I didn't really follow Netanyahu's speech to Congress, but since everyone else is talking about it, so I might as well throw in my two cent's worth. His (predictable) point is that the US should not agree to the current deal under negotiations because it allows Iran to have some uranium enrichment capacity, even if it is quite limited and subject to arms control inspection, because allowing Iran any uranium enrichment capacity whatever is an existential threat to Israel. This argument is not surprising, because it is the one hardliners have been making from the start.
The obvious question is, compared to what. Netanyahu apparently said that really, if we just hold out a little longer we can get a much better deal, in which Iran agrees to no nuclear enrichment whatever. Of course, there is no evidence whatever that if we just take a somewhat firmer line, Iran will give us everything we want. Or, as this article says:
He defines “a much better deal” as a deal that doesn’t merely freeze and inspect Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but dismantles it—completely. Furthermore, the deal should be written so that, at the end of the 10-year period, the restrictions shouldn’t be lifted unless Iran stops all aggression against its neighbors, stops supporting terrorist groups, and stops its rhetorical threats to annihilate Israel—in short unless Iran changes its behavior or (here’s the real upshot) changes its regime.Um, yeah, exactly. Wishful thinking is not a realistic foreign policy. Realistically, the options we have are (1) whatever deal (if any) we are able to negotiate with Iran, (2) war, or (3) allowing Iran to go ahead with its nuclear program.
Some people propose regime change as a fourth alternative, but there is no evidence that it is in the cards. Wishing the overthrow of the government is a fringe view in Iran, without any significant support (either in terms of individuals or of firepower). Even if someone did violently overthrow the Iranian government, there is no guarantee whatever that we would like them any better than what we have now. In short, regime change fits in the category of wishful thinking.
So, if those are the three alternatives and you reject (1), it is incumbent upon you to choose between (2) and (3). Thus far, no one is prepared to come right out and say that they favor war. But Netanyahu has made clear that he prefers no deal, i.e., letting Iran continue unchecked, to any deal that allows Iran to keep any enrichment capacity.
I can only assume that to Netanyahu and to many US hardliners, given the choice between cutting a deal that allows Iran some enrichment capacity but prevents it from developing nuclear weapons and having no deal at all and Iran actually developing nuclear weapons, they would opt for the second because at least they would have the comfort of knowing that they took a maximalist stance against Iran and were not complicit in the bad outcome.
All of this feels familiar. In fact, take out the name "Iran" and put in "North Korea" and it sounds very much like the debate we were having about a decade ago over any sort of deal with North Korea. Bill Clinton had cut a deal with North Korea that we would give them various goodies in exchange for shutting down its plutonium reactor and inviting in weapons inspectors. Hardliners of the same type denounced the deal as capitulation to blackmail. When Bush came to power, he made one of his top priorities ending this deal. Nor was he willing to negotiate a new one. "We don't negotiate with evil. We defeat it, " said Cheney. And listening to blog discussions, there is no doubt to my mind that to many people, not submitting to blackmail and not paying protection money was a whole lot more important than actually keeping North Korea from getting a nuclear bomb. And when North Korea did, in fact, set off a nuclear bomb, they weren't too happy about it (of course), but they
ultimately regarded the outcome as secondary. An unyielding stance was a whole lot more important.
So, in the end, I can't do much better that cite and link to this column from the time. Many paragraphs you can simply cross out North Korea and write in Iran and it will seem just as fresh today:
The Agreed Framework has been criticized on several counts. First, some people say that we allowed ourselves to be blackmailed by North Korea. This is true. However, given a choice between (a) shutting down North Korea's plutonium program in exchange for giving it some fuel and some nuclear plants that can't be used for nuclear weapons, and (b) letting it go forward with its plutonium program, I think that (a) is just obviously a better alternative. Paying blackmailers is never an ideal solution, but sometimes it's the best option you have.
. . . . . . .
To say that the fact that North Korea cheated on the agreement shows that the agreement was not worthwhile, you have to . . . think that the difference between a North Korea that works for years without being able to get enough uranium for one bomb and a North Korea that can extract enough plutonium for six bombs in twelve months doesn't matter.
. . . . . . . .
[T]he Cheney policy of not negotiating with evil is absolutely silent on the question: what alternative approach should we adopt? This would be fine if not negotiating with evil somehow caused its defeat: then we could simply wall ourselves off from all the evil countries in the world and wait for them to crumble under the crushing weight of our non-engagement. . . . The Cheney/Rumsfeld camp claims that they have a policy: regime change. . . . Well, I could declare that my policy will henceforth be to win the lottery, secure world peace, and cure cancer; but in the absence of any actual plan for achieving these goals, this wouldn't be a policy at all. It would just be a bunch of meaningless words. Similarly, like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bolton, I wish the regime in North Korea would change as soon as possible. It's vile, oppressive, and a danger to its own people and to the world. I wouldn't describe myself as having a policy of regime change, though, since I have no idea what I can do to bring regime change about. I don't see how that their commitment to regime change is any more a "policy" than mine.Only one thing need be added. Any time you tell a foreign government that you consider its existence unacceptable and that no deal is possible unless it ceases to exist, you can expect this maximalist policy on your part to be met with equal maximalism on theirs.
All things things need pointing out.