Skip the War, Save the Environment

In the past few months, President Trump has withdrawn from the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran, re-imposed sanctions, and threatened to bomb Iran on Twitter. But while many have written on the military, humanitarian and economic impact of war with Iran, not much has been said on how it will impact the environment. A look into America’s past wars offers disturbing insights into what the disastrous environmental impact of war with Iran could have.

The first threat to the environment is oil. During the Persian Gulf War, oil refineries were the target of constant bombings and over 700 oil wells were destroyed in Kuwait alone. Over the years, the equivalent of 60 million barrels of oil polluted the soil, driving air toxicity to hazardous levels. In Baghdad, air pollution reached 705% of pre-war levels. Given that Iran’s oil reserves exceed those of Iraq and Kuwait, the potential fallout of an Iranian war could be even greater.

Burnings and bombings are symptomatic of modern warfare. Both release hazardous compounds in the air, and are a primary contributor to the increased frequency of wildfires in the region. During the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious for its “scorched-earth” tactics, meaning that they burned anything potentially useful to the enemy. As a result, the nation lost a substantial percentage of its forests to combustion––a disruption in the ecosystem that, on top of worsening air quality, led to the deaths of countless endangered animals.

Iran already suffers from severe environmental stressors and a war could be the breaking point. The region’s air is dense with pollutants, especially in cities. The country faces severe drought and an ongoing water shortage, with Lake Urmia, the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, having shrunk 90% since the 1970s. Instead of cracking down on these issues, the Iranian government’s response has been to jail and exile its scientists––both local and foreign––for “spying”, among other bizarre accusations. It is nothing short of naive to believe that during wartime, when these respective crises are escalated, there will be any significant allocation of government resources into the environment rather than the war effort. If a war takes place in Iran, the government will either be apathetic to the cause, or could collapse entirely as happened in Iraq.

Already, continued international isolation and conflict with the U.S. has exacerbated the situation. In 2010, when Obama’s international sanctions coalition was at its height, Iran was no longer able to import refined oil. As a result, the nation needed to refine its own oil quickly and cheaply to keep up with the rising demand. Carbon emissions skyrocketed, causing immense damage to the environment.

Climate change is a global issue––war never stays confined to one space, and always outlives its time. In Syria, six million Syrians have fled the country since the beginning of the war, entering other nations in a way that isn’t sustainable to their respective societal infrastructures and provoking right-wing backlash. A war in Iran, exacerbating pollution and water shortages, will likely also produce an exodus of refugees. Given that Iran is over four times more populated than Syria, a refugee crisis of similar proportions would put further strains on political systems and humanitarian resources.

War is already a horror, but when factoring in the environmental devastation, there is one more reason for policymakers in Washington and Tehran to avoid it.

Congress ‘Not Aware’ of Authorization for Iran War

Congress will send its annual defense policy bill to the President this week with a caveat that it does not authorize war with Iran and they “are not aware of any information that would justify the use of military force against Iran under any other statutory authority.”

The statement comes after President Trump issued a late-night, all-caps tweet threatening Iran with consequences like no nation has ever seen before in response to a perceived threat from his Iranian counterpart.

While the language is welcome, Congress had the opportunity to go much farther in reining in Trump’s ability to start an Iran war. In May, shortly after the President walked away from the Iran nuclear deal, the House of Representatives passed an amendment from Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Walter Jones (R-NC) stating that the President does not have the authorization to use military force against Iran. Senate Republicans involved in the final drafting  – including uber-hawks like Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – declined to include the amendment in the final version of the bill, instead agreeing to the compromise clarification language.

The statement from the legislators indicating that they are “not aware” of any legislative authorization for Trump to use force against Iran is helpful. As Trump ratchets up tension and openly threatens war with Iran, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has sought to tie Iran to al-Qaeda and has taken an extremely broad view of Executive war powers under the Constitution. Such moves have raised concerns that President Trump could order strikes on Iran without seeking Congressional approval, a key step that could halt an irrational march to war. The language from the NDAA conferees makes it less likely that Trump would point to existing legislation to justify a future Iran war.

Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans have either cheered on or ignored the President’s moves on Iran across the board, and they had the numbers to water down the Ellison-Jones amendment from the final bill. There does not appear to be any Republican lawmaker on record pushing back on the President’s tweet threatening to bomb Iran.

