There have surely been a hundred statesmen in history who would have negotiated a better deal than the surreal non-deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But none of those statesmen was just elected president of the United States. The art-of-the-deal negotiator who was just elected is Donald Trump.
And it’s merely sensible to point out that if he’d been negotiating with Iran, there would have been a better outcome than the one we have.
What’s not sensible at this point is angrily denouncing Trump, who would have performed better going head to head with Iran, instead of saving one’s anger for the grotesque reality of the non-deal Iran “deal.” The ugly reality is that this “deal” is like stabbing ourselves over and over again, while appealing to Iran to honor our demented sacrifice by continuing to accept bribes from us.
We’ll come back to that stabbing ourselves thing in a moment. First, a brief summary of how the “deal” is going.
Many of you will be aware that President Obama, in his final 10-day run in office, has approved the shipment of 116 metric tons of raw uranium from Russia to Iran. This amount of uranium, enriched to weapons grade, would be enough for as many as 10 nuclear warheads. The proximate reason uranium is being shipped to Iran is that Iran is being compensated for giving up excess heavy water that was produced at the Arak heavy-water production plant – in violation of the JCPOA. (Heavy water is a coolant for the Arak plutonium reactor.)
Iran could have just, you know, NOT PRODUCED THE HEAVY WATER. (Pardon the shouting.) But Iran did produce the heavy water, because this ploy is working for Iran really well. The uranium shipment is the latest form of compensation for the new ritual of Iran giving up overproduced heavy water. Last time, Obama just bought the water for cash.
If it seems like Iran is a bad-dog alpha having its dysfunctional patterns reinforced: yes.
That’s not a bad analogy for what’s going on (except that a “bad dog” just has bad behavior patterns, whereas a predatory, terror-sponsoring radical-Islamist state has actual evil intentions).
Meanwhile, it emerged at the end of December, and was confirmed by the Iranians last week, that Obama’s sanctions-relief cash awards to Iran since 2013 (when the original JPOA went into effect) have amounted to over $10 billion. (It’s at least $11.7 billion with the Jan-Feb 2016 pallets-of-cash ransom payments added in.)
These awards have been in the form of spendable cash. We’re not talking about still-litigable, partially unfrozen accounts, or estimates of value from the ability to entertain trade and investment again. We’re talking about Iran being supplied, in the forms of literal cash and gold, with walking-around money. By the United States. Taxpayer.
But wait! – there’s more. Just a few weeks before the disclosure of the $10 billion cash figure, it also emerged that Iran is negotiating with Russia a purchase of offensive weaponry: main battle tanks, artillery, Su-30 fighters. The amount of the pending arms purchase? $10 billion. These simplistic, arresting coincidences keep cropping up, kind of like a series of cosmic knock-knock jokes.
Of course, Iran is also cruising the high seas zooming our warships and furtively shooting at us, as well as operating a growing militia army in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and arming Hezbollah and Hamas. All those things cost money. So take your pick as to which Iranian aggression against the peace Obama has been funding with cash from Uncle Sam.
And while you’re choosing, ponder the fact that Obama is helping Iran operate the Shia militias in Iraq by just arming them directly. So that’s a few bucks Iran doesn’t have to take out of the walking-around money.
This is how the JCPOA “deal” negotiated by Obama and Kerry is performing. (There are other performance issues, but we haven’t got all day here.)
Now, back to that stabbing ourselves analogy.
Back in 2011, when Obama was issuing weird, pulled-punch warnings to Muammar Qadhafi, I wrote about one of them, which had been floated by administration spokesmen through the New York Times. In the post, I quoted from a game-theory analysis, popular in the 1960s and 1970s, of negotiation and brinkmanship. (I promise, there’s a stabbing-ourselves connection here.)
In its foreign policy dealings, Obama’s Oval Office cohort reminds me more every day of a treasured passage from Thomas Schelling’s once-seminal 1960 treatise, The Strategy of Conflict. This work, built around game theory, sought to illuminate the “negotiating” behavior of the nuclear-armed great powers of the Cold War. As with all game theory, its premises survive only by ignoring the numerous alternatives available to negotiating parties in the real world. This passage is a memorable example:
The sophisticated negotiator may find it difficult to seem as obstinate as a truly obstinate man. If a man knocks at a door and says that he will stab himself on the porch unless given $10, he is more likely to get the $10 if his eyes are bloodshot.*
Or [I continued], in Oklahoma, he is more likely to find himself facing the barrels of a .12-gauge shotgun.
In the real world, Schelling’s earnestly framed scenario is laughably ridiculous. That was my point.
But 18 months into the JCPOA, it’s as if Team Obama has moved from seeing negotiation and warnings in such game-theory terms, to actually being the guy on the porch threatening to stab himself. The Obama negotiating objective is as deranged as the Obama dynamic now. The objective is not to get $10, but to urge $10 billion – and more – on Iran, lest Iran stop playing the bad dog. And dynamic-wise, we’re way past threatening to stab ourselves at this point. The Obama administration has been stabbing itself, and America, repeatedly for months, in a painfully pathetic effort to get Iran to keep the door open and continue accepting cash gratuities.
Trump is who we’ve got, to start getting this truly appalling state of affairs corrected. And it’s more realistic to expect him to do better than Obama, than it is to focus on being paralyzed and overset because he got elected.
* Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1960.) Quote from 1980 paperback version, pp. 22-23