How to Lay the Groundwork for Dismantling the Iran Nuclear Deal
Congress is now debating the Vienna agreement on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, but we already know the outcome. A bipartisan House majority has or will shortly reject the deal, as will the Senate if it can overcome a Democrat filibuster. If the two houses act in sync, and if a resolution of disapproval reaches President Obama’s desk, he will veto it. Congress will not muster the constitutionally required two-thirds majorities to override.
The grim reality, therefore, is that Obama will prevail. His Iran agreement will be implemented, with grave risks for the Middle East and the world, despite majorities in Congress and most public opinion polls rejecting it. Accordingly, opponents must immediately begin laying the foundations to abrogate the deal immediately upon the next president’s inauguration.
Proposals already being discussed for Congress to augment anti-terrorism sanctions against Iran could be worthwhile, along with state- and local-government sanctions (providing they do not infringe unconstitutionally on the federal government’s foreign-policy authority). But let us have no illusions: These will be essentially symbolic acts, emphasizing continued U.S. political opposition to the Vienna deal.
More importantly, opposition forces should play a major role in 2016’s election campaigns, especially for the White House. Candidates must demonstrate their resolve on Iran by making it the centerpiece of their national-security priorities, which in turn should be second to none on their overall policy agenda. Protecting the country is the president’s first duty, and voters should assess each candidate’s competence for this task with the greatest rigor.
Simultaneously, members of Congress should insist that detecting Iranian violations of the Vienna agreement be one of the most critical intelligence-collection targets. These violations have likely already begun, since Iran has never seriously intended to relinquish its quest for deliverable nuclear weapons, deal or no deal. Over time, Tehran has grown increasingly sophisticated in concealing nuclear and ballistic-missile activities, obstructing the International Atomic Energy Agency and generally obfuscating the issue. Detecting violations will therefore be difficult for our intelligence community and our allies. Iran’s evasions will not occur in now-familiar places like Natanz, Fordow and Esfahan, but in locations we likely know nothing about at present, perhaps even in other rogue states like North Korea. We will need increased intelligence resources, technical and human, and continuous pressure on the administration to keep its attention focused.
And we cannot escape the aftermath of Iraq. Our proofs of Iranian violations will need more than what in years past would have satisfied hesitant allies or skeptical neutrals. Opponents must therefore spend time stressing to allied political leaders in Europe and the Middle East, in or out of government, our concerns about Iranian violations. If, in 2017, we must act alone, we should do so unhesitatingly, but it would be preferable for our traditional allies to join us.
Unfortunately, one institutional obstacle to waging a vigorous campaign against Iranian transgressions is our own State Department. Over many decades, State (and the former Arms Control and Disarmament Agency) proved reluctant, to put it mildly, to stress verification and compliance issues, and to “police” violations. Even getting the bureaucracy to say the word “violation” has been a problem, with terms like “act of non-compliance” being a favored alternative.
Initially, the bureaucracy will argue that evidence of a violation is inadequate or ambiguous or (the chutzpah-award winner), after inordinate delay in coming to a conclusion because of endless inter-agency consultations, outdated. Even when the accumulated weight of intelligence makes it impossible to avoid the “v-word,” State’s reaction is to equivocate: It is only the first violation, to be cured by negotiation. Or the violation may be inadvertent, to be cured by negotiation. Or a deliberate violation may be minor, to be cured by negotiation. Even after multiple, serious violations, negotiation will still be the default response; after all, do we really want to risk entirely toppling this incredible diplomatic achievement when it could be repaired by further (brace yourself) negotiation?
Those who worry about the Vienna deal’s timelines for disputes over international inspections or resolving other operational issues haven’t even begun to consider the delays possible within our own government. Here, Congress must be unceasingly diligent in maintaining the heat on Obama’s White House to justify every detail of the deal’s implementation, particularly possible violations, as they unfold in the next 16 months.
One unknown that may not wait is the possibility that Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities preemptively, as it has previously done against nuclear-weapons programs in Iraq and Syria. We should lay the groundwork now to defend any such attack as a legitimate exercise of Israel’s inherent right of self-defense, and resupply Israel immediately so it can protect against Iranian retaliation, either directly or through proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas.
January 2017 is, unfortunately, a long time away. Nonetheless, there is critically important work to begin now to abrogate this wretched Iran deal, one way or the other.
John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.
This article was originally published by The Pittsburg Tribune Review.