The Flimsy Case Against Iran-Nuke Deal

Between Republican partisanship and Israeli pressure, the ranks of U.S. politicians and pundits opposed to the Iran nuclear deal are growing. But their arguments, including from Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Corker, remain logically flimsy and counter-factual, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has long given us hope for reasonableness even when he and we have been surrounded by partisan rabidity and a lack of reason. Corker was one of the few Republican senators to refrain from signing the Tom Cotton letter that lectured the Iranians on how they cannot count on the United States sticking to any agreement that Iran may reach with it.

When others in Congress were looking for ways to use new sanctions to torpedo preemptively any agreement on restricting Iran’s nuclear program, Corker was working on legislation to provide structure to Congressional review of any agreement that emerged from the negotiations. The initial version of his bill was studded with poison pills, but Corker showed the flexibility, working with acting ranking Democrat Ben Cardin, to revise it into something balanced enough that it was enacted with broad bipartisan support and signed by President Barack Obama.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It has been a fairly safe bet for some time that Corker would eventually oppose the nuclear agreement; with Jeff Flake, the only Republican senator who was possibly in play on the issue, having announced his opposition the other day, the GOP ranks in the Senate will be completely closed.

But still one might hope to see signs of well-informed reasonableness, especially as a welcome contrast with the bombast of the presidential campaign, in which those vying for primary votes from the party base are striving to outdo each other in denouncing the agreement with comparisons to genocidal ovens and the like. We will have enough to worry about concerning the future of the agreement and thus the ability to restrain Iran’s nuclear activities if one of those candidates, laden with such campaign baggage, makes it to the White House.

It thus is sad, but also revealing, to see how utterly weak are Corker’s announced reasons for opposing the agreement, at least those he can fit into the space of an op-ed. Well-informed reasonableness this is not.

Corker says that rather than ending Iran’s enrichment program, the deal “industrializes” it, whatever that means. Ending Iranian enrichment of uranium altogether was never feasible. The agreement severely restricts both the level of enrichment and the amount of enriched uranium Iran can stockpile.

Maybe “de-industrialization” is a term that could more aptly be applied to what the agreement accomplishes on that score compared to what the Iranians had been doing before the preliminary agreement was reached. In observing the terms of that agreement, Iran already has substantially walked back its program from what was taking place earlier.

The senator speaks of an inspection process that is “deeply flawed,” with “unorthodox arrangements” and “secret” agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In fact, the negotiated inspection arrangements are consistent with the Additional Protocol for IAEA inspections, and they conform to the usual practice of having individually negotiated procedures that are kept confidential between the IAEA and the member state.

The only respect in which the procedures are “unorthodox” is that they are more extensive and more intrusive than any other nuclear inspection arrangement, the most extensive and intrusive that any nation has ever agreed through negotiation to place its own program under. The constant and detailed monitoring of declared facilities is supplemented by inspections of any other suspect Iranian facilities through carefully drafted procedures that ensure that if there is any disagreement, the Iranians get outvoted and the facility gets inspected.

Corker then gets into non-nuclear issues in ways that are nothing short of strange. He writes that “we will be relying on Iran to help achieve our goals in Iraq, Syria and perhaps elsewhere.” So is he saying it would be better if Iran not help us to achieve our goals in such places?

He does say “this abrupt rebalancing could have the effect of driving others in the region to take greater risks, leading to greater instability.” The parties to the nuclear agreement have, throughout the negotiation, all stayed focused on the nuclear issue itself, and any rebalancing that results will hardly be “abrupt.” It also is hard to see how restricting what Iran can do with its nuclear program produces instability.

Besides, if other parties in the region are going to engage in risky behavior that is a problem with them, not with Iran, and such behavior needs to be addressed directly. Corker tries to tie this confused set of issues back to the agreement by saying that Iranian awareness of all this “helped the regime continually erode the deal to its benefit.” Erode from what?

The obligations in this agreement, other than reducing the punishment of Iran, are all obligations for Iran to fulfill. The starting point, before negotiations began, was an Iranian nuclear program subject to no restrictions at all beyond Iran’s basic obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Corker tries to cast a general aspersion on the negotiations by stating that “since negotiations began in earnest” all sorts of nasty things have happened in the region that involve Iran in some way: that Iran has “doubled down on its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” and “cemented Hezbollah as an expeditionary shock force” while lots of people have died in the Syrian civil war and ISIS has been doing bad things in Iraq.

