Each week, the Watcher's Council hosts a forum, as well as a weekly contest among the council members for best post of the week. This week's forum question is "are negotiations with Iran worth continuing?" I have kindly been invited to respond.
Update: The Forum is up at the Watcher's Council. Do click over to read a variety of intelligent views on this issue.
Until the reelection of Obama in 2012, negotiations with Iran were based on multiple UN declarations requiring that Iran cease any further enrichment of uranium that could be used for a nuclear arsenal. Those negotiations were backed by sanctions that were hurting the Iranian economy and, deep in the background, there was a threat of force if the negotiations failed. Arguably, force should have been applied years ago, but be that as it may, the sanctions were hurting Iran sufficiently that they've come to the table to have them lifted.
But the negotiations as they now exist are over a Proposed Framework that would lift sanctions, see the continuation of the Iranian nuclear program as well as continued development of Iran's delivery systems for nuclear weapons, and give the imprimatur of the U.S. and the U.N. to full scale development of an Iranian nuclear arsenal in a decade. The collateral effect of a deal on these terms would be to see Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey create their own nuclear arsenal. All of this would be, in the words of Charles Krauthammer, "a catastrophe, not a strategic objective."
No, the negotiations over the Proposed Framework are not worth continuing. The mere fact that they happened is insanity itself.
The contention from Obama that it is either this or we de facto acquiesce to an Iranian nuclear arsenal is suicidal fallacy. According to Obama, sanctions will not work to end the Iranian threat. As to force, Obama stated in his NYT interview with Tom Friedman, that “a military strike or a series of military strikes can set back Iran’s nuclear program for a period of time — but almost certainly will prompt Iran to rush towards a bomb, will provide an excuse for hard-liners inside of Iran to say, ‘This is what happens when you don’t have a nuclear weapon: America attacks.’"
As I wrote in a critique of that interview:
. . . Economic sanctions with a threat of force is what brought Iran to the table. Now Obama claims that neither continued and ever increasing economic sanctions will work and use of force will only lead Obama to a nuclear weapon more quickly? That is ludicrous. One, economic sanctions were crippling Iran's economy and can work if given time. The negotiations ongoing now are proof.
But if we run out of time, there must be a threat of overwhelming force. The Iranian regime is wholly dependent on sales of oil and gas for it's economy. Cut them off from their oil and gas and the bloody theocracy would soon fall. All of Iran's oil and gas fields are on a strip running along the western border of the country. Indeed, when Iraq attacked Iran in the 1980's, their master plan was to take control of a portions of that western border region. It was actually a workable strategy, had Saddam Hussein not been an incompetent commander. Bottom line, there is no need to attack all of Iran to bring the theocracy to its knees and destroy it. Because of its dependence on oil revenues and the vulnerability of its oil fields, it would be much easier to bring decisive force on the theocracy than it might at first blush appear. The whole concept of using force is based on the truism that you use it until the other side gives up. It's kind of been that way since before the written word. Obama's claim that force would only lead Iran to faster development of nuclear weapons would only be true if the force used were utterly insufficient and ineffective to convince the mad mullahs that they would lose everything if they continue to pursue nuclear weapons.
So bottom line, negotiations over a Proposed Framework should end now. Negotiations from the deck of the 5th Fleet anchored in the Persian Gulf and backed by the threat of overwhelming force to end, once and for all, Iran's nuclear program should recommence. But those negotiations should come with a hard end date, when words end and diplomacy "by other means" begins. And that threat of force should be multilateral, including not just the U.S. and Israel, but all of the other nations that have a stake in seeing that Iran's mad theocrats never gain a nuclear arsenal. That should be about 205 by my count. There are no other acceptable options. Peace in our time with a nuclear armed Iranian theocracy is as impossible today as "peace in our time" was impossible in 1930's Europe with Hitler and his Nazi regime.