There are certainly many Democratic lawmakers concerned about the direction of Iran policy. Sen. Tim Kaine described Trump’s tweet as “another warning sign that Trump is blundering toward war with Iran.” Likewise, Sen. Ed Markey highlighted the tweet while warning that Trump could launch a nuclear first-strike without approval “for no reason at all.” However, those legislators are not in the majority and thus cannot pass legislation reining in Trump’s war powers without support from their Republican colleagues. That could change if Democrats retake control of one or both houses in the midterm elections this November.

Iranian Americans Speak Out Against Pompeo’s Conflict of Choice with Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in advance of Sec. Mike Pompeo’s address on Iran in California this evening. The National Iranian American Council organized a letter from prominent Iranian Americans objecting to the Trump administration’s efforts to destabilize Iran, which was featured in a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times today:

“The Trump administration can’t support the Iranian people’s aspirations for freedom and prosperity by impoverishing them with sanctions and fomenting unrest, and can’t show solidarity when it bars the Iranian people from securing visas to pursue their dreams. The Trump administration is not a friend of the Iranian people or the Iranian-American community, and no single speech will change that fact.

“Today, Secretary Pompeo will seek to co-opt the grievances of the Iranian-American community to sell policies that will ensure the Iranian people are squeezed by both harsh sanctions and ascendant Iranian hardliners. That is why concerned Iranian Americans from across the country have signed an open letter to Secretary Pompeo, which ran as a a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times this morning, warning that efforts to collapse the Iranian economy or pursue Iraq-style regime change will sabotage the Iranian people’s hopes for change.

“The letter lays out concrete asks for Secretary Pompeo to reverse the administration’s disastrous approach, which would relieve the pressure on the Iranian people and support their push for change. It reads, ‘If you truly wish to help the people of Iran, lift the Travel ban, adhere to the Iran nuclear deal—the JCPOA—and provide the people of Iran the economic relief they were promised and have eagerly awaited for three years, as every independent media has reported.’ We don’t believe any of these proposals will be considered, and we fear that few if any serious questions about the administration’s approach will be addressed at the event Sunday night.

“In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration worked closely with a handful of Iraqi exiles who championed war. Clearly, Sec. Pompeo is hoping to elevate voices who would set the U.S. and Iran on a collision course to conflict over the majority in the Iranian-American community who have been shocked and dismayed by this administration’s disastrous approach. The Iranian-American community will not be silent and will continue to push back on Sec. Pompeo and any other officials undermining the Iranian people and our community.”

Find the full letter here.

###

Pompeo and Trump Plan to Exploit and Silence Iranian Americans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, the Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that he will address Iranian Americans in Simi Valley later this month:

“The quest for human rights and democracy in Iran can only be owned by the Iranian people. It cannot be owned by the U.S., Israel, or Saudi Arabia. It cannot be decided by Iran’s government or even Iranian exiles.

“What President Trump and Secretary Pompeo want is to exploit Iranian Americans and co-opt the Iranian people to provide legitimacy for the Trump Administration’s Iraq War redux for Iran. Just as the Bush Administration cultivated a few Iraqi exiles and talked about human rights to provide legitimacy for a disastrous invasion of Iraq, the Trump Administration appears intent on using Iranian exiles to advance dangerous policies that will leave the Iranian people as its primary victims.

“If Sec. Pompeo really wants the Iranian-American community to embrace the Trump agenda, he must start with a sincere apology and rescind Trump’s ban that is dividing Iranian Americans from their friends and loved ones in Iran. He should apologize for the Administration’s move to banish the most prominent Iranian-American national security official from policymaking decisions due to her heritage. Moreover, he should apologize for the decision to strip the Iranian people of their hope for relief from sanctions and greater connections with the outside world, instead ensuring they will be crushed between U.S. sanctions and resurgent hardline forces in Iran’s government that have benefited from Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord.

“It should be abundantly clear that Secretary Pompeo, who called for bombing Iran instead of negotiations, is no friend of the Iranian people. Similarly, Trump – whose national security advisor and lawyer have elevated the voices of an undemocratic, human rights abusing cult, the MEK, to become the next leadership of Iran – does not have the Iranian people’s best interests at heart. The Trump Administration’s close coordination with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad Bin Salman, who are motivated by their own political gain and regional power dynamics rather than any love for democracy or the Iranian people, should dispel any notion this campaign is about helping ordinary Iranians.

“As Americans, we have a vital role to play in ensuring our democratically elected government does not start wars on false pretenses or destroy lives in our names. As Iranian Americans, our voices are particularly vital when it comes to the U.S. government’s efforts regarding our ancestral homeland. We will not be exploited or silenced at this critical moment in history.”

