The Obama administration’s actions have shown the Iranians that they can continue their gradual march toward regional hegemony and save their nukes for another day. As a result, Sunni states are likely to feel threatened and go nuclear.
... is there an enduring strategic logic behind Iran accepting a deal that temporarily “blocks every pathway” to a nuclear weapon,” as President Obama declared?
To answer such a question, it is necessary to speculate on the reasons why Iran has pursued nukes for so long. The reason now advanced by the Iranians is that it was a matter of national pride. “It’s our moon shot,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told a US official at one point — the point at which, apparently, the administration gave up on its original goal of dismantling the program. And that’s no doubt part of the matter, but there is also a greater geopolitical reason that better explains why Tehran might be willing to at least slow its drive for the nuclear capabilities they have paid so much to acquire, not only in investment but in sanctions-inflicted pain.
Don’t stand in the way of an enemy who’s retreating.
...So now, when we see Iranians dancing joyfully in the streets, it might be at the prospects of prosperity resulting from the end of economic sanctions, but we should also ask whether it is a kind of victory celebration, a victory won despite what once looked like very long odds. In Tehran, it’s “V-A” — Victory over America — Day. The signing ceremony awaits.
For Iran, getting a nuke has been a way to deter the United States, which since the Iranian Revolution, and especially since 2003 and until 2009, had been perceived by Iran as an increasingly present danger in the region. After all, where Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, America toyed at length and seemingly at leisure with him — overthrowing his regime with apparent ease. Tehran could never tell when the Great Satan might lash out again.
But through its withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, unwillingness to stand by Arab allies, venom toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, phobia regarding the use of military power, and devout belief in the efficacy of arms control, the Obama administration seems to have convinced the Iranians that they can continue their gradual march toward regional hegemony and save their nukes for another day.
Iran will no doubt reinvest the proceeds from any economic revival induced by sanctions relief in campaigns in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere; Washington has become a willing partner in making Iran the dominant power in the region.
The likelihood now is that Congress and the Washington chattering classes will spend inordinate energy parsing the details of the Iran “framework,” which will be followed by more obsessing in the event that a formal pact is reached, followed by still more wrangling over what role the European Union, the United Nations, and Congress ought to play in ratifying such an outcome. Not that the nuclear negotiating details aren’t important, but they obscure the larger issues of power. With the United States, the Europeans, and the rest of the world acquiescing in Iran’s rise, the Sunni states are likely to feel so threatened they take a page out of the Eisenhower “New Look” and go nuclear. After all, that’s what the Jews of Israel — the Arabs new best friends — have done.
In many ways the biggest danger in the Iran framework is that it will more or less live up to the president’s billing. Iran may be content to wear treaty-designed nuclear shackles for the next 10 years. But if Iran makes as many gains in the Middle East in the next decade as it has in this one, it will be free to spread an umbrella of nuclear deterrence over a much larger regional sphere of influence — of the sort that has long stirred Persian dreams.