The historic diplomatic agreement with Iran, cutting it off at the knees, from building and deploying a nuclear bomb, does not make something impossible. Nothing does. Even were we to use all the airpower, naval power, and boots on the ground we could assemble to bear would not exclude a remote possibility that a small group of Iranians in a remote place might get the aid of another power to obtain a bomb.
The President admitted as much in defending the deal in a Washington, D.C. press conference today. They could get a bomb and present us with a fait accompli. North Korea, a regime far less stable than Iran, already has more than one bomb and the means to deliver it to much of the world. Three Presidents have been unwilling or have found it an unnecessary risk to take out North Korea’s nuclear forces. Very few if any diplomatic agreements meet with total capitulation by another sovereign nation state, and one with a will to resist like Iran.
Diplomacy is about obtaining all the concessions from an enemy that you can without losing the support of allies. This is what President Obama has accomplished. In his remarks, he kept coming back to the idea that the aim of the United States was to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. The executive agreement made by the President on our behalf, does not set four Americans held for so long by Iran free, it does not stop Iran from supporting terrorism, something that has continued unabated throughout the Obama years, the Bush years, and for the Clinton years to name a few. The agreement was about nukes. Our work to impede Iran from supporting terror, and to free the Americans continues. Iran may find that holding the Americans after such an agreement is bad optics for them politically, and diplomatically. I know I would make that argument in negotiations right now. But I am not privy to those negotiations on prisoners.
Diplomacy is also about the art of the possible, as is legislating. Diplomats must understand that they cannot negotiate with another nation without giving something to the nation they are negotiating with in return. We have a lot of leverage over Iran, but not so nearly enough that we can just tell them to do something and they do as we ask. Iran is, in point of fact, a sovereign nation state, a largely hostile state, with a strong military, and a large territory.
War, truly the only alternative to diplomacy, is so aptly described by Karl von Clausewitz as “diplomacy carried on by other means.” The goal in war is not to negotiate with an enemy to do what we want but to “compel” concessions from our enemies by force.
War has two main results: victory, or defeat. In Vietnam, and Iraq, the United States and its people have learned that defeat can be something short of conquest of our territory and people by an enemy. We can fail to pacify an opposing government or people, despite applying incredible and overawing military force.
War brings suffering and death to those who wage it whether in victory or defeat. The loser will inevitably suffer more, but the aforementioned examples included the deaths and maiming of thousands of our young men and women. We spent so much that was unfunded on our wars that in one case inflation was the result, and the other, where big time budget deficits were a result we have felt.
We could and ought to add Afghanistan to the list since no one I have heard about who has any credibility on what we have achieved there will admit that we have won. We have severely hurt El Qaida in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. We have interdicted it as it has sprung up in other places with some success. We are far more vigilant than we were prior to 911. But we have largely made a majority of Afghanis hate us without providing them with more security. The truth is that Afghanis are far less secure than when we intervened.
Perhaps the most shocking distinction between the President’s Republican critics, and the Administration, along with many Democrats, is how comfortable Republicans are with applying still more military force—war to a region torn apart by it. The development of ISIS is the result of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and an admittedly slow response on Obama’s part in fully recognizing the danger at the very beginning. And defeating ISIS will not come from America’s common practice of going to war with a blithe certainty that military force alone will always help. The Middle East is a minefield of diplomatic complexity.
Americans can always sense when we are truly in danger from attack, and when we are not. The most difficult decisions our Presidents, our diplomats, and our military have to make are full of bad options. Hobbesian choices abound. Magic bullets are rare. Making the correct judgment between war or peace, and how to apply our influence in the world is the essential stuff of diplomacy. It requires far more than what Republicans are showing us thus far.
The American people’s initial reaction to news of the successful negotiation by the President over nuclear weapons in Iran has been to support it overwhelmingly. Those poll results tell our leaders, or ought to tell our leaders, that those they lead, and those they serve, are tired of incessant war and the assumption that diplomacy is appeasement and treason.
A small perfecting adjustment to what is a good agreement by the Congress, thoughtfully offered, that does not sink it, but relies on a careful reading of what it in fact does, would not be totally unwelcome. But blindly attacking the agreement merely for election politics shows too many of our Congressional representatives, most in the Republican Party to be blunt, put political advantage over that of the foreign policy interests of the United States.
When President Nixon went to China in order to gain more leverage with the former Soviet Union on arms control our Congressional representatives, though sometimes critical of his actions, did not sink them. Nor did the left following the obvious result that Russian leaders had been stymied by what took place on our behalf at Reykjavik with President Reagan.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s the people who represented us had no trouble seeing the difference between election year politics, and what was, and remains to the ultimate benefit of the United States of America. SALT I and SALT II, the initiative to China, and Reykjavik all benefitted the nation. Obama’s nuclear arms agreement with Russia early in his first term has largely gone unnoticed. The Iran Nuclear Deal may be far more important if we care about avoiding war when we do not have to wage it. The agreement is strong, though not a guarantee. President Obama was so sharply correct when he asserted that the agreement will leave his successors in a greater, and not less of a more powerful position than has been the case until now.
Diplomacy as does war, requires allies. What we know, and what the President pointed out today, is that our ability to apply future military force against Iran, should it be needed, will be greatly weakened if the agreement is rejected outright.
For our allies in the world, and the opinion of the United States held of us by the world community, what Congress does will either compromise our influence still further, or strengthen it. By working with our allies so closely, the President has assured that whatever happens downrange with Iran will offer a future president more options, and more strength for having pursued and won a diplomatic agreement prior to any decision to go to war or apply force.
His critics have no sense of history, that larger picture that so instructs. Perhaps, if George W. Bush and his minions had possessed it, we would be far better off. No, we would have certainly been better off.
Let us first do our very level best for peace before we commit the flower of our youth to death and destruction, as we will be doing with Iranian youth in any rush to sink a deal and support a rush to war. Remember Iraq first. Support this deal first. Use diplomacy to increase our leverage first. I simply don’t want to see yet another generation of Americans or Iranians die for somebody’s corporate greed or political advantage.