###

Kicking the Hornet’s Nest: Consequences of Trump’s May 12 Iran Deal Decision

View as PDF

President Trump has threatened to put the U.S. into material breach of the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by failing to renew nuclear sanctions waivers by the May 12 deadline. As a result, it is necessary for policymakers to think clearly regarding the consequences of a U.S. material breach of the accord, including the collapse of the JCPOA, Iranian nuclear expansion, diminished U.S. influence with its allies, and a growing threat of war under Trump and his hawkish advisors.

Immediate Breach of the Accord

If the President refuses to waive sanctions on May 12, nuclear-related sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran passed via Section 1245 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would snap back into place, resulting in an immediate material breach of the JCPOA. Under this provision, countries must reduce their oil purchases from Iran or the U.S. will cut off that country’s financial institutions that transact with Iranian banks from the American economy. This would not reimpose all of the sanctions that the U.S. is obligated to waive – the next sanctions waiver deadline is 60 days later and pertains to the vast majority of nuclear-related sanctions. But by targeting both oil sales and banking, driving down oil sales and forcing companies to withdraw from the Iranian market, the U.S. would not just violate the agreement but would be unravelling the core of Iran’s incentives to remain compliant with the terms of the JCPOA.

Even if the administration seeks to dull the initial impact by delaying enforcement, as some have suggested may be its plan, the failure to waive will result in a material breach of the agreement. The text of the JCPOA also makes clear that a failure to waive sanctions on May 12 would result in an immediate breach. The U.S. is obligated to “cease the application” of  nuclear-related sanctions including the Central Bank sanctions contained in Section 1245 of the FY12 NDAA. Moreover, the U.S. has committed to “refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions” lifted under the deal, while the JCPOA indicates Iran will treat such re-imposition “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” As former administration officials Rob Malley and Colin Kahl recently wrote, “in the absence of Iranian violations of the deal, the United States would be in material breach of the agreement the moment Trump refuses to waive U.S. sanctions, even as the deal’s other signatories remain party to it.”

The Trump administration has already violated the JCPOA repeatedly by any objective measure, including by actively warning foreign companies against doing any business in Iran, refusing to issue licenses for the sale of aircraft to Iran and holding U.S. implementation of the accord in doubt. While these violations have been serious, they have not struck directly at the core of the bargain. Reinstating oil sanctions would be a direct attack on the core benefit and put the U.S. in material breach.

Death of the Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has indicated that if the U.S. withdraws from the accord, Iran will do the same. The JCPOA includes a dispute resolution mechanism wherein Iran would be able to file an official complaint regarding U.S. failure to meet its sanctions-lifting obligations, a forum where the U.S. would be isolated following a U.S. breach. If Trump refused to correct the breach, Iran “could treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments, in whole or in part, and/or notify the UN Security Council that it believes the issue constitutes significant non-performance,” according to the text of the agreement. In other words, Iran would have sufficient grounds to orchestrate a withdrawal from its JCPOA obligations while pinning the blame on the United States.

Other Iranian officials have suggested that Iran will resume many of its nuclear activities that deeply concerned the international community prior to the JCPOA. While it is unclear precisely how far Iran would go, Iran could:

  • Bring advanced centrifuges online or resume enrichment at the deeply-buried Fordow nuclear site;
  • Begin enriching uranium beyond 3.67%, potentially up to 20% or higher;
  • Expand beyond 300 kg of enriched uranium to sufficient quantities for multiple nuclear weapons with further enrichment;
  • Limit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector access, including access to suspect undeclared sites, uranium mines and mills and centrifuge production facilities.

Iranian officials have also suggested that their commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty – the foundation of the non-proliferation regime – could be jeopardized by a JCPOA withdrawal. While that would be an extreme measure that could ratchet up tensions significantly, the possibility cannot be ruled out in the event of a shocking unilateral U.S. rupture of a carefully-crafted diplomatic agreement that was narrowly secured against the opposition of many hardline interests in Tehran..

Isolated from Allies

It is no coincidence that both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Washington the same week, shortly before the May 12 deadline, to speak with Trump about the JCPOA. America’s European allies are extremely concerned that Trump will follow through and terminate a deal that is in the best interests of the transatlantic relationship, global security and the nonproliferation regime, with devastating results.

