Friday, August 7, 2015

Vacation Bucket List: Argue About Iran Deal!

I have not blogged much this week as I am vacationing with my family this week.  However, a conversation about Iran with one skeptical relative inspired me to spew just a bit.

The primary complaint about the Iran deal is that it seemed to be just about the nuclear stuff and not about everything else.  My comeback was and is: the deal always was and is about Iran's nuclear program and not about 4 folks Iran is holding or about Iran's other weapons programs or about Iran's foreign policies.  Don't expect any arms control deal to address every problem in a bilateral relationship.  It is not how the US engaged the Soviet Union in the 1970s and it makes not much sense today.

Indeed, basic bargaining logic suggests that the more stuff you add to a deal, the more compromises you may have to make to get a deal completed.  Not addressing these other issues in this deal does not mean that they will not be addressed... just that they are not addressed in this deal.  The US relationship with Iran is multidimensional and this deal is only on one dimension.

There is another reason why the deal is only focused on the nuclear program: the deal is not a bilateral arrangement between the US and Iran but a multilateral one.  Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK do not care about four Americans held by Iran, nor do they see eye to eye on a variety of issues.  It is actually pretty amazing that the group has held together, given the tensions between the US/France/Germany and Russia and the tensions between the US and China.  The bargaining really was a three stage game: US with its allies, the group with Iran, and now Obama with the Senators.  So, expecting a deal that addressed many issues is just not realistic.

The key questions about the deal are about whether the terms actually prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and how the verification/penalty schemes are designed.  The reporting of the deal suggests that these key issues are mostly ok but not terrific.  Which means that the deal is more good than bad, especially when compared to the alternatives.

Speaking of which, some are complaining that Obama has defined the alternatives as the deal or war with Iran.  That this is an unfair, fear-mongering depiction of the choices.  Maybe.  But maybe not given that many of the groups/individuals fighting the deal are precisely those that have advocated the use of force as their preferred policy choice.  Of course, there is another alternative: US rejects the deal, Russia and China end their sanctions, Europe follows suit, and Iran gets to keep its centrifuges spinning away while also gaining the benefits of reduced sanctions.  That does not seem attractive to me.

Which leads to a final question: why is Chuck Schumer going against this deal? Damned if I know.  Actually, I do know: that politicians do what is bad for one's country as long as it is good for the short term interests of their own career.  Still, this does not make too much sense if Schumer wants to become the Democratic Party's leader in the Senate.  I certainly would not want him in that position if he cannot support his party's leader (Obama) when his support is needed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Why is Chuck Schumer going against this deal?" James Fallows ( and Greg Sargent ( have argued that this is a rather good sign for the deal, as both the Senator and the administration are assuming that the extra vote isn't needed to sustain a veto override.