Interpreting the New Iran Deal

The Buzz

The swarm of journalists killing time in the lobby of Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel can finally go home. A deal has been reached between Iran and the P5+1 (Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States) in the ongoing dispute over the Iranian nuclear program. It’s not a final deal--all sides say they want something more comprehensive--and it’s only set to last six months. Yet it’s a remarkable step forward. The Iranian nuclear issue had smoldered for a decade. The diplomatic process appeared useless, if not dead. Only three things changed: Iran enriched more uranium, the world imposed more sanctions, and the risk of war grew. The new deal stands in the way of all three, but its value is broader. American and Iranian diplomats were meeting openly, and were apparently able to hammer out their differences on an important issue. A little more trust between the two states could yield benefits elsewhere. And the deal itself isn’t so bad, at least according to details released by the White House.

Iran agrees to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, and to “dilute or convert its entire stockpile” of 20 percent enriched uranium within six months. This is reassuring. Taking a unit of raw uranium and producing 20 percent-enriched uranium from it requires far more effort than getting that 20 percent up to the 90 percent or so needed for a typical nuclear device. A large stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium would let Iran create warheads (if it chose to do so) relatively quickly. Diluting or converting Iran’s stockpile makes that take longer, giving monitors and intelligence agencies more time to find them out and giving international leaders more time to craft an appropriate response. Iran had previously resisted restrictions on its 20 percent enrichment--a worrying indicator, given the few peaceful uses such uranium has. A step back from 20 percent enrichment sends a more positive signal about Iran’s intentions.

More importantly, Iran agreed to significant restrictions on the centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium. The faster-working centrifuges that Iran has been developing won’t be used, and Iran won’t be installing new centrifuges. Iran has a lot of centrifuges that have been installed but aren’t yet operating, and the deal appears to keep those from starting up (the White House’s statement isn’t entirely clear, but it is clear that the number of centrifuges enriching will stay roughly the same). And Iran agreed to not build new enrichment facilities, a reversal from what they had suggested was their plan. More enrichment facilities would have compounded the diplomatic disputes, and they’d have made monitoring more difficult.

The heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, which could allow Iran to make a plutonium-based nuclear bomb, also faces significant restrictions. Meaningful construction will stop. This is a victory for the West--the previous round of talks had broken down after France took a tough stance on Arak, insisting that the interim deal include halting construction. Something like the French position appears to have prevailed, and while it might not have been absolutely necessary to get to this point as quickly as Paris wanted (there are other milestones later in the reactor’s deployment that could also have served as stopping points), it’s better than what we might have expected, even in a final deal.

Crucially, Iran made major concessions on international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. Observers now get daily access to the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, potentially giving swifter notice if Iran does decide to bolt for the bomb. They also get more access to Arak, including details of its design that had been kept under wraps. And Iran will make some disclosures that would be required if it signed on to the stringent Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a good omen since getting Iran to sign the Additional Protocol is a key goal of a final deal. But most importantly of all, the facilities Iran uses to make centrifuges will now be monitored, making the diversion of centrifuges to any hidden enrichment facilities harder. This will also allow verification of another element of the deal. Iran agreed not to build up a big stockpile of centrifuges while the deal is in effect, which would have allowed the nuclear risk to continue growing even as negotiators work.

What did we have to give up to get all this from Tehran? The U.S. will suspend key sanctions on Iran’s (already faltering) auto industry and on its trade in gold and oil; Iran will also get access to some of its money being held overseas. And some of the most controversial sanctions, such as restrictions on repairs to Iranian airliners, will also be lightened, while measures will be taken to increase Iran’s access to humanitarian goods like food and medicine. Lifting these restrictions could be win-win, since Iran and its apologists will have a harder time convincing the world that, a la 1990s Iraq, the sanctions are creating enormous human costs. Other governments will face less pressure to push back on the more effective parts of the U.S. sanctions regime.

The deal isn’t perfect. The West made major concessions on its old goals--once upon a time, the aim was “stop, ship and shut,” that is, that Iran would stop enriching uranium, ship its stockpile of 20 percent uranium abroad, and shut down the deeply buried enrichment halls at Fordow. In this deal, Fordow will still be running, Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium will stay in-country, and enrichment will continue. But Iran’s nuclear program and politics had long ago created facts on the ground that made “stop, ship and shut” unrealistic. It’s a loss for the West--had those goals been realized, the risks to international security from the Iranian nuclear program would have been smaller.