Macron has made clear that he is willing to work with Trump to address issues outside the scope of the JCPOA, including Iran’s missile program and regional security issues such as Syria, as part of a “grand bargain.” There are numerous uncertainties regarding Macron’s approach – after all, Iran would likely be unwilling to engage on a new deal when the U.S. has failed to implement the JCPOA. However, it is also clear that the U.S. would forfeit such coordination with its allies if the foundation of the JCPOA is terminated by a unilateral U.S. withdrawal, as Macron warned is still the most likely outcome.

As more than 500 members of the United Kingdom, French and German parliaments recently warned in an unprecedented letter to the U.S. Congress, “if the deal breaks down, it will well-nigh be impossible to assemble another grand coalition built around sanctions against Iran. We must preserve what took us a decade to achieve and has proven to be effective.” Absent the leverage provided by close cooperation with our allies, there is no chance for a “better deal,” and serious risks that there would be no deal after the JCPOA whatsoever.

If Trump follows through and terminates the JCPOA, the U.S. will be put in the difficult position of threatening sanctions on the foremost companies of many friendly countries – including those in Europe, South Korea, India and beyond. This could result in a trade war if those countries take actions to protect their companies from U.S. sanctions enforcement. Moreover, as former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned in 2016, “if foreign jurisdictions and companies feel that we will deploy sanctions without sufficient justification or for inappropriate reasons—secondary sanctions in particular—we should not be surprised if they look for ways to avoid doing business in the United States or in U.S. dollars.”

Another War of Choice    

The elevation of John Bolton to National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State ensures that at least two individuals who prefer an Iran war to Iran diplomacy will be advising Trump on the JCPOA and broader Iran policy. Moreover, Trump himself has previewed his hawkish inclinations, warning that if Iran restarts their nuclear program “they will have bigger problems than they ever had before” and “if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.” In unraveling the nuclear accord and freeing Iran to resume their nuclear activities, Trump would be triggering the very situation where he strongly hinted that he would use military force.

Amid an already ruinous regional proxy war in the Middle East, a war against Iran could be even more disastrous for global security than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iran is nearly four times the size of Iraq, with influence in military conflicts from Syria to Yemen and with missiles capable of striking U.S. ships and bases in the region. Bombing cannot erase Iran’s nuclear know-how and would only empower those in Iran eager to obtain a nuclear deterrent. Moreover, it would set the region aflame and draw the U.S. into a prolonged quagmire that would cost American blood and treasure and set U.S. security back decades.

Congress can intervene to check Trump, including by clarifying that the administration does not have authorization to launch a war against Iran. Yet, the clock is quickly running out to save the JCPOA and prevent an escalation to war.

 

FDD Scholar: War with Iran ‘Is On’

“The war is on”, declared Michael Ledeen, a “Freedom Scholar” with the anti-Iran deal Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at an event to discuss Iran policy following President Trump’s appointment of John Bolton and nomination of Mike Pompeo. “We’re in the war now. So all these people who keep on saying, ‘well if we sign, or if we don’t re-sign, or if we renew or we don’t renew (the Iran nuclear deal) then war,’ that’s all crazy. The war — we are in the war.”

Speaking on a panel at the Hudson Institute last week, Ledeen asserted his belief that the Iranian people had asked the U.S. for help in toppling the regime. His assertion was challenged by an Iranian American supporter of NIAC in the audience who asked Ledeen why he felt Iranians would want the United States’ help. “All they have to do is look at the neighboring countries and see that every country the United States has tried to change the leadership there, it has created a stateless country,” she said. “It’s like asking me to go to a doctor who all of his patients have died in the hospital, and asking ‘could you please operate on me?’ Why would they want the United States to aid them for any sort of help in the regime change?”

Ledeen’s response was to insult and bully rather than to engage in serious debate. Ledeen stated, “the question from this woman right here is not a question, but a provocation. So I am sorry that you’ve wasted your time coming here today to voice the line of your friends in Tehran…The reason why the Iranian people look to us for help, support, guidance in carrying out a revolution against the regime is because they hate the regime.” Ledeen then rudely told her to “sit there quietly” as the moderator moved on to the next question. The tense exchange showed both the stakes of the Iran debate in the months ahead – that Trump’s supporters think “war is on” with Iran – and that so-called “freedom scholars” will go out of their way to stifle debate on the road to confrontation.

