John Vinocur, former executive editor of the International Herald Tribune, wrote a piece in the WSJ explaining the European point of view on the deal. Perhaps the most shocking part of the article was a reference to an article in the Canadian newspaper Le Devoir where security expert Bruno Tertrais, wrote “under pressure from the Obama administration, European negotiators’ original intent deteriorated from a rollback of Iran’s nuclear ambitions to their containment.”
Many of our European allies are not very pleased with the Iran agreement; they feel that they were pushed into a mediocre deal by Obama. They also disagree with President Obama’s sales rhetoric that the only alternative to this deal is war. (Emphasis added.)
Camille Grand, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research—a think tank with a reputation for telling truths the French government might prefer to avoid—told me [Vinocur] how this slippage had come about. “From 2013 on,” he said, “the Americans gave the impression they wanted the deal more than Iran did. The administration put more pressure on its friends in the negotiations than on the Iranians.”
That bears repeating: during the last two years of negotiations, Obama applied more pressure on our allies to make concessions than Iran.
As for Mr. Obama’s expectations of finding a pliable Iran, Mr. Grand saw instead the greater possibility of the mullahs asserting Iran’s leadership of radical Islam.
“Mr. Obama’s domino theory involves an Iran of compromise, and that’s the mirror image of the Bush administration’s naive idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East through a war in Iraq,” he said. “The reality of the region now is that Iran has more influence in Iraq than the United States, and more influence in Syria than Russia.”
John Vinocur talks about being at a press dinner with French President Hollande, where he was asked if he agreed with Obama’s assessment that the only alternative to the deal was war.
My recollection of Mr. Hollande’s response—jibing with that of the journalists seated to my left and right that evening—is that he said disapproval by Congress meant new “uncertainty,” and uncertainty in the Middle East could sometimes mean war.
A month later, this much is clear about the approach of the other European parties to the deal: Neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel nor U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has made an explicit link between Congress’s possible September vote against the agreement and anything resembling the Obama administration’s notions of instant cataclysm.
As far as France goes, after saying yes, they aren’t so happy with the deal, they believe that the accord is “an oversold mediocrity,” and its character “nonhistoric.” They believe Obama’s belief that Iran will suddenly repent is naive.
Citing the profound weaknesses of an agreement that allows controls over Iran to end after 15 years and the mullahs to keep an absurdly high number of centrifuges, a French official told me he graded the accord as C-plus. He expressed concern about America’s willingness over time to continue paying the enormous expense of its vast Iranian surveillance operations. And he also said that the deal’s concessions to Tehran made a pressing reality of Saudi Arabia’s quest for an atomic weapon.
So why didn’t France try to stop the deal? Vinocur believes it’s all about the money.
Because an economically nonperforming President Hollande couldn’t say “no” to French industry wanting a shot at new Iranian contracts. Because France no longer musters the international political levers to shoulder splendid isolation. And because it would not assume the cost of being regarded as Benjamin Netanyahu’s single objective ally.
So in the end it may be a cowardly French president, combined with cowardly Democratic Party members of congress, too frighted to deny their president a false and temporary legacy that may put the entire world under the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Cross-posted at The Lid.