There are also some gaps. Long-running concerns about a military facility at Parchin that may have hosted explosives tests needed for developing a nuclear warhead have been put off to the final deal. And it’s not clear whether Iran will still be able to design and test advanced centrifuges, provided it doesn’t use them to enrich. If it successfully does and the deal breaks down, it might begin manufacturing a new generation of more advanced centrifuges several times more productive than the rather primitive IR-1s in use now.

The deal also puts a lot of pressure on international monitors and intelligence agencies to ensure compliance. They’ll need to assure the world that there aren’t hidden enrichment facilities or centrifuge factories. Iran is unlikely to let inspectors traipse around the entire country looking for these things, so the world may have to rely on satellite pictures, spies, and other imperfect tools to monitor Iran’s compliance. There are already rumors of hidden sites--an affiliate of the terrorist group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (the MEK) announced one just last Monday. These can be hard to verify, and even unverified can be exploited by figures eager to wave the bloody shirt against Iran. It’s hard not to see a parallel to the period before the invasion of Iraq, where hard-to-solve factual questions became severely politicized, ultimately allowing a march to war.

And there’s another challenge with the rollout of the deal. President Obama, in an apparent sop to those who want more sanctions now, stated that if Iran reneges, America will “turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.” The official White House fact sheet on the deal expresses similar willingness to raise sanctions if things fall apart. While the sanctions regime did a lot to get Iran to this point, it’s not clear how much more it can be expanded in an internationally sustainable way. Things will be even hazier if last night’s deal breaks down in a way that doesn’t turn all the key countries against Iran. Obama’s move to appease his critics may merely box him in, forcing him to take a step in a future crisis that could either escalate it or inadvertently gut the sanctions regime. And either way, some of Obama’s critics don’t appear satisfied. The Senate can bring a House bill strengthening sanctions to the floor if it chooses, and Buzzfeed reporter Rosie Gray tweeted within hours of the deal’s announcement that a senior Senate aide told her “the sanctions...will be voted into law when Senate returns from recess.” The administration has threatened a veto--a weapon President Obama has been hesitant to wield, and which will be especially difficult to use now, with Obama at the weakest he’s been in his entire presidency. If worst comes to worst--say, if his veto gets overriden or the sanctions waivers he’ll have to issue to implement the deal face serious legal challenges--the White House text does leave some wiggle room: the Western countries agree to “Not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.” (Emphasis mine.)

Finally, what happens when something inevitably goes wrong with the negotiations process? While yesterday’s agreement gives plenty of cause for optimism, there are too many players, too many variables, and tremendous pressure for everything to go as planned. If a final deal can’t be reached, the indefinite perpetuation of the present arrangement wouldn’t be terrible, as it does put obstacles in an Iranian path to the bomb. Living with this deal forever would be easier for us than for Iran, which still faces painful sanctions like exclusion from the international financial system. Iran certainly has incentives to come to the table with a serious offer in the next six months. But Iran’s leaders might face sabotage from hardliners, or might see Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei again push for a tougher line. The comprehensive talks could also break down in a way that makes key countries blame America more than Iran, endangering the integrity of the sanctions regime and potentially letting Iran off the hook. And this isn’t implausible. Even if Iran tries to hold up its end of the bargain, bad or biased intelligence like I discussed above could make key Congressmen think Iran’s breaking its promises. And then, as a congressional aide told Buzzfeed, “Congress will move forward because Congress believes that, at the very least, after six months, if Iran doesn’t do what we need them to do, Congress will drop the hammer...When six months comes up, the administration will have no leeway with Congress.” Some on our end might be too ready to toss a deal that isn’t so bad.

TopicsNuclear Proliferation RegionsIran

Good Riddance to the Filibuster

Jacob Heilbrunn

The elimination of the filibuster by a 52-48 vote is the political equivalent of the starting pistol for the 2014 midterm elections. Any lingering hopes that both parties would reach a compromise on the debt or other legislation pretty much went up in smoke. Still, there is an upside, at least politically. Both sides can potentially benefit. Each political party can whip up its base with the filibuster issue.

For Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who didn't wage much of a fight to stave off the demise of the filibuster, it provides a great opportunity to warn the Republican base that 2014 will be a decisive election. It will determine whether President Obama can govern as an uncrowned monarch—ramming through administrative decisions that Congress is unwilling to approve. Getting the Democrats to take the hit for ending the filibuster, at least for judicial nominations, also is a nice bonus for McConnell—if he becomes majority leader, then he gets to reap the fruits of Sen. Harry Reid's decision to go nuclear. There is no reason to suppose that McConnell would reinstitute the filibuster should he become majority leader in 2014. Quite the contrary. As Ezra Klein observes, Republicans may well profit from Reid's manuever:

The electoral map, the demographics of midterm elections, and the political problems bedeviling Democrats make it very likely that Mitch McConnell will be majority leader come 2015, and then he will be able to take advantage of a weakened filibuster. And, finally, if and when Republicans recapture the White House and decide to do away with the filibuster altogether, Democrats won't have much of an argument when they try to stop them.

But how great will the fallout be? Does a nuclear winter loom for the Democrats? Until 2014, they will have a relatively free hand in appointing judges and officials to Obama administration posts. The Democratic base will see this as an instance of Obama and Reid finally standing up to the obstructionist Republicans.

In truth the end of the filibuster may not be as big a deal as it's being painted by both sides.

For one thing, it will make Senate votes more, not less, important since the threshold will now be a bare majority rather than sixty votes. Blue Dog Democrats and moderate Republicans will come under more scrutiny, which means that extreme candidates nominated by presidents would put them in something of a pickle. It's also the case that the fact that the Senate can vote up or down on candidates means that the consequences of these votes will be more directly apparent to voters. Another potential reason for circumspection.

The mourning for the filibuster is misplaced. Both political parties have largely dodged governing responsiblities in holding up candidates for the judiciary. The Wall Street Journal notes that Democrats demanded sixty votes for Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owens, and a host of other nominees. Well, yes. But that era has had to come to an end. The only other choice is interminable trench warfare.

What's more, the notion that the filibuster could be restored to the genteel traditions of the past is improbable. Once unsheathed, the filibuster has proven a weapon that is impossible for politicians in either party to jettison. Instead, they have used it with increasing abandon. No longer. The filibuster will now figure as a campaign weapon for the GOP in its battle to dislodge Democratic control of the Senate. Now that Reid has raised political tempers even futher with his audacious move, Lenin's old dictum—Who, whom?—is starting to look increasingly applicable to America. Buckle up for a fast and furious 2014 campaign, which will serve as a referendum on Obama's last two years in office.

TopicsCongress RegionsUnited States

What Would the Gipper Do About Iran?

Paul Pillar

The distinguished career of George Shultz culminated in his service as secretary of state for most of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Shultz showed at the time his ability to discern Reagan's intentions better than some other senior members of the same administration. So when Shultz starts drawing Ronald Reagan comparisons, we maybe ought to pay attention. Shultz makes such a comparison with the current issue of Iran, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Iran may not be the most propitious topic for drawing lessons from Reagan's foreign policy. For most of Reagan's administration Iran figured chiefly as the opposing side of a U.S. tilt in favor of Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. That policy was interrupted and contradicted by what became perhaps the blackest mark on Reagan's presidency: the Iran-Contra affair.

Shultz recites several unexceptional, but unenlightening, maxims regarding how, he says, Ronald Reagan negotiated—such as “be realistic,” “recognize opportunities when they are there,” and “know what you want so you don't wind up negotiating from the other side's agenda.” No one should have any problems with any of that advice. But then Shultz presents a simple hardline posture toward negotiations with Iran, featuring the advice to “up the ante” if our side is not getting what it wants from the other side.

Shultz's advice has several deficiencies regarding today's situation with Iran—in particular, complete inattention to what goes into the Iranian side's bottom line, and to what may be unacceptable to Tehran, and thus unachievable at the negotiating table, no matter how much an ante is upped.

The particular Reagan-era issue from which Shultz extracts his advice by analogy is that of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe. The story he tells is that the Soviets initially had a bunch of those weapons in Europe and we didn't; Reagan upped the ante by deploying comparable U.S. forces; the Soviets then started showing negotiating flexibility, leading eventually to a treaty abolishing that category of nuclear arms. That's a true story.