Hawkishness and dismissiveness of alternative views was not limited to Ledeen. Richard Goldberg, another FDD adviser who served as a staffer for the hawkish former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), predicted that Trump would kill the deal. Goldberg indicated that with negotiations between Trump and the Europeans stalled and Bolton and Pompeo poised to enter the administration, “we have set the stage now for the likely exit of the U.S. from the nuclear deal and the potential for re-imposition of sanctions – at least on the Central Bank on May 12th, and perhaps much more.” Goldberg went on to argue that the reimposition of such sanctions, which he helped to initially pass as a staffer in Congress, would help topple the Iranian regime but avoid harming the Iranian people.

I asked Goldberg how the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran could be designed to be in favor of the Iranian people and avoid causing mass devastation. “With respect to our sanctions policy, the Iranian people are our greatest asset and we do not target the Iranian people, we do not target them, we have no quarrel with them,” Goldberg said. “And so our policy, when it targets the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), when it targets government banks, when it targets the Supreme Leader’s empire, this is about the lifeblood that keeps the Islamic Republic in business of oppressing its people.”

Goldberg’s answer might sound persuasive, yet the reality is that ordinary Iranians themselves are intricately connected to the Iranian economy and banking system – not just the regime. There is absolutely no way a country’s entire banking system can be sanctioned without its people suffering the consequences of the sanctions. We saw this at the height of nuclear sanctions, where the Iranian people suffered from mass unemployment and sanctions while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expanded its business empire.

Michael Pregent, a fellow with the Hudson Institute, stated that president Trump “has his Iran team in place,” with John Bolton in as National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo hoping to be confirmed as Secretary of State. If Pompeo and Bolton share the Hudson panelists’ proclivities, it appears that war could be very difficult to avoid.

“Peace is not the opposite of war,” Ledeen ominously concluded. “Peace is the result of war. Peace happens when a war is fought and one side beats the other.”

Saudi Arabia Wants to Fight Iran to the Last American

Many observers have connected the dots and concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is seeking to drag the United States into a war with Iran and Hezbollah. But that’s only half the story. Looking at the recent events through a broader geopolitical lens, a much more sinister plan emerges: a Saudi plan to trap the United States in a permanent standoff with Tehran.

While most of the world has been aghast by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s radical actions of this past week, his conduct is only inexplicable when viewed from the wrong lens, such as the Sunni-Shia sectarian frame or the even more absurd attempt to cast this conflict as part of a greater fight against terrorism. After all, Saudi Arabia provided the seed money for Al Qaeda and openly funded and armed Al Qaeda in Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra), according to the U.S. government.

When seen from a geopolitical lens, however, the unlikely alliance between Zionist Israel and the Wahhabi House of Saud, their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and their coordinated effort to ratchet up tensions in the region suddenly acquire a degree of logic.

Rather than ethnic or sectarian motivations, Saudi Arabia’s ultimate aim is to drag the United States back into the Middle East in order for Washington to reestablish its military dominance and reimpose on the region an equilibrium that favors Tel Aviv and Riyadh. This, however, does not require just a war in Lebanon, but a permanent state of conflict between the United States and Iran.

Israel and Saudi Arabia see this as justified return to the order that existed prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The “dual containment” policy of the Clinton administration established a balance in the region centered on Israel, Saudi and Egypt, with the explicit goal of isolating and containing both Iran and Iraq. Tehran vehemently opposed the order and sought to undermine it by all means, including by targeting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But despite Tehran’s extensive efforts, Iran failed to bring about the collapse of the U.S.-led order. Instead, it was the United States itself under George W. Bush that—inadvertently—brought about the end of the U.S.-backed balance by committing the disastrous mistake of invading Iraq. The spectacular failure of this endeavor destabilized the region and weakened the United States, to a point where it no longer could restore the old order or foist a new balance upon the region.

The Middle East has ever since essentially been orderless—there is no single dominant power or combination of states that can establish and sustain a new balance. This is precisely why it is experiencing so much instability and violence: the absence of a clear order draws all major powers into a fierce competition to define the new equilibrium. This is also why Israel and Saudi Arabia have found common cause against Iran and why they have been pushing the United States to take military action against Iran.

Israel and Saudi Arabia were the biggest losers of the Iraq war and the collapse of Pax Americana. They enjoyed maximum security and maneuverability under the previous order, and their regional rivals were checked and contained, courtesy of American treasure and blood. Their priority for the last decade has been to compel the United States to recommit itself to the region and restore the pre-2003 balance, or at a minimum re-embrace the role as hegemon over the Middle East.

