While the media focus on the deal has been on the five days of high-profile negotiations in Geneva that ended with a pre-dawn signing of the four-page document this weekend, secret talks have been going on with Iran since at least three months before Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran's new president in June.
While the Geneva talks ended in smiles and handshakes all around from all parties—albeit with caveats from Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama—back home in Iran and the United States, there are many who think there should have been no negotiations in the first place, and they are determined to mess up the ones already under way for the longer-term deal.
That opposition is also, obviously, very strong in Israel across party lines.
After more than a decade of bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran talk from Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, as well as U.S. neoconservatives like John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who just three weeks ago made his latest call for Israel to bomb Iran, one would think that the Geneva agreement would provide at least a six-month reprieve from such talk. But that's unlikely.
We've already heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who called the deal "an historic mistake." Most of the Israeli leadership, in and out of office, views an Iran with nuclear weapons or the capability to make some in a few months time, as an existential threat. There are many high-level Israelis who would like to give the world another dose of the 32-year-old Begin Doctrine, which calls for preventive attacks on any enemy of Israel that appears close to developing a nuclear weapon. The 2007 destruction of the Syrian reactor under construction in the desert at al-Kibir was an example of the Begin Doctrine at work.
But despite the fiery rhetoric, it is hard to imagine that Israel, despite its leaders' complaints about the international agreement that they view as a snare and delusion, would follow Bolton's advice during the next six months even if taking out Iran's nuclear infrastructure were as simple logistically to destroy as Israel found it to blast the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 and the Syrian reactor six years ago. And although Israel weathered the diplomatic storm over the Osirak attack, this time might well be different. That doesn't mean Israel won't do everything it can to undermine progress on a comprehensive agreement, including working hard to persuade its allies in Congress to push for more sanctions instead of relaxing them, something sure to give the hard-liners in Tehran a we-told-you-so edge.
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Iran's hard-liners are relatively silent now. But they too can be expected to try every means at their disposal to ensure that no long-term deal is approved. They will surely seek to convince Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the ultimate real authority in Iran, that it is better to endure the sanctions that have deeply wounded their country's economy than to make a long-term deal that constrains its nuclear program in any way, such as the intrusive daily inspections the six-month agreement mandates.
These hard-liners might have the support of the populace behind them on that. Iran's opposition movement—whose leaders detest the hard-liners on many issues and would like to see big changes in the theocratic governance of the Islamic state, a move to real democracy not subject to the mullahs' vetoes and Khamenei's edicts—is not unified on the issue of nukes. A recent poll shows 68 percent of Iranians favor continuing the development of civilian nuclear power (with 34 percent in favor of developing nuclear weapons).
In the United States, the hard-line bomb-bomb-bomb-we-shouldn't-be-negotiating-at-all crowd has been in high dudgeon since even before the Geneva deal was signed. But they aren't the only foes. Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey (who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) have also expressed strong opposition and said they will continue to press for stronger sanctions despite the deal.
While their opposition may not be as fierce as that of the hard-line neoconservatives, it may well give strength to the neocons' push.
The neoconservative opposition to a deal short of outright Iranian surrender can ultimately be traced to the second incarnation of the Committee on the Present Danger in 1976. That group, comprised then mostly of Cold War Democrats, rejected détente with the USSR as allowing the Soviets to gain a military advantage. The Central Intelligence Committee at the time was underestimating Soviet strength, CPD said.
Ultimately, thanks to pressure from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, then serving his first term as secretary of Defense, the neoconservative-dominated "Team B" was officially set up. It said the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate of the USSR was badly wrong. Team B vastly overstated Soviet military power, argued that the U.S. was beset by nuclear inferiority, and made a rash of other claims about Soviet strength and intentions, almost every one of which turned out to be wrong. But Team B nonetheless sparked a U.S. military spending spree that started under President Jimmy Carter and was greatly expanded under Ronald Reagan.
One of the participants in CPD and Team B—Paul Wolfowitz—generated the neoconservative underpinnings for what would eventually become the Bush Doctrine. That doctrine supports preventive war. That is, the U.S. is within its rights to attack a nation that it thinks might, at some time in the future, though not imminently, attack it. While pre-emptive war, a first strike directed at stopping an imminent attack, is widely viewed by international legal scholars as part of every nation's right of self defense, preventive war is a war of aggression.
Such would be an attack against Iran based on the view that it might, someday, build nuclear weapons that it might, someday, use against Israel or Saudi Arabia or the United States. Thus do the Begin and Bush doctrines intersect in the minds of those whose bomb-bomb-bomb mentality holds sway.
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have both made clear that the "military option" is not off the table with Iran. If no satisfactory long-term agreement can be achieved, Iran's nuclear facilities are still at risk of a U.S. or U.S.-Israeli attack. Which would be a grotesque move filled with civilian casualties and ferocious blowback.
But, for now, thanks to the willingness of the Obama administration, unlike its predecessor, to actually talk to Iran, the possibility of such an attack has been reduced. It will be up to progressives to urge their elected leaders—including Schumer, Menendez and other naysayers—not to undermine that diplomacy. The first step? Fighting against the addition of more sanctions.