Nothing whatever is provided in the way of either evidence or reasoning that any of this has anything to do with either the negotiations or the agreement that emerged from them. Besides the absence of logic and evidence, this blurt contradicts Corker’s use in the next paragraph of the now shop-worn theme that sanctions relief will give the Iranians “hundreds of billions of dollars”, a gross overestimate, to do those proverbially nefarious things in the region.

If that theme were valid, i.e., that Iran’s regional policy will be dictated by its available financial resources, then we should have seen a reduction in Iranian regional activity when the sanctions began to bite, and a further reduction when oil prices plunged. But Corker, in his effort to suggest that bad things happen whenever one negotiates with Iranians, is telling us that the opposite has occurred.

In fact, if there is any pattern at all in Iranian regional activity over the last several years it is that the activity is reactive, with the Iranians responding to civil wars or the emergence of extremist mini-states or and any other events that affect Iranian interests.

Corker winds up by talking about “leverage” as if the more sanctions that are in place, the more leverage we have. That represents a fundamental misunderstanding, or misrepresentation, of leverage and where it comes from. Leverage comes from the ability and prospect to reward someone if they do as we want or to punish them if they were to act contrary to our wishes.

The prospect of sanctions relief is what gave our side the leverage to induce Iran to agree to place its nuclear program under extraordinary restrictions. The prospect of re-imposition of sanctions will be one of the incentives (though not the only one) for the Iranians to abide by their obligations in the agreement. Sanctions per se give us no leverage. The belief that sanctions will stay in place no matter what gives Iran no incentive to concede, to comply, or to do anything else in accordance with our wishes.

Bob Corker has an important role to play in Congressional oversight of implementation of the nuclear agreement, especially assuming continued Republican control of the Senate and thus continuation of Corker’s chairmanship of the foreign relations committee. He can still play that role positively and constructively. He has been responsible enough and careful enough not to tie himself in the kind of constraining rhetorical knots that several of the presidential candidates have.

Let us hope that he can discard the crummy arguments and, once the agreement is implemented, perform his oversight function vigorously. Meanwhile, his posture on the agreement is a demonstration of just how weak the arguments against it are.

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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19 comments for “The Flimsy Case Against Iran-Nuke Deal

  1. gary schnell
    August 20, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    there is nothing at all “orthodox” about a country doing its own inspection. If the Parchin site has no nuclear material, why the fuss from Iran about who inspects this? Why is this a side deal? How can it be maintained that this deal allows for control when Iran is allowed to inspect its own site? Why is anyone who questions this considered a Zionist? What consistency is there by those who demand gun control laws in the U.S., but maintain nothing should be said on the international scene about who has nuclear arms capacity? Is it ok for a country that verbalizes death to America and the end of Israel to have the capacity to have a nuclear weapon by which they might accomplish one or both of those ends?

    • Bob Loblaw
      August 21, 2015 at 2:33 pm

      Answers in order of those you posed;

      The fuss is to keep spies out of sensitive military operations. “Inspections”, particularly surprise inspections are a ruse to snoop.

      I have not looked into why it is a “side deal”, what is that supposed to mean anyway?

      Having an escort to keep inspectors inspecting instead of spying is the only way these will ever be acceptable.

      Zionism is the deadly hand within the Israel glove, we see Israel, the perfect victim(Netanyahu’s term) who allegedly is at an existential crises because Iran allegedly wants to wipe them off the map. Hidden is the hand that feeds us propaganda and kills 1000 Palestinians for every Israeli death. This hand owns Congress through the Israel Lobby, and only recently has it been permissible to even speak of this.

      Gun control laws notwithstanding, the Nuclear non-Proliferation agreement has been signed by Iran but Israel refuses to sign. Just who is justified here?

      The last answer is one you would agree with; of course NO it is not OK for a country that allegedly does what you state. But of course this deal may not prevent Iran from “getting the bomb” in perpetuity, it certainly will slow them down to near incapability. Only lies from Netanyahu, and American neocons and other parties who’s interest depend on further instability say otherwise.