But while the United States saw benefit in Middle Eastern hegemony twenty years ago, American, Israeli and Saudi interests have sharply diverged over the past two decades. Not only does the United States lack the resources to resurrect the previous balance, the benefits to U.S. national security are increasingly in question. President Barack Obama had ordered a global audit of America’s resources, commitments, challenges and opportunities early on in his presidency. The conclusion was unmistakable: the most strategically vital area for the United States in this century is East Asia. Yet, most of America’s resources were committed to the Middle East in unending wars of increasingly marginal strategic significance. America needed a course correction that reversed its overcommitment in the Middle East and undercommitment in East Asia: a pivot to Asia.

Both Tel Aviv and Riyadh viewed Washington’s reorientation towards Asia with concern. They feared it would weaken Washington’s commitment to their security while also potentially making the United States more inclined to reach an accommodation with Iran. Those fears rose dramatically as Obama resisted the Saudi and Israeli push to bomb Iran, and instead opted for diplomacy. To the Saudis, Obama had sided with Iran. The details of the nuclear deal were irrelevant to Riyadh: the problem was the very idea of the United States striking a deal with Iran, which by definition would signal the end of Washington’s policy of fully balancing Iran and leave Saudi facing its Persian rival without unreserved American backing.

Saudi Arabia’s only prospect of balancing Iran today remains the same as it was ten years ago: by dragging the United States back into the region militarily. If Iran’s nuclear program or its role in Iraq won’t compel Washington to bomb Iran, the Saudis must instigate a crisis that will force America back into the squabbles of the Middle East. Lebanon can serve this purpose precisely because it brings in a critical factor absent in both Iraq and Yemen—the Israeli angle and its American political potency. What the American public needs to fully understand, though, is that Riyadh is not seeking a one-off in Lebanon but rather a perpetual U.S. confrontation with Iran, a never ending war on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in 2010, the Saudis “want to fight the Iranians to the last American.” Why the Saudis would see this as attractive is clear. Why Netanyahu would like to go along with this also follows a certain logic. That is not the mystery in this drama. The mystery is why the president of the United States would go along with something that so clearly contradicts U.S. national interest.

It is not the Saudi crown prince that is acting irrationally. It’s the president of the United States.

Congress Lays Tripwires for Iran Nuclear Accord

As negotiators work to clear the final hurdles for a framework nuclear deal with Iran, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have decided to delay a markup of a bill that would lay tripwires that threaten any final deal. Diplomacy has been given more time to succeed, yet the threat of Congressional obstruction still looms on the horizon. The committee will now consider the bill on April 14 after a two week recess, in what could be the first Congressional action on Iran following a potential diplomatic breakthrough. While Corker has sold the bill as a way to ensure Congress can “weigh in,” on an agreement, legislators supportive of a negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear crisis should recognize the bill for what it is: a dangerously written measure that injects new demands into the negotiations and risks laying the foundation to kill a historic agreement.

There are three major tripwires that the Corker bill would impose on a deal.

First, the legislation would delay implementation of any deal for sixty days while Congress decides whether or not to reject the accord. This poses a major problem because it means Congress would be injecting a new demand into the talks. If an accord is reached, the timeline of a deal will be carefully worked out between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and Iran. Congress would be jumping in at the eleventh hour to demand the negotiators discard the implementation schedule in order to build in a two-month buffer window for Congress to consider whether or not they want to kill the agreement.

Further, one of the major benefits of a nuclear deal is that it would empower Iranian moderates and isolate hardliners who have opposed any form of reconciliation with the West, potentially leading to positive reverberations outside of the nuclear issue. However, unilateral moves by the U.S. Congress to halt implementation would lead to the opposite. The sixty day delay on implementation would give hardliners time to dissect and condemn every Iranian concession, while moderates that brokered the deal would be left to defend the concessions after the U.S. reneged on the timeline and without any tangible sanctions relief to point to. This could complicate the moderates’ ability to fully implement the terms of an agreement and, in turn, enable opponents in the U.S. to retaliate in response.

The second tripwire requires the President to certify throughout the duration of the agreement that Iran is not providing support or financing for terrorism. If the President fails to make the certification, Congress would be empowered to expedite consideration of legislation to snap sanctions back into place, effectively nullifying the deal. Countering Iranian support for terrorism is, of course, a worthwhile and necessary undertaking. However, it should not be inserted into a nuclear deal. We don’t want to be in a position where Iran is upholding the nuclear deal but the President is unable to make certifications on non-nuclear issues, forcing us to renege on the agreement. Such a requirement would shift the goalposts of the negotiations, which are focused solely on the nuclear issue, and guarantee that we get neither a nuclear deal nor address Iranian support for terrorism.

