Still Trying to Sink an Iran Deal

President Obama has vowed to veto a Senate bill pushed on behalf of the Israeli government that could sink negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program by weighing them down with even more sanctions, a move that could put the region on course for another war, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

In the long story of the evolving Iran nuclear issue, we naturally tend to focus on whatever is the chapter immediately before us. Right now that mainly involves the negotiation-subverting Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, which President Obama in his State of the Union address explicitly threatened to veto if Congress passed it.

But we also ought to keep a longer-term view of how opponents of an agreement with Iran have kept changing their tune and changing their arguments as their earlier arguments have become inoperative.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own "red line" on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Back when the Iranian president everyone loved to loathe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was still in office, the go-to tactic for opponents was to cite whatever was the most recent outrageous rhetoric that had come out of Ahmadinejad’s mouth, whether or not it had anything to do with the substance of the nuclear issue.

That tactic did not work so well after Hassan Rouhani replaced Ahmadinejad, although there still seems to be little hesitation in repeatedly going to the well of mistranslated vintage Ahmadinejad “wipe Israel off the map” comments. The emphasis has now become less on what Iranian leaders say than on what nefarious intentions supposedly lurk behind what they say — hence Benjamin Netanyahu’s “wolf in sheep’s clothing” formulation.

There also once was much doubt expressed about whether the Iranian leadership would ever want to negotiate seriously. Then when serious negotiations got under way last fall, there was doubt expressed about whether Iran would make significant concessions about its nuclear program. Then when Iran made major concessions in the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) concluded in November, opposition tactics had to be adjusted again.

The tactics in the wake of the JPA have taken several forms. One is outright misrepresentation about this preliminary agreement, including talk about its unbalanced and disproportionate nature — which is true, except that it was Iran that made disproportionately large concessions.

Another is sabotage disguised as support for negotiations, which is what the Kirk-Menendez bill is all about. Another tactic is the moving of goalposts, and in particular the deal-killing demand to end totally any Iranian enrichment of uranium. Yet another is in effect to change the subject and to pretend that the question is not the pros and cons of a prospective nuclear agreement but instead a popularity contest about the Iranian regime — and anything else it may be doing that we don’t like.

Netanyahu provided in a speech this week a particularly vivid example of complete abandonment of a previous argument that has been negated by accomplishment at the negotiating table. His centerpiece imagery used to be the famous cartoon bomb he displayed before the United Nations General Assembly.

That cartoon would be an excellent prop for describing what has been achieved with the Joint Plan of Action, with its end to 20 percent enrichment of uranium and elimination of existing stocks enriched to that level. Except that the lines on the cartoon are moving down, not up. As Joseph Cirincione has put it, the Joint Plan of Action “drained” Netanyahu’s bomb.

So Netanyahu is now arguing that what matters is not the level to which Iran is enriching, but instead the sophistication of its centrifuges. And he has changed his imagery to railroads.

Netanyahu puts it this way: “What the Iranians did, and this is what the agreement determined, is that they would return the train to the first station, but at the same time, they are upgrading the engine and strengthening it so that they will be able to break through all at once, without any stations in the middle, straight to 90 percent.” Boris and Natasha have been replaced by Thomas the Tank Engine.

Several lessons should be drawn from all this argumentative shape-shifting. One is that those making the arguments have repeatedly been proven wrong. Another is that much of what we hear from them does not reflect genuine views or any analysis but is simply flak shot up to try to impede or kill the process at whatever place it happens to be at the moment.

Yet another lesson is that the opposition will never end, no matter the terms of an agreement, because the opponents want no agreement at all. If it’s not one thing we are hearing about, such as enrichment levels, it will be something else, such as the particular models of centrifuge.

And if it’s not nuclear weapons, it will be other things disliked about Iran. If a final agreement based on the terms of the Joint Plan of Action gels, making it harder than ever to argue against the concept that such an agreement is the best way to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon, expect to hear more about how, with or without a nuclear weapon, the Islamic Republic of Iran is so bad that it must be kept pressured and ostracized.

Netanyahu laid some groundwork for such a future position in his speech when he said, “Now of course the Iranian threat is not just an unconventional threat.”

One of the unfortunate effects of the endless opposition is that it constitutes another form of sabotage. The Iranians may be understandably reluctant to make more concessions knowing there are elements on the other side determined to destroy any deal no matter what the terms, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what new arguments have to be conjured up.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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7 comments on “Still Trying to Sink an Iran Deal

  1. Rehmat on said:

    Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, Zionist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, repeated his decade-old claim that “Iran is just six weeks away from building a nuclear weapon“. Last October, the Zionist regime claimed that Iran was just one month away from building a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu’s latest lie came ahead of the next round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the so-called “5+1″ world powers.

    “An Iranian nuclear bomb was a lot further away 15 years ago when I started talking about it. It was a lot further away ten years ago. It was a lot further away five years ago. It was a lot further away five months ago. They’re getting there, and they’re getting very, very close,” Bibi said during an interview with FoxNews’ Van Susteren, on March 7, 2012.

    http://rehmat1.com/2014/01/30/bibi-iran-six-weeks-away-from-making-nuclear-bomb/

  2. nico_noor@yahoo.com on said:

    It gives me hope to hear that there are still Americans with enough guts to tell the truth. Now days, everyone is in a pocket of an entity, either foreign or domestic with no regards for our national interests. It seems like everyone in our government is trying to do the dirty work for others while ordinary Americans are bankrolling it with their blood and money. This act in any other country would be considered a treason and would be a punishable crime.

  3. Hillary on said:

    Israel was created by the Zionists with the help of the Rothschild Empire .
    It took many years of intricate planning for them to colonize Palestine and for Israel to become the dominant and ONLY nuclear power in the Middle East.
    Wesley Clark ( US 4 Star General ) stated not so long ago that the US is going to destroy the governments of 7 countries in 5 years as part of the “Project for a new American Century” which started out as the Netanyahu plan for Israel …
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha1rEhovONU

    • This Rothschild nonsense has been debunked long ago when this delusional conspiracy ranks amongst the more bizarre anti-Semitic ones that the Nazis, and the radical islamist states have tried to perpetuate.

  4. mirageseekr on said:

    I hope that as with Syria the American public has started to stop blindly following our politicians claims of “threats” and need for involvement. With the Snowden leaks Americans are waking up to the difference between national security and national interests. It is one thing to let your child go to war for national security, it is another thing to send your child off to war to protect big business making record profits.

  5. Anonymous on said:

    Foreign Office, November 2nd,1917

    Dear Lord Rothschild,

    I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet:

    “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

    I should be grateful if you would bring this Declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

    Yours sincerely,

    Arthur James Balfour.[1

    Palestine was still part of Turkey at the time.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      In a 1934 letter to the League of Nations, Edmond de Rothschild stated that “the struggle to put an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.”