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July 21, 2015 8:02 pm

Dershowitz: US Gave Away Better Options on Iran

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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President Obama defends the nuclear deal with Iran. Photo: Screenshot.

President Obama defends the nuclear deal with Iran. Photo: Screenshot.

The most compelling argument the Obama administration is offering to boost what it acknowledges is a compromise nuclear deal with Iran is this: it’s better than the alternatives. That sort of pragmatic point is appealing to members of Congress, particularly skeptical Democrats who are searching for ways to support their president and who are accustomed to voting for the lesser of evils in a real-politick world where the options are often bad, worse, even worse, and worst of all.

But the question remains: How did we get ourselves into the situation where there are no good options?

We did so by beginning the negotiations with three important concessions. First, we took the military option off the table by publicly declaring that we were not militarily capable of permanently ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Second, we took the current tough sanctions regimen off the table by acknowledging that if we did not accept a deal, many of our most important partners would begin to reduce or even eliminate sanctions. Third, and most important, we took off the table the option of rejecting the deal by publicly acknowledging that if we do so, we will be worse off than if we accept even a questionable deal. Yes, the president said he would not accept a “bad” deal, but by repeatedly watering down the definition of a bad deal, and by repeatedly stating that the alternative to a deal would be disastrous, he led the Iranians to conclude we needed the deal more than they did.

These three concessions left our negotiators with little leverage and provided their Iranian counterparts with every incentive to demand more compromises from us. The result is that we pinned ourselves into a corner. As Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute put it: “The deal itself became more important than what was in it.” President Obama seems to have confirmed that assessment when he said: “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”

Only time will tell whether this deal decreases or increases the likelihood of more war. But one thing is clear: By conveying those stark alternatives to Iranian negotiators, we weakened our bargaining position.

The reality is that there were always alternatives, though they became less realistic as the negotiations progressed. We could have stuck to the original redlines – non-negotiable demands – from the beginning. These included on-the-spot inspections of all facilities rather than the nearly month-long notice that will allow the Iranians to hide what they are doing; shutting down all facilities specifically designed for nuclear weapons production; maintaining the embargo on missiles and other sophisticated weapons rather than allowing it to gradually be lifted; and most crucially, a written assurance that the international community will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal. The current assortment of indeterminate and varying timelines agreed to will allow Iranians to believe — and proclaim — they will soon be free of any constraints on their nuclear adventurism.

Instead, we caved early and often because the Iranians knew we desperately need a deal to implement President Obama’s world vision and to enhance his legacy.

This approach to the deal — surrendering leverage from the outset — violated the most basic principles of negotiation 101. We were playing checkers against the people who invented chess, and their ayatollah checkmated our president.

But the real losers were those countries — our allies — who were not even allowed to participate in the negotiations. Virtually every Middle Eastern leader, with the exception of Syria’s Assad, opposes this deal. Nor do they feel bound by it, since they did not have a vote. The deal was imposed on them, in much the same way the Chamberlain-Hitler deal was imposed on Czechoslovakia in 1938. The difference is that Czechoslovakia did not have the means to defend itself, whereas Israel and some of its Sunni neighbors do have the capacity to try to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal — which the mullahs would use to increase their hegemony over the area and to threaten Israel’s security through its surrogates, Hezbollah and Hamas. Those groups would become even more aggressive under the protection of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

The end result of this porous agreement may well be, to turn President Obama’s words against his own conclusion: “A greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”

Churchill correctly predicted that the Chamberlain deal with Hitler would bring war. Let’s hope the Iran deal — based on deeply flawed negotiations — will not produce a similar catastrophe.

Alan M. Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of “Taking a Stand: My Life in the Law.” This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe. 

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  • The president and his minions keep saying “There are no other options” which is complete Baloney Sauce. They are merely using hyperbole to try and force Congress to accept this deal. There are ALWAYS alternatives (to quote our pointed ear friend from Star Trek). Option number one is to simply scuttle this deal and keep the sanctions going on Iran and see how much longer they can hold out economically. We should offer them NOTHING for a while longer and see then if they’re willing to give in on their end a bit more.

    This deal should have had “Anytime, anywhere inspections” since without it – what can we really guarantee about their nuclear programs?

    We, in this country, haven’t heard the president and his minions say “It’s better than the alternatives.” He kept at it this past week saying there weren’t any other alternatives, implying that the only option left was war. There are truly so many other options.

  • dante

    Dersh was taken in by obama, charmed by obama, fooled by obama. that’s the fact.

    and, as for obama, he was warned about the dangers of the agreement. he threw himself at the mullahs with his eyes shaded only by his own ideological prejudices and his own arrogance.

    obama is fundamentally a small-timer, a hot ticket in Honolulu, a sensation in Chicago, a big deal in DC, but well out of his depth with the mullahs. one can be certain that they could not believe their good fortune in having obama and kerry, the two self-infatuated rubes, mesmerized by self-image, on the other side of the table.

    little men. fools.

  • Joseph Feld

    As usual Prof Dershowitz is right. He supported Obama in the elections, so why didn’t Obama make Alan a behind the scenes advisor to the US negotiators? How could anyone in a strong position agree to give Iran 24 days notice of any inspection? Here in the UK Ofsted inspections of schools are either unannounced or else schools are given about one day’s notice to get their paper work together. Imagine hygiene inspectors giving restaurants 24 days notice before an inspection? Imagine the FBI or Home Office givng suspected fraudsters 24 days notice before confiscating their records?

  • Joseph Feld

    Everyone refers to Neville Chamberlain and Czechoslovakia, but it would be more relevent to mention that PM Chamberlain’s ‘Black Paper’ cut Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939 to appease the Arab oil states who opposed the British support for the Jewish national home. Chamberlain said ‘If we must offend one side then let us offend the Jews rather than the Arabs.'[Cabinet Palestine Committee, 20 April 1939,Cabinet Papers 24/285] For details see Sir Martin Gilbert, ‘Churchill and The Jews’ 2007, page 157 onwards]

  • ezequiel doiny

    Writes Bruce Thornton in Frontpage Magazine.

    “The point is not, contrary to Obama, that full-scale war is the only alternative to stopping Iran. An incremental application of force in response to Iranian intransigence and stonewalling during negotiations––destroying the Arak nuclear reactor, for example––would have convinced Iran that there was a serious price to pay for their obstructionism, lying, and cheating on their obligations. Those who preach “force solves nothing” should remember the 1988 Tanker War, sparked by Iran’s threats to disrupt oil shipments transiting the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran backed off when Ronald Reagan retaliated for a missile attack on an American warship by eventually destroying two Iranian oil platforms, two Iranian ships, and six Iranian gunboats. But once Obama made clear in word and deed that even a limited military option was off the table, the mullahs were confident that they could ratchet up their demands, pocket the
    sanctions-relief payola, and achieve their aim a little later rather than sooner.

    Of course, there would be consequences to such military actions, and no doubt the “world community” Obama prefers answering to instead of Congress would complain––a contingency that doesn’t seem to inhibit Russia and China from brutally pursuing their national interests. But inaction has its consequences as well. In the coming years we will find out just what the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran will be.”