[Important update at the bottom. – J.E.]
There have been some excellent editorial pieces written in the past week on the nuclear negotiations in Vienna. As is to be expected, given that the “deal” gets worse by the day, they are uniformly pessimistic; see Melanie Phillips, for example (apologies for the paywall), along with Charles Krauthammer and Joseph Klein.
Meanwhile, informative articles raise troubling questions about any potential “deal,” like “The Secret Side of the Iran Nuclear Deal” (Eli Lake and Josh Rogin). Clauses in the “deal” that will never be made public are not a reassuring feature.
That’s especially the case when Obama and Kerry are claiming that they are ready to walk away from a bad deal, while at the same time the Obama administration is preparing to put intense political pressure on Democrats – calling up a Soros-funded dark money group, in fact, as an arm-twister – to back Obama’s play. Administrations don’t usually anticipate having to put political guns to people’s heads for good deals.
Indeed, the full-court press on Congressional Democrats while talks have been extended (again) and there still is no “deal” – not even a scare-quote facsimile of a deal – makes Team Obama look pretty darned determined to ram something through, as opposed to looking principled and ready to walk away.
The Iranians aren’t fooled, in any case, by the Obama-Kerry claims of being willing to walk away. If Obama and Kerry were willing to walk away from a bad deal, they would have done so before now, considering that Iran hasn’t accepted any of the terms Obama has previously laid out for U.S. concurrence in a “deal.” The only way to keep the negotiations going has been for the U.S. to simply concede every point on which Iran is intransigent.
That’s why it has always been logically invalid to refer to the outcome we may get from this process as a “deal.” A “deal” misleadingly suggests a two-sided conclusion that compels both sides and results from give-and-take. The dénouement in view in this case will simply be a formal surrender by the Western powers.
We’re so missing the point
But all of that is actually beside the point. History will see that far more clearly than we do, because history won’t be mesmerized by either the political personalities, or the day-to-day drama and the minutiae of the talks.
When we focus on whether there will be a deal, that’s where we’re making our first mistake. A deal isn’t the point, and the Western media’s obsessive focus on one is actively blinding us to what does matter.
Michael Ledeen wrote incisively on one aspect of that topic on Monday, predicting that the Iranians aren’t going to sign any deal, no matter how many concessions they get from the U.S. and the EU-3.
I don’t want to be the sole bearer of bad news for Ben Rhodes and his fellow gurus, but here it is: the Iranians at Vienna won’t sign anything, per their instructions from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. …
Keep reminding yourself that Khamenei has two fixed principles: no “new relationship” with the Great Satan, and relentless pursuit of the atomic bomb.
Obama/Kerry/Rhodes won’t take “no” for a definitive answer, so we’re probably going to see a new form of creative appeasement. Short version: It will be a “no deal deal.” Iran promises to try really really hard to be nice and we pay for it.
I can’t fault any of that passage as a depiction of reality. The only thing I would do is add that it’s better for Iran to not get a deal.
I can’t improve on the strategic perspective I outlined for Tehran back in November 2013, which hasn’t changed since then. So I’ll just reiterate it here. It’s likely to again be predictive.
1. Iran doesn’t need a deal. Iran needs time. For Iran, time is better than a deal.
2. A deal that’s too bad for the West will be too bad for Israel to live with.
3. Israel is the only player in all this who might interfere with Iran’s time. Accepting a deal that Israel can’t live with would be Iran’s worst move at this point.
4. All things being equal, therefore, Iran will keep stringing negotiations out as long as she can. That keeps everyone else frozen in place, and gives her time.
As Michael Ledeen suggests, the most likely outcome of the current talks will be a vague joint statement of some kind, one that envisions further talks, and gives cover to greater economic concessions to Iran – effectively, an all but complete lifting of significant sanctions – which will be done under the radar by Western governments. To achieve this particular end, the Obama administration will probably pursue its signature course of happening to reverse major national policies by sending memos among mid-level staffers.
Recognize the following and you will understand what’s going on.
A deal wouldn’t put Iran on the hook; that’s not why she needs to avoid one. Iran will wriggle easily off any hook – especially the slippery, non-barbed hook inherent in the incredibly favorable terms being offered in Vienna.
Yet Iran keeps resisting formal agreement to ever more ridiculous concessions. This is for two reasons. Iran doesn’t need a deal. And a ridiculous deal would trigger Israel. It’s better for Iran to get everything she truly wants without having to let a deal happen.
That’s what is going on right now. To put it another way, the negotiation process is the surrender of the West.
This is counterintuitive and brain-fogging, for us who are witnesses to it in the big middle of the process. We are hard-wired to think that it’s the formal outcome of the negotiating process that matters. But from the perspective of the cold-eyed future, it will be very clear. The West is being played by a process – one that the West itself insisted on and had to bribe the Iranians into.
Forget a deal; the deal doesn’t matter and isn’t the point. Stop thinking “deal,” and start thinking “Iran is getting time, and is steadily winning back her money, gold, and economic options to boot.”
That’s what matters. It will be why the Israelis will almost certainly have to decide that they can no longer watch from the sidelines as the West ties itself, in slow motion, to the train tracks.
* UPDATE *: Funny, we were just talking about this concept in the comments section (see the exchange with antiliberalcryptonite). WSJ reports this morning that the U.S. has now suggested making the talks “open-ended.” Just get rid of that silly deadline and keep talking, without all the inconvenient interruptions for extension paperwork, excuses, and explanations.
The removal of a deadline would be a complete surrender by the U.S. and the West. Above all else, Iran wants to avoid the inconvenience of a concluded “deal,” which would end the suspense about what the outcome will be. The U.S. has just made the proposal that would give Iran — for free — the thing Iran wants the most. Rarely in human history has surrender been offered so abjectly.