Monday, November 24, 2014

Iran Cheats, Obama Whitewashes

The administration thinks a nuclear Iran is inevitable—but lacks the courage to say it


Does it matter what sort of deal—or further extension, or non-deal—ultimately emerges from the endless parleys over Iran’s nuclear program? Probably not. Iran came to the table cheating on its nuclear commitments. It continued to cheat on them throughout the interim agreement it agreed to last year. And it will cheat on any undertakings it signs.
We knew this, know it and will come to know it all over again. But what’s at stake in these negotiations isn’t their outcome, assuming there ever is an outcome. It’s the extent to which the outcome facilitates, or obstructs, our willingness to continue to fool ourselves about the consequences of an Iran with a nuclear weapon.
The latest confirmation of the obvious comes to us courtesy of a Nov. 17 report from David Albright and his team at the scrupulously nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security. The ISIS study, based on findings from the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded that Iran was stonewalling U.N. inspectors on the military dimensions of its program. It noted that Tehran had tested a model for an advanced centrifuge, in violation of the 2013 interim agreement. And it cited Iran for trying to conceal evidence of nuclear-weapons development at a military facility called Parchin.
“By failing to address the IAEA’s concerns, Iran is complicating, and even threatening, the achievement of a long term nuclear deal,” the report notes dryly.
These are only Iran’s most recent evasions, piled atop two decades of documented nuclear deception. Nothing new there. But what are we to make of an American administration that is intent on providing cover for Iran’s coverups? “The IAEA has verified that Iran has complied with its commitments,” Wendy Sherman, the top U.S. nuclear negotiator, testified in July to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It has done what it promised to do.” John Kerry went one better, telling reporters Monday that “Iran has lived up” to its commitments.

The statement is false: Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, complained last week that Iran had “not provided any explanations that enable the Agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures” related to suspected work on weaponization. Since when did trust but verify become whitewash and hornswoggle?
That’s a question someone ought to ask Mr. Kerry or Ms. Sherman at their next committee appearance, especially since it has become clear that the administration has a record of arms-control dissembling. To wit, the State Department under Hillary Clinton had reason to know that Russia—with which the U.S. was then in “reset” mode—was violating the 1987 treaty on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces. Yet it didn’t disclose this in arms-control reports to Congress, nor did it mention the fact prior to the Senate’s 2010 ratification of the New Start treaty on strategic weapons.

“We’re not going to pass another treaty in the U.S. Senate if our colleagues [in the administration] are sitting up there knowing somebody is cheating.” That was then-Sen. John Kerry in November 2012, complaining about the coverup. The administration only came clean about the Kremlin’s breaches last summer, presumably after it had finally given up hopes for its Russian reset.
Why the spin and dishonesty? Partly it’s the old Platonic conceit of the Noble Lie—public bamboozlement in the service of the greater good—that propels so much contemporary liberal policy-making (cf. Gruber, Jonathan: transparency, lack of). So long as the higher goal is a health-care bill, or arms control with Russia, or a nuclear deal with Iran, why should the low truth of facts and figures interfere with the high truth of hopes and ideals?
But this lets the administration off too easily. The real problem is cowardice. As a matter of politics it cannot acknowledge what, privately, it believes: that a nuclear Iran is undesirable but probably inevitable and hardly catastrophic. As a matter of strategy, it refuses to commit to the only realistic course of action that could accomplish the goal it professes to seek: The elimination of Iran’s nuclear capabilities by a combination of genuinely crippling sanctions and targeted military strikes.
And so—because the administration lacks the political courage of its real convictions or the martial courage of its fake ones—we are wedded to this sham process of negotiation. “They pretend to pay us; we pretend to work,” went the old joke about labor in the Soviet Union. Just so with these talks. Iranians pretend not to cheat; we pretend not to notice. All that’s left to do is stand back and wait for something to happen.
Eventually, something will happen. Perhaps Iran will simply walk away from the talks, daring this feckless administration to act. Perhaps we will discover another undeclared Iranian nuclear facility, possibly not in Iran itself. Perhaps the Israelis really will act. Perhaps the Saudis will.
All of this may suit the president’s psychological yearning to turn himself into a bystander—innocent, in his own eyes—in the Iranian nuclear crisis. But it’s also a useful reminder that, in the contest between hard-won experience and disappointed idealism, the latter always wins in the liberal mind.
Hello, Bibi and Bogie – it is time to act!