  2. SM Campbell
    August 20, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Hello:

    I’d love to see Mr. Pillar or Parry comment on this article {a regurgitation from AP}:

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-08-20/iran-allowed-self-inspect-its-nuclear-sites-remarkably-naive-and-reckless-un

    I simply don’t know as much as I wish I did about the Iran deal but here’s my read: The Parchin site is military, has no nuclear material at all, and the “signs of cleanup” were provided by Mr. Albright on behalf of Likud.

    Basically, they were thought to have previously tested high explosive there – Parchin – I don’t believe there was ever any question of nuclear material being there.

    I believe the nuclear issue is basically a ruse – Likud wants regime change in Iran and so do American militarists, for different reasons, of course, but the end game is to destroy Iran as a military or economic rival. The nuke issue has some legitimacy, but is primarily a smokescreen -meaning *nothing* Iran did would satisfy the neocons.

    I’m taking the time to comment because I believe that this article and the AP story shows clear signs of being written to convey a false idea. In other words – very careful, very good propaganda.

    Presuming no one has time/inclination to really address it in detail, any response here would be very much appreciated!

    – SM Campbell

    • sm campbell
      August 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      you know what – the good old ZH crowd was a step ahead of me, or rather antiwar.com was.

      http://news.antiwar.com/2015/08/19/bogus-ap-claim-of-iran-self-inspection-at-parchin-fuels-condemnation/

    • Zachary Smith
      August 20, 2015 at 11:42 pm

      Perhaps you’ve overlooked that the propagandists for the shitty little state of Israel are engaged in a humongous propaganda campaign in an attempt to either destroy the Iran deal or to increase the amount of US taxpayer money they’re going to get from the gutless BHO administration.

      “LIES” are involved here, and your link reminds me why I took down the Zero Hedge bookmark years ago. They just aren’t trustworthy.

      http://www.vox.com/2015/8/20/9182185/ap-iran-inspections-parchin

      The way I understand the matter is this: the Iranians rightfully objected to the unhindered access of potential spies to their sensitive installations. The deal seems to be that the UN fellows are allowed in, but only in the company of Iranians. It’s not beyond conjecture that the Iranians do the actual sample-taking to avoid the issue of the UN boys “salting” the samples. That’s a very old trick used in US gold mines going a long ways back.

  3. SM Campbell
    August 20, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    I’d love to see Mr. Pillar or Parry comment on this article {a regurgitation from AP}:

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-08-20/iran-allowed-self-inspect-its-nuclear-sites-remarkably-naive-and-reckless-un

    I simply don’t know as much as I wish I did about the Iran deal but here’s my read: The Parchin site is military, has no nuclear material at all, and the “signs of cleanup” were provided by Mr. Albright on behalf of Likud.

    Basically, they were thought to have previously tested high explosive there – Parchin – I don’t believe there was ever any question of nuclear material being there.

    I believe the nuclear issue is basically a ruse – Likud wants regime change in Iran and so do American militarists, for different reasons, of course, but the end game is to destroy Iran as a military or economic rival. The nuke issue has some legitimacy, but is primarily a smokescreen -meaning *nothing* Iran did would satisfy the neocons.

    I’m taking the time to comment because I believe that this article and the AP story shows clear signs of being written to convey a false idea. In other words – very careful, very good propaganda.

    Presuming no one has time/inclination to really address it in detail, any response here would be very much appreciated!

    – SM Campbell

  4. Drew Hunkins
    August 20, 2015 at 10:20 am

    This is ultimately going to be a close vote.

    The Zionist power configuration is really pulling out all the stops in sabotaging the deal. A somewhat under reported story over the last few months is the intense browbeating and high pressure visits and phone calls pro-Israel zealots have been paying to congressional staffers and congresspersons.

    The Iran nuke deal is arguably the finest achievement the flaccid and supine Obama has accomplished in his entire presidency. Credit should be given where credit is due. It took Obama 6 years to finally figure out the behind the scenes power plays and major players in Washington foreign policy circles.

    • Peter Loeb
      August 21, 2015 at 11:32 am

      REDUNDANCY

      I agree with Mr. Drew Hunkins . Well said with only a caveat:
      Noting my comment above(“Arguments Don’t Count—
      Votes Do”) I am not sure how close the vote will be either way.

      —Peter Loeb, Bost, M, USA

  5. Dosamuno
    August 20, 2015 at 8:54 am

    As someone who lived with the fear of annihilation during The Cuban Missile Crisis, who still shudders at the images and descriptions of John Hershey’s terrifying book, Hiroshima, and someone who knows the dangers of so-called peaceful uses of nuclear energy, I do not want nuclear power plants to proliferate.

