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Triumph of hope over experience

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  • Michael Danby
  • An abridged version of this article appeared in The Australian
  • 17 August 2015

Forty million Americans now have healthcare. If I was an American, the President’s domestic policy, in this area alone, would impress me. Further, if I was to put myself into the shoes of the average American taxpayer, after contributing so much blood and treasure to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would be naturally reluctant to support action that might lead to further military involvement in the Middle East.

Yet I cannot support the current US Administration’s Vienna nuclear deal with Iran. Its proponents suggest it will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and argue that it will allow Iran to become a responsible regional player. This seems to be the triumph of hope over experience. Comments by Iran’s leaders since the deal was signed only worsens pessimism about Iran’s future role in the region because there is no discernible shift from its past role. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said just four days after the deal was signed, “Our policies toward the arrogant government of the US have not been changed at all.” And those who favour the deal have been trying to parse and downplay what Iranian chants of “death to America” really mean at rallies in Iran since the nuclear deal was initiated.

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Saturday, July 18, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers his sermon during the Eid al-Fitr prayer at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei said a historic nuclear deal with world powers reached this week won't change Iran's policy towards the "arrogant" government of the United States. The audience chanted ‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’

Leading US Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced he will not support the deal, as have other Democrats. It will not wash with me or other US supporters world-wide to characterise those who think that this sharp tilt to Iran is wrong, as supporting war. Schumer said:

“After ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it… If one thinks Iran will moderate … one should approve the agreement… But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.”

In 1979 Congress rejected the SALT II treaty with the former Soviet Union. This did not lead to war, but to a better outcome, including the signing of a much better treaty: the START arms control treaty, in 1991.

Falsely asserting that the only alternative to signing the deal is going to war is an obvious tactic to confront Congressional critics, including US Democrats. However, by weakening the sanctions regime, the US has removed its main bargaining chip. Progress to deep, real and fair disarmament occurred after the US Senate defeated the SALT II treaty. The START treaty showed the alternative is a better treaty under the pressure of existing sanctions.

Despite US Secretary of State Kerry’s and President Obama’s assurances, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif (pictured with Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah) says the deal will help Iran target Israel

This is a bad deal. Under it, Iran achieves its goals—to have sanctions lifted while retaining its breakout capability. Worse, it gained international legitimacy for its nuclear program. Even if one supported this unequal arms control arrangement, how could the P5+1 justify lifting the arms embargo on ballistic missiles after eight years and unlimited access to conventional weapons after five? All the while, the P5+1 refused to use the leverage that they had accumulated through the hard-biting sanctions in order to compel Iran to admit, let alone give up its ambitions for nuclear weapons. America compromised on the issue of Iran enriching uranium (and, in doing so, performed a 180-degree turn from its position before and during early negotiations). Since 2013, it even scaled back covert American attempts to hinder Iran’s nuclear project during negotiations.

Parchin military complex. Recent publicly available satellite imagery indicates Iran is sanitising it ahead of inspections. Please see what Iran’s hostile reaction to the Parchin issue means for the nuclear deal

Even if one was willing to turn a blind eye to the crossing of all our red lines in the Vienna deal, as Admiral James Stavridis (ret.), the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, the verification regime resembles Swiss cheese: “You can drive a truck through some of the holes”. Iran has been hiding nuclear infrastructure from the IAEA for years. And this deal allows up to 28 days’ notice for Iran to sanitise any area ahead of UN inspectors (though, in case that’s not enough, senior Iranians have been lining up to say that inspectors will not be allowed to inspect military sites). Obama’s assertion that any moves towards weaponisation will leave traces is false. Highly enriched uranium will leave traces, but not other give-aways of intended military use, such a neutron initiators, warhead designs and trial models of key components of a bomb.

However, the most astonishing thing I’ve seen in this whole debate is US Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to Kerry, pursuant to a secret side deal, the IAEA will agree to receive samples of nuclear triggers (explosives) tested at the Parchin military complex collected by the Iranians themselves! As Senator Tom Cotton said, this is like a football drug cheat being allowed to send their own urine sample back to the NFL.

