Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Iran Deal: Is it Skill, or Is it Luck?

So let’s get this straight.  Iran and the Great Powers come up with a deal whereby Iran agrees to halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections to enrich above 5%, dilute its 20% enriched uranium to 5% or less, install no further centrifuges, halt growth of its low enrichment stockpile, halt further reactors, and allow inspectors to monitor its actions and ensure that it is keeping these stupendous promises?!  And all it gets in exchange is limited, temporary, and reversible relief on sanctions that leaves the bulk of sanctions in place?!  And plenty of hawks’ knee jerk reaction is to denounce it as appeasement?!  

Yes, I know, what they really want is regime change, a subject unlikely to be brought about by a deal.  Well, that ain’t gonna happen.  There is no significant faction in Iran that favors the overthrow of their government.  Next!  If Iran hawks absolutely can’t escape a deal, they will settle for one that ends all uranium enrichment by Iran.  That is slightly more likely, but not a lot.  Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The treaty provides for inspectors of members’ nuclear programs to ensure that they are not being diverted to build weapons.  It does not forbid members from enrichingin uranium at all.  Demanding that Iran refrain from what it has every right to do under the treaty is just an excuse for scuttling any sort of deal so we can get back to demanding regime change.  And, I will add, I do not think the criticism is purely partisan.  A lot of people making it have been chomping at the bit for war since well before Obama was elected, and they include a fair number of Democrats, so I think we can rule out pure partisanship.*

So, looking at the actual deal, it is about as good as anyone could reasonably hope for.  No, scratch that.  It is a whole lot better than anyone could reasonably hope for.   I, for one, when they were closing in on the deal, was sort of stunned.  In my experience, deals of this kind just don’t materialize that quickly; they take motnths if not years to achieve.  What happened?  And then there was the Syria deal.  John Kerry makes an offhand remark about the only way for Syria to avoid bombing is to give up all chemical weapons, and within days it is doing just that.  (And, of course, the usual suspects denounced the deal as appeasement).   What is going on here?

To me, but obvious question is, is it skill, or is it luck?   My first response was to think, no one could possibly be that good.  It must be luck.  My second is to think, no one could possibly be that lucky.  It must be skill.  Well, it turns out, a lot of secret, back door negotiations preceded the Iran deal, so it was nowhere near as fast as it appeared.  And right now Kerry is hinting that a lot of back door negotiations preceded the Syria deal, so it was not as pure luck as it appeared.  I don’t know.  The back door negotiations strongly suggest that at least some degree of skill must have been involved.   But at the same time, it certainly made a difference that a less belligerent government was elected in Iran, which was pure luck.  And as for the Syria deal, there seems little doubt that Obama really, truly did intend to go to war and was given a more or less miraculous face-saving out.  Definitely luck.

Of course, there is a certain skill involved in seizing luck when it comes our way.  And its seems like an extraordinary coincidence that we started getting lucky so soon after John Kerry became Secretary of State.  So my provisional verdict is that it was a mixture of skill and luck, with a strong emphasis on the skill of seizing luck when it comes one’s way.  The real answer will come when we see how well Kerry’s luck holds.  If we just get these two lucky breaks, I will say it was just that – luck.  If John Kerry keeps getting lucky, I am prepared to call him our best Secretary of State since – well, I don’t even know who.  But no one could be that good or that lucky.  Or even both.


*Of course, if Obama ever did bomb Iran, many of the people who are outraged that he hasn’t done so yet would be outraged at him for doing so.

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