Will the Iran Deal-Wreckers Prevail?

Iran appears ready to sign an agreement tightly constraining its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief, but neocons and other U.S. hardliners appear determined to wreck the deal, which could make Mideast tensions even worse, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Inflection points in the history of U.S. foreign relations sometimes are marked by new departures and new roads taken. But they might instead entail blown opportunities to take new and better roads, with significant damage resulting from the failure to take them.

That failure involves opportunity costs at a minimum, and other costs as well. We may be getting close to the latter type of inflection point, with significant danger that opponents of any agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program will succeed in wrecking the deal.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sitting next to President Hassan Rouhani and addressing the cabinet.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sitting next to President Hassan Rouhani and addressing the cabinet.

As of this writing the greatest chance of wrecking it appears to involve not what is going on at the negotiating tables in Europe but instead what the U.S. Congress may do back in Washington to sabotage the work of the diplomats. The energy for the Congressional wrecking ball comes, as it always has, from three sources.

One is a general need for a foreign enemy and a habit of viewing America’s role as one of militant and uncompromising confrontation with that enemy. This habit and felt need have roots in some broader American attitudes, although they are manifested most starkly in neoconservatism. Iran has been filling this role of needed enemy for some time.

A second is the strong opposition of the right-wing Israel government, with everything that customarily implies regarding American politics, to anyone making any agreement with Iran. This opposition serves the Israeli government’s purposes of fixing blame for regional problems firmly on someone else, of positing opposition to such an enemy as supposedly a basis for U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation, and of diverting international attention from problems directly involving Israel itself.

The third driver, which has become especially relevant the more that the Iran negotiations have become a prominent effort in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, is the determination of much of the Republican opposition to oppose anything that Mr. Obama favors and to deny him any achievements.

The heightened acrimony over the issue of immigration has made this even more of a factor than before, if that is possible. Amid talk about government shutdowns and freezing of all appointment confirmations, trashing of a diplomatic agreement with Iran would be done while barely batting an eyelash.

If the deal-wreckers succeed, we will have a negative turning point in U.S. foreign relations because the opportunity for any kind of nuclear deal with Iran will be lost for an indefinite future. The conditions that made it possible for the two sides to get as close to agreement as they now would quickly unravel in multiple ways.

The Iranian president would in effect become a lame duck, the influence of hardliners in Iran would rise, and credibility that had been built up during the negotiations would dissipate. The alternative to whatever deal emerges from the current negotiations would be no deal at all.

Having an agreement emerge during a lame-duck Congress was supposed to be the most sabotage-resistant timing, and it probably is. But expectations now are that what will most likely be announced this month is not a complete agreement but rather some version of an extension of the previous interim deal and a partial agreement with additional details yet to be negotiated.

This situation unfortunately will be an invitation to those wielding the wrecking ball to do serious damage after the new Congress convenes. They probably will take multiple whacks with the ball. There is, for example, a bill sponsored by the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, that is designed to get a hasty vote of disapproval of the agreement before anyone would have much chance to study it.

There also would be a push (most fervently from Sen. Mark Kirk) to impose more sanctions, which would violate the interim agreements and provide cause for the Iranians to walk away from the table. The fact that keeping the terms of the current interim agreement in effect would achieve the presumed goal of freezing or rolling back the Iranian nuclear program would do little to slow down the deal-wreckers.

Blowing the opportunity for an agreement would be all the more a shame because, according to the preeminent criterion of preventing any Iranian nuclear weapon (not to mention other consequences of an agreement), the choice between a deal and no deal is almost a no-brainer.

No deal would mean fewer restrictions on the Iranian program and lesser inspection and monitoring of it. Iran would have a much clearer path to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to take it, without an agreement than with one.

We are approaching a critical point in U.S. foreign relations. It is gut-check time especially for Democrats who have to decide whether they are going to take the responsible position for the sake of U.S. interests in the Middle East or instead be tempted into being part of a veto-proof Iran-bashing or “pro-Israel” majority.

Perhaps taking the responsible route will be made a bit easier by seeing how the opposition to an agreement has become increasingly and blatantly partisan, as illustrated by a hard-line letter initiated this week by Kirk and Marco Rubio that got signatures from 43 Republican senators but not a single Democrat.