The final tripwire, which has received the most attention, enables Congress to pass a Congressional vote of disapproval to revoke the President’s sanctions waiver authorities. A vote of disapproval would need a simple majority to pass, which could be secured solely through partisan opposition to the agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will use the vote of disapproval to turn the screws against Democrats and force anyone who isn’t willing to destroy U.S. international credibility for political gain into taking a very tough vote. Even if they fail to override the expected veto, they will be empowered to continue their efforts to kill a deal after the 60 day review period ends.

The fact that this legislation presents severe complications for negotiations should not come as a surprise. The last several weeks have seen absurd partisan maneuvers by hawkish Republicans aimed at undercutting the negotiations, highlighted by the letter from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-KY) and 46 of his fellow hawks in the Senate warning Iran’s leaders not to trust the President of the United States. S.615 would help these saboteurs achieve their goal of scuttling the talks and lead to an expanding Iranian nuclear program and an increasing likelihood of war.

There are alternative measures available to Congress that would increase Congressional oversight without threatening to scuttle a potentially historic accord. For example, the bill from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the “Iran Congressional Oversight Act” (S.669), would require reports on Iran’s adherence to an agreement and, if Iran violates its commitments, expedite the snapback of sanctions. Further, in the wake of the Helsinki Accords, Congress created an independent commission to monitor signatories’ compliance with the accord. Either the Boxer bill or a Helsinki-like commission could potentially be a workable alternative to S.615. Critically, neither of these options interferes with the implementation timeline, inserts issues outside the scope of negotiations, or risks a rash rejection of what would be a historic, multilateral agreement.

As the parties inch ever closer to a historic agreement, would-be Congressional spoilers will only intensify their efforts to throw a wrench in the works. Legislators who want to secure a diplomatic solution shouldn’t ease their path by supporting S.615.

This article was originally posted in The Huffington Post.

Iran Nuclear Deal Could Spell End of the War That Never Was

In less than a week, the outcome of the nuclear talks with Iran will be clear. According to one P5+1 diplomat, the possibilities — ranging from most to least likely — are an extension of the talks, a comprehensive agreement, or an agreement in principle.

Not on the menu — at least among the principals at the negotiations — is a return to the escalatory cycle that defined the past decade and threatened constantly to spill over into war. As the U.S.’s lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, remarked at a conference in Washington last month, if the talks fail, “escalation is the name of the game, on all sides, and none of that is good.” In other words, failure is not an option.

This — not surprisingly — comes as a disappointment to some in Washington. Little more than a decade after having advocated war on Iraq, many of the same personalities have sought to bring the U.S. and Iran to the precipice of military conflict. Their efforts were only narrowly averted last summer when secret negotiations in Oman yielded November’s interim agreement on the nuclear issue. Since then, President Obama’s detractors have taken aim at the talks itself, pouncing on any and all U.S. compromises as paving the way towards nuclear holocaust.

But their messaging, besides being histrionic, has been confused. In the same week where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that “the alternative to a bad deal is not war,” but more sanctions, leading U.S. hawks, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, wrote that the “wise[] bet is that sanctions will fail…” — at least “without other forms of coercion.”

What “other forms of coercion” did they have in mind? War, of course.

This cross-signaling bespeaks a broader problem for Washington’s warmongers: the nuclear talks have de-escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran not just on the nuclear issue, but on others as well. This has made their lives difficult because, instead of merely invoking Iran to garner support for their hard-line position, they are now forced to argue the point and to justify why turning our back on dialogue is the right approach.

Because let’s face it: Having been involved in constant negotiations with each other for the past year, the U.S. and Iran understand each other better now than at any point over the past 35 years. Moreover, with the Middle East in a turmoil never before seen, both countries have been forced to revisit a calculus that had made each other implacable enemies, incapable of cooperation. If the Middle East and the U.S.’s role in it is to be salvaged, it will have to be on the back of a broader U.S.-Iran détente.

It is a difficult point to argue. With most U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year and the White House prepared to put more boots-on-the-ground in Iraq — all the while U.S. fighter jets pound Islamic State outposts in Syria — the idea that the United States can open up a new front with Iran is unsound. Americans have neither the appetite for a new war nor the ability to wage one, and the empty braggadocio of U.S. hawks won’t change that fact.

