When you write a column headlined “The worst agreement in U.S. diplomatic history,” you don’t expect to revisit the issue. We had hit bottom. Or so I thought. Then on Tuesday the final terms of the Iranian nuclear deal were published.
Who would have imagined we would be giving up the conventional arms and ballistic missile embargoes on Iran? In nuclear negotiations?
When asked at his Wednesday news conference why there is nothing in the deal about the four American hostages being held by Iran, President Obama explained that this is a separate issue.
Are conventional weapons not a separate issue? Conventional, by definition, means non-nuclear. Why are we giving up the embargoes?
Because Iran, joined by Russia, sprung the demand at the last minute, calculating that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were so desperate for a deal they would cave. They did. And they have convinced themselves that they scored a victory by delaying the lifting by five to eight years.
Obama claimed Wednesday that it doesn’t matter because we can always intercept Iranian arms shipments.
But wait. Obama has insisted that we are pursuing this diplomacy to avoid the use of force, yet now blithely discards a previous diplomatic achievement by suggesting we can shoot our way to interdiction.
Moreover, the most serious issue is not Iranian exports but Iranian imports of sophisticated Russian and Chinese weapons. These are untouchable. We are not going to attack Russian and Chinese transports.
The net effect of this capitulation will be not only to endanger our Middle East allies now under threat, but to endanger our own naval forces in the Persian Gulf. Imagine how Iran’s acquisition of advanced anti-ship missiles would threaten our control over the waterways we have kept open for international commerce for a half-century.
The other shock in the deal is what happened to “anytime, anywhere” inspections. Under the final agreement, Iran has the right to deny international inspectors access to any undeclared nuclear site. The denial is then adjudicated by a committee and other bodies – on all of which Iran sits. Even if the inspectors prevail, the approval process can take 24 days.
And what will be left to be found after 24 days?
The action now shifts to Congress. The debate is being hailed as momentous. It is not. It’s irrelevant.
Congress won’t vote on the deal until September. But Obama is taking the agreement to the U.N. Security Council for approval within days. Approval there will cancel all previous U.N. resolutions sanctioning Iran’s nuclear activities.
Meaning: Whatever Congress does won’t matter because the entire international sanctions regime will have been dismantled at the Security Council. Ten years of painstakingly constructed international sanctions will vanish overnight.
Even if Congress rejects the agreement, the United States is left isolated while the rest of the world does thriving business with Iran.
Congress needs to act in order to rob this deal of its domestic legitimacy. Rejection will make it easier for a successor president to reconsider an executive agreement that garnered little backing in either house of Congress.
It’s a future hope amid dire circumstances. By then, Iran will be flush with cash, recognized (as Obama said) as “a very successful regional power.” Stopping Iran from going nuclear at that point will be infinitely more difficult and risky.
Which is Obama’s triumph. He has laid down his legacy and we will have to live with the consequences for decades.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post.