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.)

10 comments for “Will the Iran Deal-Wreckers Prevail?

  1. ROB ROY
    November 24, 2014 at 15:09

    Conspiracy theory proven:
    “We are grateful to the Washington Post, The New York Times, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost 40 years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subjected to the lights of publicity during those years. But the world is more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries.” – David Rockefeller, Bilderberg, 1991

  2. Zachary Smith
    November 24, 2014 at 12:07

    A news story possibly relevant to this topic is the firing of Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Constantly mentioned replacements:

    Michèle Flournoy
    Ashton Carter
    Sen. Jack Reed (D., R.I.)

    The first two appear to me to be reliable neocons who will lean in whatever direction Israel points them. Reed gives the impression that he’ll be a generic ‘nobody’ like Kerry who does what he’s told by the BHO bunch.


  3. Abe
    November 23, 2014 at 14:24

    The economic sanctions and military threats against Iran are precisely designed to obstruct Iranian participation in Eurasian political, economic and military organisations.


    The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

    At the 2007 SCO summit Iranian Vice President Parviz Davudi addressed an initiative that has been garnering greater interest and assuming a heightened sense of urgency when he said, “The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a good venue for designing a new banking system which is independent from international banking systems”.

    The address by Putin also included these comments: “We now clearly see the defectiveness of the monopoly in world finance and the policy of economic selfishness. To solve the current problem Russia will take part in changing the global financial structure so that it will be able to guarantee stability and prosperity in the world and to ensure progress”.

    “The world is seeing the emergence of a qualitatively different geo-political situation, with the emergence of new centers of economic growth and political influence”.

    “We will witness and take part in the transformation of the global and regional security and development architectures adapted to new realities of the 21st century, when stability and prosperity are becoming inseparable notions”.

    Iran currently has observer status in the organisation, and applied for full membership on 24 March 2008. However, because of ongoing sanctions levied by the United Nations, it is blocked from admission as a new member. The SCO stated that any country under U.N. sanctions cannot be admitted.


    Five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) are distinguished by their large, fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs; all five are G-20 members.

    As of 2014, the five BRICS countries represent almost 3 billion people which is 40% of the world population, with a combined nominal GDP of US$16.039 trillion (20% world GDP) and an estimated US$4 trillion in combined foreign reserves. As of 2014, the BRICS nations represented 18 percent of the world economy.

    At the 6th annual BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil this year, the group signed a document to create the US$100 billion New Development Bank (NDB) and a reserve currency pool worth an additional US$100 billion. Documents on cooperation between BRICS export credit agencies and an agreement of cooperation on innovation were also signed.

    A press release from the BRICS Summit stated: “We remain disappointed and seriously concerned with the current non-implementation of the 2010 International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms, which negatively impacts on the IMF’s legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness.” Some analysts read the announcement of the NDB as a challenge to the IMF and World Bank.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said of the summit that it sought to reduce dependency on the U.S. dollar and strengthen the rule of international law: “In the BRICS case we see a whole set of coinciding strategic interests. First of all, this is the common intention to reform the international monetary and financial system. In the present form it is unjust to the BRICS countries and to new economies in general. We should take a more active part in the IMF and the World Bank’s decision-making system. The international monetary system itself depends a lot on the US dollar, or, to be precise, on the monetary and financial policy of the US authorities. The BRICS countries want to change this.”

    Indonesia and Turkey have been mentioned as candidates for full membership of the BRICS.

    Iran along with Egypt , Argentina, Nigeria, Syria, and most recently Germany and Bangladesh have expressed interest in joining BRICS.

  4. Peter Loeb
    November 23, 2014 at 07:49

    The US-Israeli relationship(s) are eloquently detailed by Naseer H Aruri in his brief
    book, DISHONEST BROKER….It ends at the time of its publication but the
    general outlines of policy have not changed in ensuing years.

    It is not possible from here to assess Iran’s goals in engaging in these
    so-called “negotiations”. The islamophobic orientation of the public and of
    political discourse in the USA has for years precluded any meaningful change in
    its Iranian sanctions.