The deal’s advocates say that if all the compromises fail, and Iran refuses to comply with its obligations, sanctions will ‘snap back’. But they won’t. It’s not just Russia or European countries that have vested commercial and military interests in not rocking the boat by “snapping back” sanctions at the Security Council level. With all those sanctions being unwound, many countries, including Britain, France, Germany, the US and even Australia, are salivating at the prospect of dramatically increased trade.

If the only problem of the Iran deal was that it, all but, guarantees Iran will become a nuclear weapons power whenever it so chooses in 10 to 15 years, that would be bad enough. But concern rightly remains about the benefits the nuclear deal will provide to Iran’s aggressive regional policy. It’s not just that lifting of sanctions will deliver Tehran a $150 billion cash infusion. The deal also sends the message that the international community is willing to live with Iranian regional aggression, including through its proxy groups like Hezbollah (classified as a terrorist organisation by parliaments all over the world, including Australia). As Walter Russell Mead said in his testimony to the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, “it is quite possible that the regional consequences of the agreement would be so severe that even a relatively effective nuclear agreement could be a net negative for American interests in the region.”

Saudi (and most other Arab) leaders snubbed even the prospective deal by not attending a summit with Obama before the deal was signed. Worse, from the point of view of proliferation, the Saudis have since hinted they need their own nukes.

Michael Danby writes in The Spectator about Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s turn to Iran. Click the image to read more

President Obama has made it crystal clear that his priority is this deal, whatever the regional implications.  If pressure is put on Iran over its prolonging of the Syrian civil war, its undermining of democratically elected governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, or its prosecution of civil war in Yemen, Tehran will hint it is rethinking its adherence to the nuclear deal, and pressure will quickly dissipate.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop became the first of her peers to visit Iran in many years. Since her mission to curry favour with Tehran, an intelligence sharing deal has been announced, as has Australia’s willingness to establish Iranian consulates in Sydney or Melbourne, even though this would exacerbate existing tensions between Sunnis and Shia.

Julie Bishop meets with Iran's president Hassan Rouhani

The great Churchill said, in an earlier era, that this strategy of accommodation was premised on feeding the “crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”. This Vienna arrangement is being voted on by responsible US Congressman and Senators. Hopefully with a vote on all sides, it will not be ratified. There are people of goodwill who have different views. President Obama genuinely believes that his pressure on his own legislature, as well as Germany, France and Britain was the right thing to edge Tehran towards less belligerence. It is infantile to support the deal because the current Israeli PM (who many people disagree with on other issues) opposes it.

Autonomous sanctions passed by countries like Australia and Canada should not be abandoned as they were prompted by illegal Iranian behaviour documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The alternative is not war. The alternative is a good dose of patience, sticking with the sanctions that bought Iran to the table in the first place. Rejection and sanctions can bring us to a better nuclear control arrangement with Iran, as eventually happened with the START Treaty and the Russians.


+1 #5 John-Michael Howson 2015-08-18 08:36
There are none so blind as will not see. It would be easy to compare this deal with the deal signed by Britain and France with Hitler at Munich which until now was probably the worst deal in modern history except we now have the hind sight to know there are some regimes you cannot and must not trust. Having learned nothing and knowing nothing Obama and his cloud cuckoo land policies can only lead to disaster. He and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have given a green light to Iran to develop nuclear weapons and get the return 150 billion dollars locked up by sanctions to the salivating Mullahs You can bet Iran, which has been financing terrorism since 1980, will use that money to create more havoc not only in the Middle East but in other regions of the world on their hit list. Worse still, Obama who seems to detest Israel has put the Jewish state in the most dangerous situation since its founding.
+1 #4 Reeva Lederman 2015-08-17 23:07
Very well put Michael. I hope some sensible decision makers read this.
0 #3 Arthur Pay 2015-08-17 21:24
Mr. Danby should be applauded for being not politically correct. He thinks with his head, not his heart!
0 #2 Paul Tesar 2015-08-17 10:42
Paul Tesar supports Mr Danby's postion
0 #1 Steve Lieblich 2015-08-17 09:05
Morton A. Klein and Daniel Mandel published a great article in the Washington Times over the weekend, providing 7 damn good reasons that the US Congress must block this deal NOW. See

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