But there isn't any kind of arms race like that going on between Iran and the United States. Indeed, focusing on arms balances helps us to understand the actual perspective of the Iranian leaders toward nuclear weapons. Those leaders know that even if Iran were to try to build such a weapon it could never come anywhere close to the nuclear strength of either the United States or Israel, with its large and longstanding arsenal of nuclear weapons, and that consequently one or a few nukes would be at least as much a liability as an asset. That is part of why the Iranians, rather than deciding to build a nuclear weapon, have decided to pursue a negotiated agreement with the West that would preclude them from doing so. Realizing all this does not argue for the sort of hardline approach Shultz recommends.

Shultz does realize that upping the ante in the current situation would involve enacting more anti-Iran economic sanctions, not deploying nuclear-tipped missiles. But he doesn't draw any comparisons with economic sanctions directed against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, although such a comparison would be more appropriate than his INF example. He might have referred specifically to the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was enacted in 1974 and was intended to use restrictions on trade to pressure the Soviets into allowing more emigration of Jews. The Soviet response in the first years of Jackson-Vanik was to reduce the number of visas for would-be emigrants, evidently to avoid showing weakness in the face of such pressure. A similar dynamic is at play in the Iranian case, as in many other situations. The Soviets continued to be stingy with exit visas through most of Mr. Reagan's presidency. It was not until the Soviet Union was falling apart that the floodgates of Jewish emigration finally opened.

There is a different, more fundamental, characteristic of how Ronald Reagan approached conflict with the prime adversary of the day. It is one that George Shultz could have been expected to mention because he saw this in Reagan, as many others failed to, when they were both in office. Reagan envisioned an eventual end to the kind of bitter, all-consuming conflict that the Cold War had become, and he did not behave as if the conflict would go on forever. Related to this outlook, he was serious in talking about a world that eventually would be free of nuclear weapons. An arms build-up in the short term was a means to getting to this end, not a goal in itself. (Reagan and Barack Obama have in common that they are the two presidents who have clearly articulated the objective of a nuclear-weapons-free world.)

Reagan approached negotiations firm in his belief that the Cold War would end, and that it would end in the not too distant future. Shultz understood this perspective. Inveterate Cold Warriors in Reagan's administration such as William Casey and Caspar Weinberger never seemed to understand it. They seemed to be content to fight the Cold War forever.

Rather like those old Cold Warriors, there are some who seem content to have hostility with Iran last forever. This tendency has multiple roots, including the goal of the current Israeli government to keep Iran isolated and estranged from the United States, and the psychic need of many Americans for a new prime foreign adversary now that we don't have the Soviet Union to kick around any more.

This is not how the Gipper would handle Iran today. Being realistic and recognizing an opportunity when it is there, he would seize that opportunity.  If he were to approach the problem the same way he approached the Cold War with the U.S.S.R., he would use negotiations not in an unrealistic attempt to attain the unattainable but instead to move closer to the goal of ending the new cold war, the one with Iran.

TopicsArms ControlThe PresidencySanctionsNuclear Proliferation RegionsIsraelRussiaIranUnited States

How to Stimulate Political Change in Iran

Paul Pillar

Those endeavoring to sabotage any negotiated agreement with Iran have shifted their arguments in interesting ways as events have successively caused their arguments to lose credibility. Once upon a time, well before the last Iranian elections and when there were no active negotiations to speak of between Iran and the Western powers, one heard the contention that the Iranian regime didn't really want normal relations with the West because it saw its isolation as an important ingredient in its power. The idea was that the more opportunity the Iranian people had for interaction with more enlightened parts of the world, and the less their regime could pose as defenders of a beleaguered nation, the less patience ordinary Iranians would have with their own backward political system and the less secure would be the mullahs' rule.

One doesn't hear that line of argument much anymore, now that the current Iranian leaders, including the supreme leader as well as the president, have demonstrated beyond any doubt that they do seek a better and fuller relationship with the West. The nay-saying has shifted to assertions that we might get a deal with Iran but it won't be a good one. We are hearing plenty of this kind of nay-saying right now, of course. But as the shape of a likely preliminary nuclear agreement has become known, in which relatively minor sanctions relief would be linked to significant, time-buying restrictions on Iran's nuclear program—and especially an end to enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level, which figured prominently in the lines that Benjamin Netanyahu drew on his famous cartoon bomb last year—the credibility of this line of argument has weakened as well.

