. Rather, the awful truth is that no deal has actually been agreed upon. At best, the Geneva talks yielded an understanding that Iran’s nuclear program has to come under more stringent monitoring in the near future, in exchange for a significant lightening of the sanctions imposed on the Iranian regime.
But because of the fanfare that the Obama administration deliberately stoked around the Geneva talks, governments and international financial institutions are starting to behave as though the sanctions have already been lifted. That is a problematic development, to say the least, given that further talks with the Iranians are to be held in Vienna this week. As Reuters reported, “Western diplomats said the experts must iron out nitty gritty matters of implementation not addressed in Geneva before the deal can be put into practice.” Well, if Iran’s mullahs are already reaping the rewards of an unsigned deal, and if most of the world thinks they have already been very cooperative, then they have little interest in going the extra mile to ensure that the International Atomic Energy Agency is able to carry out rigorous and effective inspections of their nuclear facilities.
The ham-fisted diplomacy of Secretary of State John Kerry appears fatally flawed not just in this area, but in others too. By granting Iran the right to enrich uranium, the principles articulated in Geneva violate several U.N. Security Council resolutions that insisted Iran had to end all enrichment activity. The regime’s reactor at Arak will remain operational, with every chance of producing weapons-grade plutonium in the future. Incredibly, there is not even an acknowledgement of the clandestine origins of Iran’s nuclear program, and therefore no mechanism for ensuring that the regime doesn’t start enriching uranium at secret sites like the one at Fordow, exposed in 2009.
Against this reality, President Barack Obama’s recent claim that “for the first time in a decade, we have halted progress of Iran’s nuclear program” comes across as hallucinogenically false. All such a statement does is deepen the suspicion that the president is quite happy for Iran to weaponize its nuclear program—just not while he’s in the White House.
In turn, that allows us to engage in reasonable speculation about the true motives of the partisans of this undone deal with Iran. For those like Stephen Walt, as well as organizations like the pro-Tehran National Iranian-American Council, the goal here is not to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear question. They are quite happy for Iran to have nuclear weapons, because that would involve Israel, a country they loathe, losing its military edge, thus forcing the U.S. to question the strategic wisdom of its historic alliance with the Jewish state.
That’s why it’s vital to remember that we have not, yet, arrived at such an outcome. And that’s why it’s equally vital to back Israel’s insistence that it be allowed to respond independently to the continuing Iranian threat—including, if necessary, through a military strike.
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.