Iran Nuclear Agreement Is Good, But Ratification Process Is Not

It is nothing short of amazing that the Obama administration was able to get an ever – hostile Iran to drastically reduce its nuclear program, to which it has a right as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, for 10-15 years. Iran has been hostile to the United States since the Iranians ousted the Shah – a monarch who, with U.S. support, became one of the most brutal rulers on the planet through the use of his infamous SAVAK secret police. The CIA had restored the Shah after overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian government, so the people of Iran, needless to say, have never been thrilled with that turn of events.

The nuclear agreement will significantly increase the "break out" time that Iran would need to turn a peaceful nuclear program into an atomic bomb from three or four months to about a year. Secretary of State John Kerry was correct in saying that the agreement is important because it closes off all pathways to such a bomb.

The American and world media have focused on the provisions that require Iran to stop enriching uranium 235 to levels that could be used to make a bomb; mothball two-thirds of its centrifuges for doing so, accompanied by international monitoring of them; and get rid of 98 percent of its enriched U-235 stockpile, which now has enough fuel in it to produce seven nuclear bombs. However, an even more important part of the agreement for the United States completely closes off a second route to the bomb – reprocessing spent uranium-238 fuel to make plutonium. Under the agreement, Iran must alter the core of its unfinished Arak heavy water reactor so that it won’t be able to generate plutonium, send all reprocessed fuel out of the country, and refrain from building heavy water reactors for 15 years.

What gets lost in all the media coverage of Iran’s nuclear program is that the principal threat to the United States from all such Iranian efforts is that someday Iran could make a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a long-range intercontinental missile that could reach the United States. To do so, a plutonium-made bomb would be even more useful than a bomb made from enriched U-235, because a more powerful bomb could be made with less nuclear material, thus allowing it to be transported long distance on a missile.

Although it would not be a good thing if Iran eventually got a missile with a nuclear warhead that had the range to hit U.S. soil, even in this extreme future case, Iran would likely have only a few such weapons. The United States has by far the best nuclear arsenal in the world, consisting of thousands of warheads, and Iran has a vulnerable home address to hit. In the past, this U.S. force, by threatening to incinerate nuclear-armed countries arguably more dangerous than Iran – erratic North Korea, radical Maoist China, and the Soviet Union, also with thousands of warheads – successfully deterred nuclear attacks on the United States. Also, the United States negotiated with all such "evil" countries in the past.

And the U.S. government has apparently learned from its dealings with North Korea. The current agreement with Iran has continuous international monitoring of Iran’s uranium enrichment and centrifuge production processes. For other potential nuclear activities, international inspectors can inspect suspicious facilities, including on military bases, by giving Iran 24 days-notice. That may seem like a long time, but it is not that easy to get rid of clandestine nuclear activities quickly. Additionally, should Iran violate any provision of the accord, the lifted economic sanctions would "snap back" into place.

Iran’s U.S.-friendly neighbors have not been excited by this deal. Yet you would think that they would be jumping for joy at denying nuclear weapons to Iran for 10-15 years, since Iran was just a few months away from being able to "break out" and race for a nuclear weapon. It is true that Iran might cheat on the deal – and any international agreement can be subject to double-dealing – but international inspectors do have unprecedented access to Iran’s program. In fact, despite much media coverage to the contrary, it never has been clear whether Iran wanted a nuclear weapon or just to be a nuclear threshold power, such as Japan, which has all of the things in place to go nuclear if need be. Furthermore, some evidence exists, usually ignored by hostile Western media, that Iran’s theocratic leadership may be reluctant to get a nuclear weapon for religious reasons. Finally, U.S. intelligence concluded that Iran long ago stopped activities leading to a bomb. Perhaps we will soon know if this is correct, because the agreement provides international inspectors with more access to the history of Iran’s nuclear activities.

In reality, Iran’s neighbors would have liked the United States to do the dirty work of bombing Iran to weaken it as a competing regional power, using its nuclear program as an excuse. Many military analysts, however, believe that such air strikes would have been ineffective in keeping Iran from the bomb in the long term and would have given it even more of a reason to get one to deter such attacks in the future. Now, with the nuclear agreement and the concomitant lifting of economic sanctions, these neighbors will need to confront an Iran that has more money and is therefore more powerful. However, most of the added money Iran will make – and this sum has been overstated because the effect of sanctions had eroded over time – will likely be used internally, but some may be used to support Iran-friendly groups in the Middle East region. These groups may be a threat to Iran’s neighbors but are not to the United States.

The United States, instead of being a nanny to everyone in the world, needs to look out for U.S. interests first. This deal may halt, or at least it slows, a future potential – if second rate – threat to the United States. And unlike Iran’s neighbors, in certain circumstances, the United States has interests that coincide with that of Iran – Shi’ite sponsored governments in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are battling pro-Sunni extremists, such as al Qaeda and ISIS, which could be somewhat of a threat to the United States. Who knows, maybe the nuclear agreement will pave the way to more cooperation against these Sunni Islamist groups.

However, the major drawback to the agreement – and it is glaring – is the mechanism the Congress agreed to use in voting it up or down. Once again, like the Roman Senate in antiquity as Rome went from republic to empire, the U.S. Senate has become window dressing. Instead, of a two-thirds vote required to affirmatively ratify a "treaty" – as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution – that governing document has been tilted on its head. Congress somehow unconstitutionally agreed that its disapproval of any "agreement" (not mentioned in the Constitution) with Iran could be vetoed by the president and would thus require a two-thirds vote to override that veto. Thus, instead of requiring a two-thirds vote to pass – unlikely, given a Congress ignorant of the history of U.S.-Iranian relations – it now requires a two-thirds vote to kill. This Rube Goldberg scheme cleverly allows the Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress to strut and flex by talking tough against Obama’s appeasement of Iran but still give the imperial chief executive his way. After all, the republican (small "r") veneer must be maintained to cloak Congress’s miserable abdication of its constitutional role.

Thus, Obama likely will get his agreement with Iran – and a surprisingly good one it is, given the animosity between the two countries. Yet any foreign agreement, no matter how good it is, should not be allowed to countenance continued aggrandizement of executive power and further subversion the republic’s Constitution.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.