The nuclear deal that the United States and five other great powers signed with Iran in July 2015 is the final product of a decadelong effort at arms control. That effort included sanctions in an attempt to impede Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapons capability. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, ranks as one of the most deficient arms control agreements in history. But U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to spend the remainder of his tenure fending off congressional pressures to adjust its terms.
An even larger issue, however, is Washington’s lack of a comprehensive Iran policy. For decades, the United States has refused to deal with the crucial subject that makes the nuclear issue so important, which is the nature of the Iranian regime. Any Iran policy worthy of the name must start from the fact that the Islamic Republic is not a conventional state making pragmatic estimates of its national interests but a revolutionary regime.
U.S. policymakers since the days of President Ronald Reagan have failed to understand that there can be no rapprochement between the two governments, because, as Iran’s leaders understand, that would undo the very existence of the Iranian regime. They have overlooked the fact that Iran is an exceptionally dangerous state—to its neighbors, to close U.S. allies such as Israel, and to the broader stability of the Middle East.
Given the serious challenge Iran poses to U.S. interests, Washington should seek to roll back the country’s growing influence in the Middle East while systematically eroding the foundations of its power. In the long term, the Islamic Republic will join the Soviet Union and other ideological relics of the twentieth century in eventual collapse. Until then, however, there can be no real peace between Washington and Tehran.
A RAW DEAL
No sensible Iran policy can coexist with the JCPOA as it stands today. The agreement recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium and eventually industrialize that capacity. It concedes that Iran can construct an elaborate nuclear infrastructure for research and development. It establishes a verification system that gives Iran far too much advance notice of inspections and does not meaningfully limit the development of ballistic missiles, a pillar of any nuclear weapons program. It does not provide adequate access to the facilities and scientists involved in Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons, thus denying inspectors the knowledge they need to assess the scope of Iran’s current program. And after 15 years, once the agreement expires, Iran will be free to build as many nuclear installations as it wants, accumulate as much enriched uranium as it wishes, and enrich that uranium to whatever level it deems necessary. In essence, the JCPOA establishes Iran as a threshold nuclear power today and paves the way for an eventual Iranian bomb.