Getting it Right Once Again on Iran Deal

I don’t think my analysis of the politics driving the Iran nuclear negotiations could be any more on the money. No sooner had I finished my last piece—in which I pointed out that opponents of the agreement were really after a postponement so another administration could make the deal–than Senator Lindsey Graham advocated a delay, saying we need to wait until the next president to deliver this deal because President Obama is somehow too weak and the Iranians “don’t fear nor do they respect him.” “Is there a better deal to be had? I think so,” Graham opined, adding “What I would suggest is if you can’t get there with this deal is to keep the interim deal in place, allow a new president in 2017, Democrat or Republican, to take a crack at the Iranian nuclear program.” While Graham says he doesn’t care if it’s a Democratic president handling Iran you can be sure he’d prefer a Republican be the one who gets the credit for this historic achievement and, as a presidential aspirant himself, he’d relish it all the more actually being that Republican.

Then there’s the assertion I made (also in my last piece) that the Israeli government wants a Republican administration to negotiate the deal because it’s guaranteed the U.S. won’t be re-balancing to East Asia under the GOP’s watch. They won’t “abandon the Middle East” as Senator Bob Corker is convinced Obama’s foreign policy doctrine seeks to do:

“It’s become very evident as to what the administration is doing relative to the Middle East,” Corker said. “The administration’s view is that in order to extract ourselves in the Middle East, we need to move away from our relationship from Israel and we need to more fully align ourselves with Iran, so we create this balance in the Middle East between Iran and its influence and the Arab Sunni influence in the region.” He added: “That seems to be our strategy. And that’s what’s creating all of this turmoil in the region.” According to Corker, the Iran deal is the lynchpin of Obama’s drive to change the balance of power in Iran’s favor and then remove America’s role from the region. But he said Obama’s plan was fatally flawed because Iran has no intention of reforming. “The P5+1 discussions are central to that,” Corker said. “The problem with that today, the fact is, Iran hasn’t changed its behavior. That’s why you see so much of what’s happening in the Middle East.”

With his op-ed, Corker is making it clear to our Middle East allies that if the Republicans are the ones at the table, they won’t be using the deal as a stepping stone out of the region.

Yet another reason why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is longing for a party switch in the oval office is so Israel can finally get out from under Obama’s thumb when it comes to peace with the Palestinians. A couple years ago, I explained how both Obama and Netanyahu created linkages between the Iran nuclear issue and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to try to geopolitically one-up the other and now Israeli journalist Dimi Reider has concluded that this is indeed the dynamic at play:

“Still, even if he were forced to publicly accept the premise of a deal, Netanyahu could retain his hawkish image by appointing himself the watchdog for Iranian violations of the deal and by trying to prove the deal doesn’t work, rather than that it should not have happened in the first place. In return for such quasi-compliance, Netanyahu might expect the United States not to press Israel too hard on the Palestinian issue—to launch, perhaps, another negotiating effort but to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to Israel’s back in the U.N. and to defend it at more menacing forums, like the International Criminal Court. This would also hardly break new ground. Looking back on the past few years, the Iran issue seems to have been used more as a bargaining chip than treated as an imminent geopolitical threat, especially during the abortive negotiation attempt by Secretary of State John Kerry. Netanyahu did not actually budge on any aspect of the peace process, and he continued settlement expansion at a remarkably rapid pace. But he was mollified enough by the lack of strong American pressure, and distracted enough by the moderates and nationalists in his coalition bickering over the peace talks, to keep relatively quiet on Iran.”

And Netanyahu ended up being outmaneuvered—Obama was able to use the Palestinian issue to make sure the Iran deal passes but Bibi can derive some benefit from it yet. But how would linkage continue to apply post-deal? Well, you just read above how part of Netanyahu’s climbdown will be him assuming the self-appointed role of watcher of possible violations. Assuming the Obama administration persists in cracking down on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians (the White House will likely drop the whole thing since Netanyahu has halted his obstructionism), you can expect Netanyahu will immediately claim Iran is cheating in some highly debatable way, escalate things to the point where they threaten the accord, and Obama is forced to back down. But he’d only have to do this dance until a Republican wins the presidency and proceeds to abandon Obama’s linkage strategy.

So, to recap, I was correct about the motivations of the Republicans and Israelis for wanting to press pause on the negotiations and about the larger linkage tug-of-war between Obama and Netanyahu. In the teasing words of Ace Ventura to Police Lieutenant Einhorn/Finkle after he put the pieces together in the case of the Miami Dolphins’ missing mascot and kidnapped quarterback, “Man, I’m tired of being right!”

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