That leaves U.S. hawks in the unenviable position of having to swim against the tide in U.S.-Iran relations. At a time when so many are hopeful for a peaceful resolution to this conflict – both in the United States, in Iran, and around the world – those pushing for war look and sound perverse in their efforts to thwart compromise and kill the negotiations.

Being the last, best chance the United States has at limiting Iran’s nuclear program, this pulls the thin veneer that long masked their intentions off for good. Pushing conflict with Iran has never been about the nuclear program, as much as it has about that old desire to reconfigure the Middle East via regime change. How else can we explain U.S. hard-liners’ adamant opposition to an interim deal that, by all accounts, has stalled Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade and allowed international inspectors daily access to check on Iran’s nuclear facilities? How else to explain the shrillness that greets mere letter-writing to Iran’s leader at a time when the nuclear deadline nears and the Middle East goes up in flames?

U.S. hawks are pulling no punches, because they have no more punches to pull. They recognize well enough that if a nuclear deal is cemented in the weeks ahead, their push for war is close to being all for naught.

That doesn’t mean they won’t try to spoil an agreement. Two weeks ago, Republicans swept to majorities in both houses of Congress during the mid-terms, giving U.S. hard-liners a pedestal on which to preempt a nuclear deal. Already, some members of Congress have designs on scurrying any agreement reached between the U.S. and Iran — either by preventing the president from implementing a deal or by imposing new sanctions on Iran.

However, if the White House has the wherewithal to withstand Republican-led attacks on a nuclear deal, U.S. hawks will be without any further means to advance us towards war against Iran. A nuclear agreement will take hold; both sides will adhere to their reciprocal obligations; and the world will be free of both renewed conflict and a new nuclear-weapons power.

President Obama’s legacy will then be defined not merely as bringing to a close two wars inherited from his predecessor, but as spelling the end of the war that never was. That will be — in the great scheme of things — his singular triumph in office. It will also be the last throw of cold-water on war plans a decade-in-the-making.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

Policy Memo: A Good Deal Is Better Than No Deal

New Memo Analyzes Consequences of No Nuclear Deal with Iran

Press Release

Policy Memo - A Good Deal is Better Than No DealWashington, DC – Failure to reach a nuclear deal with Iran will not lead to a continuation of the current status quo, but rather a deterioration of the situation with severe military, economic and security consequences. This is the conclusion of a new NIAC Policy Memo published today analyzing the consequences of a diplomatic failure between the U.S. and Iran.

The Policy Memo will be presented today at an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC at 2.30pm.

The military consequences of not reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran have been clearly defined by the White House: “You close the door on diplomacy, and you’re left only with a choice between a possible military option or Iran steadily advancing its nuclear program.”

But fully eliminating Tehran’s nuclear program – as some in Congress advocate – will require a U.S. invasion and occupation of Iran. This will involve at least 500,000 U.S. troops and a 10-year occupation. Moreover, it will lead to the death of thousands of U.S. service women and men, tens of thousand wounded, and millions disabled – more than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

“Nothing demonstrates the effects of a deal more so than the fact that talk of war during these last 6 months of the interim deal has essentially been reduced to zero,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi.

The economic consequences will be devastating too. The cost of a full-scale invasion and occupation of Iran – in the first three months alone – is estimated at $2.8 trillion.

On the nuclear front, rather than reduce the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians are likely to escalate their nuclear activities under no deal – and if attacked, an Iranian nuclear bomb will become a near-certainty. 

The international reaction to the collapse of talks will also be important. If the U.S. is deemed responsible for the failure of diplomacy, then the international sanctions regime is likely to unravel. This would break the international consensus the Obama administration carefully built up against Iran.

Beyond the military and economic impact on Iran, diplomatic failure will have a profound impact on the future direction of Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.

 If Rouhani has nothing to show for his diplomatic efforts, the political pendulum will swing back in favor of the hardliners. Iran will likely become more repressive internally and more assertive externally. Pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in Iran warn that they will suffer perhaps their greatest blow yet, potentially setting back their struggle a full generation.

“Clarity about the consequences of failing to reach a deal must exist in order not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” said NIAC Research Director Reza Marashi. “Rather than adhering to the mantra of ‘No deal is better than a bad deal,’ the inverse relationship must be considered: A good nuclear deal is better than war.”

# # # 

NIAC is a Washington, DC-based 501 c(3) non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC is funded through donations from the Iranian-American community as well as grants from the Ploughshares Fund, ARCA Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, among others. For more information about the organization, please visit niacouncil.org.