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.”

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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.