The details of the Iran deal aren’t worth quibbling over. A few sources (NYT and Vox among them) have developed cute summaries of “all you need to know”, but they reek of partisanship, oversimplification and naïve optimism. It seems the best way to gain public support for an agreement is to make it so complicated and nuanced that no one will actually comprehend it (a too familiar concept for opponents of the ACA), and the average American with a busy life will be forced to read someone’s capsule summary of it.
From a legal perspective there are plenty of of gaps, holes, and ambiguities in the Iran deal which in the business world would result in an entirely unenforceable contract. In law schools around the country, first year students are taught that “I will give you ten dollars if and when I feel like it” is not enforceable because it is an illusory promise, retaining too much discretion to bind an obligation. One sticking point in particular is the discretion and flexibility Iran retains under the deal to tie up any disputes or investigations within a web of legal processes for which there is ultimately no timetable.
It is certainly worth noting that the drivers of this deal do not claim that it is a good one. In fact, the overall theme in support of the Vienna agreement is simply “it is better than nothing”. Kerry goes so far as to suggest the agreement serves as a baseline for future negotiations, should Iran begin to ‘act out’. President Obama describes this deal as the only alternative to war. Not a good deal, but the best that anyone could have done.
Assuming the goal of a negotation is for all parties to give and receive some value, it is safe to say that we did not receive anything tangible. One might argue a threshold concession might have been the release of four American hostages in Iran. The President has acknowledged the need to secure the release of these four Americans but expressed concern that tying them into the negotiations would have caused the Iranians to use them as pawns to extract further concessions. (What more could we have given them?) The best case to be made for an American gain in this deal is the intangible possibility of friendly future relations with Iran. This prompts the real questions. Is negotiating peace with a country who doesn’t necessarily desire it a viable national interest? Is this a regime with which we should be negotiating at all? A key principle of negotiation must be a level of mutual respect, correct?
The Islamic Republic of Iran openly hates the US. Not just the extreme fringes of the Iranian populace mind you. Hatred of America, Israel, and the West in general is a core tenet of Iranian culture. Contempt for Americans is institutional. Proponents of this deal would have you believe that Iran only hates us based on our arrogant reputation for aggressive interventionism. But we are bargaining at the table at arm’s length now. Shouldn’t Iran’s leadership be speaking some eloquent praise of our leadership for finally seeing the light, becoming more enlightened, and working toward normalizing diplomatic relations between us?
Ayatollah Khameini tweeted out an image of President Obama with a gun to his head, and promised a swift defeat of the aggressive, criminal America. This did not happen many years ago, and this is not some low level government operative. This was last weekend (after the deal), and this is the supreme leader and most powerful political figure in Iran.
A few days after the deal, the same Ayatollah openly mocked America in front of a crowd of Iranians as they chanted “Death to America”, claiming that “they think they have stopped us, but we know that is not true” [rough translation]. Iran’s hostility towards Israel is no secret, and maybe you claim not to care about Israel (for every functional purpose our mid-east proxy), but isn’t the idea of open discussion of the annihilation of an entire people cause for concern?
If it was just about nailing down the details of an agreement, then a reasonable person might just agree that this deal is better than nothing, and at least we have something down on paper now. But the details do not matter when dealing with a partner that doesn’t respect you. In fact, we might have been better off never taking a seat at the table. President Obama has been successful in his second term, racking up legacy points in a progressive agenda, but he may come to regret his lone significant foray into foreign affairs. At the very best, we have accomplished nothing. At the worst, we have legitimized and fueled a global threat.