    Were I an advisor to Iran—which I am not— I would instead begin to extend
    my nation’s allegiances with other Mideast nations and in particular with
    SCO, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization. This is a large alliance with
    a membership consisting of half the nations on the planet (US application for
    “observer status” was rejected) of which Iran is already a member. What Iran can
    give to other Eastern nations is unknown. It must be clear that their support
    is very much needed by Iran at this time as Iranian policy develops.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA

    • Abe
      November 23, 2014 at 14:39

      Dr. Naseer H. Aruri is an internationally recognized scholar-activist and expert on Middle East politics, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and human rights.

      His latest book is Bitter Legacy: The United States in the Middle East (2014)

      Aruri is Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science, having served on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth from 1965-1998.

  5. Rob Roy
    November 22, 2014 at 22:04

    If anyone should have nuclear weapons, it’s Iran, but they declared in 2003 to G.W Bush that they would never make any and sent him a ‘grand bargain.’ G.W. slapped down the Swiss diplomat who delivered it and wouldn’t ever consider it. Why? The neo-cons decided to take Iran, Iraq and Syria a couple decades plus four more mid-east countries after that. I read their papers on this at the time. Iran has never in memory attacked another country; the Israelis do it on a regular basis, attacking anyone aound them at whim (not long ago, they bombed Iraq, then more recently Syria…never hear about that in our MSM). Oh, yes, Mossad murdered five Iranian scientists a couple years ago. Why aren’t they on trial in the ICC? Iran should say to the U.S. and Israel about nuclear weapons, “You have them.” It’s a mystery to me why the Iranians never say that. It would be the first thing our of my mouth. This deal is not going through because the big money making business of the U.S. is war and selling war machinery/ weapons to everyone who wants them, and Israel just wants to bomb Iran for the hell of it. God, they just murdered 519 Palestinian children without outcry in our news outlets, because they can get away with war crimes any time they want to.

    • Abe
      November 23, 2014 at 00:02

      Perhaps Vladimir will be so kind as to dig up a few SS-20s, station them near Tehran, then say to Israel and the US, “How you like me now, bitches?”

  6. Abe
    November 22, 2014 at 13:07

    The myth of “U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation” has prevailed since 1967. The fact of the matter is that the Israeli’s turn tail and slither away whenever the U.S. asserts itself.

    The purpose of the multibillion-dollar Israel lobby is to ensure that the U.S. does not assert its national interest.

    To be sure, there is no lack of cash-hungry traitors on both sides of the aisle. But the fact that the Republicans think of Jesus when they’re on their knees and smile when they swallow pleases their patrons no end.

    There’s an old Chinese saying: A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip.

    The Israeli’s know a good horse when they ride one.

  7. DDearborn
    November 22, 2014 at 13:01


    And yet nowhere in this equation are the needs of either America as a whole or its citizens. It is entirely Israel centric. A more blatant example of the perils of allowing dual citizen Israelis by the thousands to work for the Government. All dual citizen should be barred from any Federal or State position. No one in their right mind can claim that the loyalties of any dual citizen are not always in question. The very nature of dual citizenship equates to dual loyalties. Clearly the loyalties of dual citizen Israelis (that is any Jewish American born of a Jewish mother) have always been at best skewed in favor of Israel. For the most part however it is far worse, their actions and loyalties constitute treason. Before anyone cries foul consider the following; would any of you claiming I unduly focus on the Jewish influences ever allow a dual citizen Palestinian, Iran or any other Muslim Middle Eastern country to become a Judge, Member of Congress or President? Based the actions of the Jewish population in general the answer is a resounding no. Which in turn merely supports my claim. It isn’t the rights of dual citizens to be government that Jews support. It is the right of dual citizen Jews that you support. And that is an indictment of considerable import on its on.

    • November 24, 2014 at 00:35


      With the influence that neo-cons and Zionist billionaires like Haim Saban & George Soros have in the Democratic party, and that the Republicans with their own neo-con contingent & Zionist billionaires like Sheldon Adelson now hold both houses of the Congress and John McCain will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee – and if Israel wants war with Iran (or at least a US war with Iran) it will get it.

      The American public does not like to change either horses or political parties in the middle of a war, so we are in for another decade of war for sure. Unless Russia does something to wreck their strategy…

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