Forget renegotiation, try these ideas

Rob Satloff, abandoning previous suggestions for renegotiation of the nuclear agreement with Iran, now puts forward proposals for the US to undertake without any need for Iranian agreement. He ties these to defeat of the agreement in Congress (whether by a veto-proof majority or not I can’t tell), but that is not logically necessary for their consideration. So let’s consider them, one by one:

Consequences: Rob wants punishments other than full sanctions “snapback” defined for non-capital violations, as he rightly anticipates it will be difficult to to use “the nuclear option,” if I may call it that, unless the violation is major. Specifically, he proposes

to reach understandings now with America’s European partners, the core elements of which should be made public, on the appropriate penalties to be imposed for a broad spectrum of Iranian violations.

I see no reason not to talk about this and even agree the penalties with the Europeans now, but is making the consequences public likely to increase compliance?

I wonder. Penalties defined now are likely to be less severe than what we can actually get once a violation occurs. It might be far better to wait for a incident of noncompliance and respond vigorously. I see no justification for Rob’s assumption that penalties defined later have “no value.” The first violation and reaction are the key to imposing credible consequences.

Deterrence: Rob wants penalties agreed and defined for transfer of funds from sanctions relief to Iran’s regional trouble-making. He suggests:

…these new multilateral sanctions should impose disproportionate penalties on Iran for every marginal dollar sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, etc.

Assuming that Rob is correct that our intelligence agencies can in fact determine unequivocally what amount represents increased assistance (which would surprise me), I again see no problem in discussing this with our friends. As he notes, levying sanctions of this sort is not ruled out because they are unrelated to the nuclear issue. We should be traying to block these transfers regardless of what happens on the nuclear deal.

Pushback: This is a related idea:

“Ramp up U.S. and allied efforts to counter Iran’s negative actions in the Middle East, including interdicting weapons supplies to Hezbollah, Assad, and the Houthis in Yemen; designating as terrorists more leaders of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq that are committing atrocities; expanding the training and arming of not only the Iraqi security forces but also the Kurdish peshmerga in the north and vetted Sunni forces in western Iraq; and working with Turkey to create a real safe haven in northern Syria where refugees can obtain humanitarian aid and vetted, non-extremist opposition fighters can be trained and equipped to fight against both ISIS and the Iran-backed Assad regime.”

Each of these propositions deserves its own consideration, but in general it seems to me vital that we push back in some of these or other ways against Iranian misbehavior in the region, lest Tehran get the idea that the nuclear agreement blesses their ambition of achieving regional hegemony.

Declaratory policy: Rob wants a Congressionally endorsed statement that the US will use military force to prevent Iran from embarking, after the 15-year restrictions in the agreement, on enrichment that could “only” lead to a nuclear weapon. For reasons I fail to fathom, he thinks to be effective this has to be done now by the president who did the deal.

Even leaving aside that problematic “only” lead to a nuclear weapon (which betrays a lack of understanding of the many ways in which uranium enriched to high levels can in theory be used), Rob is self-contradictory. First Rob says President Obama’s threat that “all options are on the table” has lost credibility. Then he says it has to be this president to say more or less the same thing, this time with Congressional backing, in order to be credible.

More importantly, Rob fails to consider the international repurcussions of having the Administration do this right now. The hardliners in Iran love reiteration of the “all options” statement, as it demonstrates their thesis that American attitudes are unchanged and Washington seeks an opportunity to strike Iran.

If Congress wants to go on record, I don’t see who could stop it. Nor do I think anyone in Tehran doubts where Congressional sentiment lies. But the Administration has a stake in seeing maximum implementation of this agreement, which is threatened on the Iranian end by hardliners who didn’t want to see it done in the first place. Strengthening opponents of the deal in Tehran is not in the US interest.

Israeli deterrence: Rob wants to transfer the Massive Ordnance Penetrator and the means to deliver it to Israel.

Here more discussion is needed. Is this without end-use controls, or with them? What means are needed to deliver it, and how many of the bombs and delivery means are we talking about? How realistic is it to imagine that Israel will have the capabilities needed to evade Iranian air defenses and deliver these 30,000-pound monsters? Who is going to pay for this stuff?

So yes, there are certainly some things we should be doing to block Iranian misbehavior in the region but I’ve got more questions than answers about some of Rob’s other propositions.

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