    Leakage of toxins into the air and water by nuclear power plants is routine. Tritium, radioactive iodine, and cesium are three of the most common poisons that are emitted by plants. The effects of these terrible chemicals are easily researched.

    Plutonium, which has a half life of 40,000 years, is toxic for about half a million years. According to Helen Caldecott, it is the most toxic substance in the universe. A millionth of a gram can cause lung cancer. No solution has yet been found for its safe long term storage

    Nuclear energy is not green energy. Every step in the process of operating a nuclear power plant from uranium mining to the storage of highly dangerous waste material is polluting and dangerous as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima have demonstrated.

    Nevertheless, this being said, I cannot understand the hysteria surrounding Iran’s nuclear energy program. I wish the country didn’t have such a program, but in a world in which lunatic theocracies like Israel, Pakistan, and (one nation under God) The United States have nuclear arsenals, how much worse would the situation be if Iran had nuclear power plants or even the bomb? Their foreign policy has been much less aggressive than that of the Zionist loonies or the United States which obliterated hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I wouldn’t piss on Obama or Carey if their hearts were on fire, but if these two proponents of American Exceptionalism approved a treaty with Iran, I seriously doubt that it’s unilaterally advantageous for Iran.

    The people who oppose the treaty with Iran are Zionists, flag waving Crusaders, and ignoramuses.

    • jifster
      August 20, 2015 at 6:27 pm

      So, Dosamuno (what’s the matter, didn’t have the poop to make it all the way to Tresamuno?), you did just fine in your all-important comment, except for your penultimate paragraph!
      I’ve never really thought much (or at all, really) about pissing on Obama, cardiac conflagration or not, and it’s not at all clear to me why you would even bring up such an idea. Also (at the risk of exposing my ignorance of important national and world affairs), who the hell is Carey?

      • Dosamuno
        August 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm

        “Carey” is an embarrassing misspelling of the last name of John Kerry.

        I have no respect for him, the previous Secretary of State, or any President that has occupied the White House during my lifetime. I especially despise Obama and Clinton for posturing as progressive and then continuing the same insane foreign policy of American Exceptionalism as always.

        Obama should be hanged, not merely pissed on, for Arnie Duncan, Tim Geithner, the appalling Hillary Clinton, and the even more appalling, misnamed Affordable Care Act–to name just a few of his crimes.

        Tresamuno might have been an option if Dosamuno, like Unamuno, had been taken.

  6. N Dalton
    August 20, 2015 at 5:17 am

    It has been a fairly safe bet from the beginning that the GOP ranks in the Senate had been completely closed and Corker was part of that predicament from the outset.

    Or how could there be any doubts with the Jewish Lobby – in total control over the US Congress and Senate – when Israel Buys them with the $ Billions it receives each year ?

    One must remember those ‘dual US-Israeli citizens’ again,which Israel successfully used and pushed the US into war against Iraq in 2003 – literally shredding its complex secular society and killing millions of Iraqis – same is being pushed against Iran as one can see.

  7. N Dalton
    August 19, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    It has been a fairly safe bet from the beginning that the GOP ranks in the Senate had been completely closed for the casual observer as a matter of fact.

    Or how could there be any doubts with the Jewish Lobby – in total control over the US Congress and Senate – when Israel Buys them with the $ Billions it receives each year ?

    Or have we forgotten that Israel has directed its overseas agents – (the ZPC) – to destroy the government of Iran by destabilizing its society, assassinating its scientists, bombing its military establishments and laboratories and strangling its economy ?

    One must remember those ‘dual US-Israeli citizens’ again,which Israel successfully used and pushed the US into war against Iraq in 2003 – literally shredding its complex secular society and killing millions of Iraqis – as well as those Bush/Cheney, et al. war criminals.

    http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2015/08/the-labour-party-turns-on-the-israel-lobby/#more-29703

  8. posa
    August 19, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Yeah. Corker is a fly-weight with scrambled brains. The new script opposing the Iran Nuclear Deal simply changes the negotiation from nuclear weapons to whether Iran can keep any nuclear power and research program at all, even though as a member of the NPT the country certainly is entitled to do so.

    And then further flips the discussion to one of containing Iran as a political force.