Thus along with continued strenuous efforts to spin the emerging preliminary deal in a way that magnifies the sanctions relief and minimizes or overlooks the Iranian concessions, the saboteurs have turned to broad-scale denunciation of anything negative that can be said, validly or otherwise, about the Islamic Republic of Iran. Most conspicuous are Netanyahu's endless fulminations about how Iran is apocalyptic, medieval, messianic and in every other respect a perpetual heart of darkness. Some of those in the United States who support Netanyahu's campaign search for human rights transgressions such as discriminatory treatment of Baha'is, while others utter vague warnings about Iran's “hegemonic ambitions.” None of this entails any logic in favor of rejecting rather than signing a nuclear deal with Tehran. Not having a deal will not provide a whit of help, for example, to any Iranian Baha'i. It is all just an attempt to make any doing of business with Tehran seem distasteful.

The argument-shifting and departures from logic have made increasingly transparent how this campaign is about wanting to prevent any deal with Iran at all, not trying to get a “better” deal. The Obama administration, the rest of the P5+1, and the American public would do well not to be distracted by any of this. But we should think anew about the implications of the old argument regarding how more interaction with the West could endanger the existing political order in Iran. If Iranian leaders supposedly once feared a nuclear agreement leading to more extensive trade and other dealings with the West because this would undermine the basis for their rule, shouldn't we be optimistic about such secondary political effects, as a bonus beneficial consequence, if Iranian leaders nonetheless do accept an agreement?

The logic of the old argument has some validity, and there probably are hardliners in Tehran who are so wary of an agreement for this very reason that they are still on balance opposed to a deal. The supreme leader and others in the current leadership also undoubtedly have thought similar thoughts. But they also realize that the political standing of the current management will depend as well on economic improvement that only a more normal relationship with the West can bring. They evidently are willing to take their chances on long term secondary and tertiary political effects in order to cope with the here and now.

Those effects will not show themselves suddenly. It is not as if a nuclear agreement would mean that a nation in seclusion will abruptly become aware of what is going on in the outside world. Contrary to Netanyahu's assertions, Iran is not a medieval country where people do not wear blue jeans—as many jeans-wearing Iranians have been quick to tell him. But over the longer term the effects are likely to be along the lines projected by the Lebanese journalist Rami Khouri:

Just as Helsinki in the mid-1970s helped trigger in a nonviolent way the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire 15 years later, so would a rapprochement between Arabs, Iranians and the West create conditions inside Iran that would inevitably change its ideological configuration and allow a more natural resumption of historical evolution in the country, which is what a majority of Iranians seems to want. I suspect that robust economic growth and the absence of a confrontational relationship with foreign countries would allow Iranian forces of pragmatism and liberalism to expand their sway inside the country, and eventually – perhaps within 5-7 years – bring down the remnants of the hard Islamic revolutionary regime that still dominates the country’s power structure.

Iran has evolved significantly even during the three decades of the Islamic Republic. Although the evolution has not been all in one direction, most of it has been in directions that entail improvement from our point of view. Some of this evolution is due to the passage of time, in which a revolutionary regime that initially feared it could not survive without like-minded regimes surrounding it came to realize that was not the case. It is partly due to the practical need to meet domestic demands. And it is partly due to an awareness of what sorts of Iranian behavior internationally do or do not elicit cooperation and advance Iranian interests. More, rather than less, normal interaction with the Iranians is what will not just continue but accelerate these trends, leading to effects such as those Khouri describes.

This is the way to encourage political and social change in Iran. It is fantasy to believe instead that endless pressure will eventually cause pressured Iranians to rise up in revolt. In a Gallup poll taken earlier this year (even before Hassan Rouhani became president) that asked Iranians whom they hold most responsible for the sanctions against Iran, 46 percent said the United States and only 13 percent said the Iranian government. (The next most frequent responses were Israel nine percent, the Western European countries six percent, and the United Nations six percent.) The principal beneficiaries of endless beleaguerment are hardliners, not counterrevolutionary liberals. Those in the United States who wish, openly or tacitly, to overturn the political order in Iran have another reason to support the current nuclear negotiations.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Shahram Sharif. CC BY 2.0.

