A nasty political battle is being waged over the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Ominous television ads hint that it might lead to Armageddon, and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee accuses President Obama of "marching Israelis to the door of the oven." That despicable statement trivializes the Holocaust and likens Obama to Hitler; it also diminishes Israel, suggesting that the Mideast's sole nuclear power can't defend itself. On the other side, Obama does a great disservice to his cause by portraying anyone who opposes the rigorous but imperfect Iran deal as being an advocate for war.
Let's be honest. It's hard to be enthusiastic about an agreement with a regime that has a long record of lying, one that regularly shouts "Death to America," and which has been indirectly responsible for the killings of hundreds of American servicemen from Lebanon to Iraq. But Obama is correct when he puts things in historical perspective: unlike Iran, the Soviet Union was a true, existential threat to the United States, with thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at our cities and an open promise to "bury" us. And yet we negotiated with Moscow and even reduced our own nuclear stockpiles.
Iran doesn't have a single nuke, and the accord is meant to keep it from building one, at least for the next 10 years. The question that the deal's opponents, such as the Republican presidential candidates or Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, must answer is this: What is the realistic, plausible alternative to JCPOA that will achieve the same goal, short of going to war? I have yet to hear any credible answer to this question. Schumer said simply that we should go back to the negotiating table and get a "better deal." This isn't just naïve, it's preposterous.
The U.S. wasn't negotiating only with Iran for the past several years, but also with Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Each of these countries, some our allies and some our rivals, was operating out of their own national interests, not ours. As far as they are concerned, the deal is now done and the international sanctions against Iran will be lifted. The entire European Union and the United Nations Security Council have officially approved it, and Russia and China are already gearing up to trade with Iran. Anyone who says we can get a "better deal" will need to explain how they will get these five major powers to accept a new American position, re-impose sanctions that run counter to their own economic interests, and go back to the drawing board. Beyond that, the deal's opponents will also need to explain how they would get Iran to renegotiate a tougher deal, especially when Tehran's hardliners believe they've already given up too much with JCPOA.
And what would a "better deal" look like? The most vocal critics don't seem to want a negotiation with Iran, but rather a capitulation by Iran. Implausibly, they want Iran to cease acting like a regional power, and also abandon entirely its enrichment of uranium, something it has the right to do for peaceful uses. What Iran promises to surrender with this deal, which includes the toughest inspections in history, is the ability to weaponize its nuclear material.
Rather than rejecting and undermining a seven-party international deal (which would enable Iran to race to the bomb unhindered by outside inspections or international sanctions), Congress could instead offer legislation to shore up JCPOA and give American diplomacy a coercive edge. It could pass a bill authorizing the use of military force by the current and future presidents should Iran renege on its commitments. It could pass a resolution offering U.S. support to any country that might be attacked by Iran.
Many critics of the deal have sincere doubts and it's unfair to accuse them of consciously advocating war. But they have failed to offer a plausible, non-military alternative to JCPOA that would garner the much-needed international support in order to succeed. We should give peace a chance, monitor Iran's compliance, and keep our powder dry.