    Look the AIPCA/ Likud crowd has lost this fight on every level. Doesn’t matter whether the US ratifies the Agreement or not. The Russians already agreed to install S-300 missiles in a few weeks and the Chinese will provide Iran with fighter jets. This is all so over.

    • Zachary Smith
      August 19, 2015 at 10:38 pm

      I don’t think Corker’s stupid – but he is an ambitious and utterly unscrupulous Christian Zionist.

      Did you know the man did missionary work in Haiti while in his twenties? Betcha YOU never did that! I’m not going to waste any time looking, but I seriously doubt if Corker has ever said a single cross word about Holy Israel. God’s Chosen People, doncha know!

      What’s especially scary is that he has Presidential Ambitions. If the current Republican Primary mess doesn’t resolve itself, he might even get his chance for 2016 as a noble knight riding in on a White Horse to save the day. Posing as the Grown-Up, of course. The prospect of this man becoming POTUS is not a pleasant one for me.

      • Peter Loeb
        August 20, 2015 at 5:49 am

        ARGUMENTS DON’T “COUNT”—-VOTES DO!!

        Paul Pillar’s article is an extremely helpful one in untangling much of the
        rhetoric on the Iran issue.

        But votes are never won by arguments alone persuasive or not. Only
        the final vote counts. (Votes “in committee” are vital but can often—not
        always– be altered “on the floor” in the US Congress.)

        As an illustration, I will give one example from my own experience: I was
        involved as advocate to overturn President Reagan’s veto of funds
        for the “developmentally disabled”. In the end, we ( I ) won but by only
        a single vote. It was hardly my own skill and talent which caused this
        victory. (The bill was under the name of the chairman of the relevant
        Senatorial committee so despite pressure he could not alter his
        vote. Our pressure forced President Reagan to fly his own plane to
        the the chairman’s state to make sure that he didn’t miss his
        much-needed vote on the Senate floor! I considered that a victory of
        sorts. No, no, we (I ) won because one Senator who would have
        voted to uphold the President’s veto was sick, in the hospital and
        thus unable to cast a vote. (Sen. John Stennis, D-Miss). Thus the
        mathematics, the number of votes we needed to “win” , changed.
        (Senator Stennis recuperated for other votes…)

        The moral is: Arguments aside, one can NEVER predict an outcome
        especially if a vote is high profile. As I see it, the vote on the Iran
        agreement can go either way at this point. Instinctually, I feel that
        US agreement is not worth as much as the US wants the public to
        believe. Thus Washington is marketing the military “guarantees”
        and downplaying US concession particularly on sanctions.
        As Pillar recently wrote so eloquently months ago, a negotiations
        process (outside of “unconditional surrender” ) means that both
        sides must expect to concede on some points. Otherwise there
        can be so “agreement”.

        As has been pointed out by many, Iran is not the major nuclear
        threat. Israel with its 200-400 nuclear sites (assisted by the US)
        is the major aggressive nuclear power in the Middle East. Of course
        Israel (or the US) would NEVER agree to inspections and limitations
        on a random basis, of all military centers, unannounced and permanent
        as one GOP demanded of Iran. Israel will not ratify the NPT or
        join the Mideast Nuclear Free Zone which is overwhelmingly supported
        by member states in the UN (General Assembly).

        As for the Iran vote, whether arguments are persuasive or not is
        important. What the vote is is an entirely different question.

        —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  9. Ethan Allen
    August 19, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Yet another succinct and thoughtful article by Paul Pillar! Kudos to ConsortiumNews for posting it!
    Corker, like many of his CONservative fellow travelers in both parties, are more captured by their ideological rhetoric and revisionist dissembling than they are interested in actually solving the problems they have sworn oaths to govern in the national interest. Corker is no Moderate, either by word or deed; he merely attempts to hide himself behind the oxymoronic facade of a reasonable and open-minded conservative thinker.
    “Work is love made visible.” KG
    As Usual,
    EA

    • hammersmith
      August 25, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      When a jackass flies–you don’t ask how high. Nevertheless, Corker did miss his chance. Some day he will say to his handlers: “I cudda been a contenda.”

      • Patrick Welsh
        August 29, 2015 at 10:53 pm

        …..I cudda been someone … Instead of a bum … Which is what I am.. … It was you Neo Cons, it was you.

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