On Iran: A Deal Without Trust

Secretary of State Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu

Secretary of State Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu

In a surprise move this past weekend, the U.S. woke up Sunday morning to an announcement that a sudden deal has been struck with Iran around their development of nuclear capability.

You can read the details of the deal, and many reactions for and against it, anywhere – so I will not rehash them here.

But I do have just one comment to make.

We have to remember the goal of this whole enterprise. We did not set out on this entire process just to be able to say, “Look, we negotiated with Iran!” and pat ourselves on the back. Or at least, that wasn’t supposed to be the goal.
Ostensibly, the goal of the negotiations to stop Iran’s nuclear program at this point was:

1)   To prevent an escalating nuclear arms-race in an unstable region
2)   To avoid a regional war – whether between Israel or one of the Sunni Arab states and Iran

So just for a moment, why don’t we stop the endless cycle of self-congratulations, and take a look at just how we did toward achieving those goals.
And here’s the deal – we now have a situation where:

    • Israeli leaders are overwhelmingly adamant that a terrible deal has been struck, that will not prevent Iran from getting the bomb
    • Wealthy and powerful Sunni Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have not expressed any support for the terms of the deal
    • Saudi Arabia is “refusing to deny” public reports that they are actively working to purchase nuclear weapons from Pakistan

So while Western leaders are busy congratulating themselves on a job well done, both Israel and the Sunni Arab states are both convinced that:

a)   This deal won’t work to address their worries about a nuclear Iran
b)   At the same time they can see that the West is busy shaking hands and taking congratulatory photos, convinced that they’ve solved all the region’s problems, and everything is now hunky-dory, and they can wash their hands of the whole business and stop worrying about it

So while both Israel and Saudi Arabia could theoretically hold off before – trusting that the U.S. and Europe are working toward a solution to the Iran crisis – now they have a situation where they believe they are no safer vis-à-vis Iran, and with the West no longer going to do anything about it (since, you know, we got a deal, right?)
Which means that we now have a deal that has left both our partners just as worried, but even less reassured, than they were before.
Now, let’s go back to those goals again, shall we.
If our goal was to prevent a nuclear arms race (i.e., Saudi Arabia buying nukes, and the region spiraling out from there) and prevent regional war (i.e., Israel attacking Iran) – on some level, it does not matter how good the deal actually is.
What actually matters is how good our partners believe it is – and whether they are willing to trust that the deal will bring about a real solution to their problem.
From everything said and written over the past few days, it is clear that neither party has any faith in this deal whatsoever.
If anything, now that they think that the West is washing their hands of this crisis, while they still feel that we are no closer to an actual solution – they are, if anything, more likely to start making plans to address the situation themselves, as best they can, having nobody left to trust in.
So I ask again – what exactly have we accomplished?