The Very Unwise Iran Hawks
It never signals weakness to advance U.S. interests through diplomacy, and only someone ideologically hostile to diplomacy with adversaries would think that it does.
Bret Stephens is not wise:
Making a deal with Iran now is about as wise as striking a new arms-control agreement with Vladimir Putin.
Stephens makes a typical hawkish argument against negotiating with adversaries, which amounts to mindless rejection of all diplomatic engagement because those states also commit awful acts against others. According to this “logic,” the U.S. should not negotiate agreements with such states even when doing so would limit and constrain their capabilities. This is a remarkably stupid and short-sighted position to take, but this is the position that Iran hawks take every time.
The standard line about dealing with these states is that they can’t be trusted and that they will break any agreement they make, but the record shows that when there are sufficiently strong verification measures in place these governments can and do comply. The truth is that the Iranian government was fully complying with the nuclear deal before the U.S. violated it, and it continued to honor its obligations for a full year after the U.S. pulled out. This is not a government that has been eager to cheat and evade the restrictions put on its program. Russia has complied with New START requirements for more than a decade, and there have been no credible allegations of noncompliance.
Stephens thinks he has made a very clever point by likening the nuclear negotiations with Iran to negotiating a new arms control agreement with Russia, but of course it would be wise to negotiate new arms control agreements with Russia because this would ensure that the Russian arsenal will remain more limited and subject to inspections after New START expires in 2026. New START is the last major arms control treaty still in force, and when it goes away there will be nothing to replace it. That actually makes it imperative that the U.S. find some way to resume strategic stability talks with Russia sooner than later, because failure to do so will leave us with a world where the limits on Russia’s arsenal that have been in place for the last thirty years will no longer exist.
Arms control is not a gift that the U.S. gives to Russia, but rather a mutually beneficial arrangement that makes both countries and the entire world more secure. It takes an exceptionally narrow-minded and myopic person to miss how important it is to make sure that arms control survives in an era of deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations. As relations with both Russia and China worsen, arms control agreements will become more important rather than less. American policymakers will have to get out of the habit of treating negotiations on these issues as if they are somehow disreputable. The U.S. does not negotiate these agreements as favors to other countries, but because they serve our interests.
Reviving the agreement with Iran makes even more sense than negotiating with Russia, since Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapons program and it has not yet obtained nuclear weapons. The time to salvage the bargain with their government is now before they cross that threshold. After all, what is the alternative? If Iran’s nuclear program is not put back under the restrictions of the agreement, Iran will be a nuclear threshold state capable of developing nuclear weapons if their government ever chooses to do that. If the nuclear deal is revived, their government’s ability to develop those weapons will be severely limited for at least decades to come. Letting the nuclear deal die won’t stop the Iranian government from attacking dissidents, and it would be playing into the hands of the Iranian hardliners that have opposed the agreement from the beginning.
Nonproliferation and arms control agreements aren’t going to change other policies and activities of the governments that the U.S. negotiates with, and they don’t have to do that to be worth pursuing. When there are many outstanding disputes in a relationship with another state, it is wise to resolve as many of them as possible. The U.S. should never refuse to negotiate on one issue that can be resolved because there are many other problems with another state. It never signals weakness to advance U.S. interests through diplomacy, and only someone ideologically hostile to diplomacy with adversaries would think that it does.