Capstones | 7.24.15
By Alan W. Dowd

President Obama is trumpeting a deal hammered out by U.S., European, Russian and Iranian diplomats aimed at halting Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. But before we usher in yet another era of peace in our time, let’s take a moment to consider a few things that aren’t in the deal but tell us everything we need to know about it.

The core problem with the deal is not in its details, but rather in the nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The president, hoping Iran lives up to his hopes, may believe Iran can be brought in from the cold. But the hard truth is that Iran is a revolutionary regime committed to using violence and terror to upend the established global order. There’s really nothing like the government of Iran anywhere on earth. Sure, other regimes make common cause with terrorists. But the men who run Iran have normalized terrorism into a basic government function—just like building roads and schools. This is not a regime that engages in terrorism, but rather a terrorist organization that runs a regime.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been waging a global guerilla insurgency since its birth 35 years ago. It engages in hostage-taking; sporadically threatens to close the vital sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz; provides weapons, training and financial aid to Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah; plans mafia-style hits against foreign diplomats; and trains, bankrolls and equips fighters in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Indeed, Tehran is deeply engaged in supporting Bashar Assad in Syria (shoveling between $6 billion and $15 billion annually to the Syrian dictator) and Hezbollah in Lebanon (sending $200 million annually). Moreover, the Iranian government has waged a proxy war against the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the blood of 500 American troops on its hands.

As the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently concluded in their National Military Strategy, Iran “has undermined stability in many nations” and has “brought misery to countless people.”

This disarmament deal will provide Tehran with more resources to sow chaos. As Dennis Ross, advisor to President Obama from 2009 to 2011, points out, the deal allows Tehran’s terrorist tyranny to “regain access to as much as $150 billion in frozen accounts in the coming year…it is inconceivable that the Revolutionary Guards won’t receive a payoff that they can use for aggressive purposes with the Shiite militias throughout the region.”

Disappointing Results

Equally important, Iran is a serial violator of international nuclear agreements. The list is staggeringly long.

In 2002, dissident groups outed Iran’s illegal, clandestine nuclear-weapons program.

In 2003 and 2004, international nuclear inspectors reported that Iran had breached agreements to suspend uranium-enrichment activity, including efforts to manufacture and acquire centrifuges. Also in 2004, Pakistan confirmed that A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s bomb, had shared his secrets with Tehran.

In 2009, international inspectors found that Iran understated by a third its stocks of enriched uranium. Also in 2009, an illegal, secret, subterranean nuclear facility ringed with missiles was discovered in the mountains near Qom.

When that evidence came to light, Nicolas Sarkozy, then-president of France, challenged Washington and the world to get serious. With refreshing bluntness, he detailed the growing dangers in Iran. “Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council resolutions,” he began. “An offer of dialogue was made in 2005, an offer of dialogue was made in 2006, an offer of dialogue was made in 2007, an offer of dialogue was made in 2008, and another one was made in 2009…what did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing. More enriched uranium, more centrifuges, and on top of that, a statement by Iranian leaders proposing to wipe a UN member state off the map…There comes a time when facts are stubborn and decisions must be made.”

In 2010, the IAEA revealed evidence of “undisclosed activities” by the Iranian military to develop a nuclear warhead.

In 2011, the IAEA concluded that Iran “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.”

When it was suspected in 2013 that Iran conducted tests for nuclear-bomb triggers in Parchin, the issue was not just papered over, but quite literally paved over by the Iranian military. The IAEA had tried to gain access to the facility on more than 10 occasions.

As recently as December 2014, U.S. agencies accused Iran of illegally acquiring components to aid in the production of weapons-grade plutonium.

And it pays to recall something often forgotten or overlooked: Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which means much of its nuclear program is suspect—Iran has enough oil to meet its current energy demands for 256 years—and all of its weapons-related activities are illegal.