TopicsCivil SocietyDomestic PoliticsHuman RightsPublic OpinionPolitical EconomySanctionsNuclear Proliferation RegionsIsraelIran

A March to War? The New Iran Sanctions Straw Man

The Buzz

Does Congress have the ability to scuttle a potential nuclear deal with Iran? White House Spokesman Jay Carney thinks so. During Tuesday’s press briefing, he declared that, if Congress acts in such a way that a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is “disallowed or ruled out”, it could create “a march to war.”

Many Iran hawks have taken issue with Carney’s remarks, with John Bolton saying that "Neville Chamberlain would be proud.” However, a common feature of these critiques is that they mischaracterize Carney’s argument, by asserting that Carney believes that the imposition of any new sanctions on Iran would derail negotiations and prompt a march to war. Elliot Abrams, for example, wrote that Carney “called any effort to adopt additional sanctions against Iran ‘a march to war.’” Carney did no such thing.

Carney was not necessarily arguing against the imposition of any new sanctions; rather, he was taking issue with Congressional efforts to deny the president the ability to lift existing or forthcoming sanctions on Iran unless “a deal that is acceptable”, in the words of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is reached. And what would make a deal “acceptable”—to Congress, that is? Complete cessation of Iran’s enrichment activities, a hardline position that Iran has declared to be completely “unacceptable” and many observers consider incompatible with reaching a deal. Echoing Senator Menendez's position on zero enrichment, Senator Lindsey Graham recently told CNN that a forthcoming bipartisan resolution in Congress will require Iran to cease all enrichment activity and dismantle all of its centrifuges.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) has promoted a bill that would prevent any suspension of U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran until the Islamic Republic completely ceases its enrichment program. In other words, rather than receiving gradual sanctions relief as a quid pro quo for taking positive steps regarding its nuclear program, Iran must do all that is asked of it before receiving anything that it seeks to obtain from the negotiations; forget the incremental process of give-and-take and compromise that are the fundamental basis of diplomacy.

The issue, then, is not so much the potential for new sanctions per se—although the administration has certainly lobbied for months against any new sanctions—but the fact that Congress is acting to tie the president’s hands as his administration attempts to reach a deal with Iran. Obscuring this distinction glosses over the fact that Congress is doing all it can to meddle in the President’s conduct of foreign affairs.

Of course, there will always be some inherent level of tension and contestation between the Executive and Legislative branches when it comes to foreign policy. But rather than playing a healthy game of political tug-a-war, Congress is trying to tie the President's hands, and the result could be a real war.

Many pro-Israel hawks, like Sens. Graham, Menendez, and Corker, have united around the position of zero enrichment and assume that, as the sanctions regime continues to take its toll on Iran and is even strengthened, Iran will eventually be forced to accede to this position. Their logic goes something like this: pressure from sanctions forced Iran to the negotiating table, and greater pressure will force Iran to make a deal, any deal—even one that merely reinstates the status quo ante after Iran has devoted enormous resources to its nuclear efforts and suffered tremendously from sanctions for years.

The problem with this logic—or illogic—is that it is remarkably ahistorical. It ignores that Iran, rather than being in the business of being forced to take actions it would rather avoid, has historically demonstrated tremendous resolution in the face of great pressure—far greater pressure than what Washington and others in the international community are currently exerting on Tehran. For example, in discussing “the last time we fought Iran”—during the so-called “Tanker War”—Bruce Riedel writes that by 1987, Iran

was devastated by the fighting; many of its cities like Abadan had been destroyed, its oil exports were minimal and its economy shattered. But it did not hesitate to fight the U.S. Navy in the Gulf and to use asymmetric means including terrorism to retaliate in Lebanon and elsewhere. Even when our navy had sunk most of theirs, Iran kept fighting, and the Iranian people rallied behind Ayatollah Khomeini.

Sen. Menendez has argued that imposing new sanctions that cannot be lifted until Iran abandons all enrichment activity is "an insurance that Iran complies”. Hardly. The target of this and similar efforts is the White House, not Tehran. How ironic it is that Carney’s critics decry his “march to war” comments, while attempting to impose constraints on the administration that make war more likely.

TopicsSanctionsSecurity RegionsIran