In short, this is a regime that cannot and should not be trusted. No matter what the president promises, this deal does not allow for the sort of unfettered access and failsafe monitoring necessary to keep a dishonest partner honest. Treaties are only as good as the character of the governments that agree to them—or the unpleasantness of the consequences of breaking them. The character of the Islamic Republic of Iran is so low that the consequences and costs of breaking this treaty must be very high. Regrettably, that’s lacking in this treaty, which the White House refuses to call on treaty. (Congress, by the way, is considering the deal under procedures that turn the treaty-review process on its head, but that’s a subject for another essay.)

“If Iran violates this deal,” the president counters, “the sanctions we imposed that have helped cripple the Iranian economy…would snap back into place promptly.” That’s a good applause line, but there’s little substance to these “snap-back sanctions.” It took six years for the Bush and Obama administrations to cajole Europe, Russia and the UN Security Council into agreeing on economic sanctions against Iran. If/when Iran backslides, it’s likely the United States would re-apply its sanctions, but the notion that Europe or Russia would follow suit is fanciful. This calls to mind a telling insight about President Obama from former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, which David Rothkopf includes in his book “National Insecurity.” According to Brzezinski, the president “has this personal characteristic somewhere in his mind that articulating something and defining it is the equivalent of action.”

During the Great War, President Theodore Roosevelt repeatedly pointed out the “utter worthlessness of treaties” and how they “offer not even the smallest protection against such disasters.” Importantly, these words come from a man who believed in diplomacy, a man who negotiated important treaties that staved off and ended wars in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, a man who earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts. But years of experience taught him that “diplomacy is utterly useless where there is no force behind it.”

A century later, this truth remains unchanged because man’s nature remains unchanged: Bad guys do bad things. A piece of paper, a UN resolution, an international conference seldom can correct or prevent bad behavior. Always dubious of what he called “the conference method” of foreign policy, President Dwight Eisenhower noted that “We have had a lot of talks and some of them have produced very disappointing results,” soberly adding: “The pact of Munich was a more fell blow to humanity than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.”


There’s one other reason Congress should think long and hard about this treaty. If Iran has a terrible record when it comes to following the rules of nonproliferation, the United States has a terrible record when it comes to enforcing those rules and knowing when they’ve been broken.

Think about it: The State Department badly underestimated North Korea’s nuclear program in the early 1990s, and U.S. intelligence agencies badly underestimated North Korea’s missile capability in the late 1990s. The entire government was caught flatfooted when India and Pakistan crashed into the nuclear club in 1998. U.S. intelligence agencies were wrong about Iraq’s highly advanced nuclear-weapons program in 1990-91 and wrong again about Iraq’s largely-atrophied WMD program in 1998 and 2003—compensating for underestimating before Operation Desert Storm by overestimating before Operation Desert Fox and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

However, we don’t have to dig too deep into history for evidence of the U.S. government’s lackluster record on monitoring and/or disarming rogue WMD programs.

In September 2013, after Assad reopened the Pandora’s Box of chemical warfare, the president turned to Vladimir Putin for help. The resulting deal to disarm Syria, the president boasted, “represents an important concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria’s chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed…There are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”  Never one to miss a curtain call, the president added during his 2014 State of the Union: “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.”

Some of us had serious doubts about the Putin-brokered deal at the time. The intervening two years have confirmed those doubts. We now know that Assad has violated the letter and spirit of that disarmament deal.

For those who care to look—for those who care—the proof of the Syrian disarmament deal’s utter failure is everywhere. The Washington Post, June 20, 2015: “Barbarism with chlorine gas goes unchecked in Syria.” Voice of America, June 17, 2015: “Syrian doctors present evidence of new chlorine gas attacks to U.S. Congress.” The Economist, May 13, 2015: “The gassing continues.” Reuters, May 8, 2015:  “Weapons inspectors find undeclared sarin and VX traces in Syria.”

So, when we hear President Obama promise that his latest disarmament deal will “cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a…nuclear weapons program,” allows us “to closely monitor Iran’s program and detect any covert nuclear weapons program,” and “prevents the most serious threat—Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the record of his administration, the record of previous administrations and the record of the outlaw regime in Iran give us every reason to brace for the worst.

Capstones is the publication of the Sagamore Institute Center for America's Purpose, where Dowd researches and writes on America's role in the world.