How We Got Into Such a Bad Nuclear Deal with Iran


Last week, Congress kicked off hearings for its 60-day review of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Despite Administration assurances—given even before the agreement was concluded—Congress would have this review time, Obama rushed the deal to judgment at the U.N. to bind the U.S. internationally before congressional review could be undertaken.

The chief negotiator of an agreement that abandons America’s seven decade-long policy of non-proliferation and violates Obama’s numerous promises to block a nuclear-armed Iran is Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition to playing the U.N. card, Kerry is playing the war card with Congress.

Both cards seek to hide the real deal. Congressional review needs to include examining the historical context of how we got into negotiating such a bad one.

Kerry suggests this agreement is the best achievable with an Iran hell-bent on preserving its uranium enrichment rights. He warns, if not approved by Congress, “We will have squandered the best chance we have to solve this problem through peaceful means.”

Knowing his “war is not the answer” tune played well to Congress when he sang it 44 years ago during the Vietnam conflict, throwing his fellow Vietnam war veterans under the bus in the process, Kerry sings it today to sway congressional opinion once again. This time it is our national security being thrown under the bus.

Let us examine how Obama got us into such a bad deal.

Never a credible student of history—evidenced by his misrepresentation of the Crusades and Muslim contributions to early America—Obama took office in 2009 lacking a handle on U.S./Iranian relations. Whether due to naivete or intent, we do not know, but the impact was it is he who squandered our “ace-in-the-hole” in pressuring Iran.

Since the mullahs came to power in 1979, there are four occasions in which Iranian cooperation evolved:

  • Prompted by fear of retaliation, the release of U.S. embassy hostages in 1981 as President Ronald Reagan was sworn-in;
  • Fearing additional confrontation with the U.S. after air strikes against Iranian installations in 1988, the mullahs ended their eight-year war with Iraq;
  • For a year after 9/11, Iran was surprisingly cooperative—although it is now known it was motivated by fear of retaliation for its role in assisting the 9/11 terrorists; and
  • Fearing U.S. forces invading Iraq in 2003 might swivel east into Iran, the mullahs discretely (through third party channels) assured Washington they would not interfere in Iraq.

Thus, it has always been the credible threat of U.S. military force that has brought the mullahs back to a sense of reality.

Undoubtedly factoring into calculations as to the level of violence the mullahs believe they can get away with is a U.S. president’s party affiliation. Republican presidents worry the mullahs as they are more prone to use or credibly threaten the use of such force; Democratic Party presidents are much less likely to use it, making their threats meaningless.

Unsurprisingly, all four instances of Iranian cooperation above occurred during Republican administrations. Thus, the fear instinct for mullahs rises during a Republican’s presidency, generating a cooperative mindset as a survival mechanism, and lowers during a Democrat’s presidency.

The presidencies of Democrats Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Obama support this.

In 1979, Carter opened the door for the mullahs to gain power. In 1997, during President Clinton’s second term in office, Iran’s Mohammad Khatami was elected president. The Clinton Administration saw Khatami as a moderate with whom it could rationally deal.

It was the perfect opportunity for the mullahs to play the “good cop, bad cop” routine. With Khatami playing the former, pretending to reform the government, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei played the latter, resisting such change.

Falling for Khatami’s “hope and change” gimmick and, in an effort to show America’s good faith, Clinton proved willing to sacrifice an Iranian opposition group—the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK)—which was courageously fighting hard for true change in their country. Despite lacking supporting evidence but at Khatami’s request, Clinton listed PMOI as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), drastically impairing its financial survivability.

Ironically, in 2002, MEK became the first source to report on the mullahs secret effort to pursue a nuclear program. Despite being an invaluable intelligence source, MEK efforts under Obama to be removed from the FTO list for meeting all necessary requirements were rejected as yet another Democratic administration sought to curry favor with the mullahs.

It eventually took court action by the MEK to gain what an Obama administration, manipulated by the mullahs, refused to grant—removal from the FTO list.

But more worrisome than an Obama team precariously placing us in a nuclear card game with Iran in which we no longer hold our ace is its effort to conceal the actual hand it has dealt the mullahs. One of those cards, involving a very critical issue over Iran’s true nuclear intentions—which has been the subject of intense negotiations for a decade—incredulously seeks to resolve it based on a naive honor policy.

The issue involves granting access to international inspectors from the IAEA to Iran’s nuclear site at Parchin. There is good reason why Iran has denied such access as it can be dispositive on whether Tehran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful or not.

While the IAEA did inspect Parchin in 2005, later intelligence indicated a building not inspected held a steel containment chamber where hydrodynamic experiments—related to nuclear explosives research—were being conducted. As such, it would have involved using uranium—the presence of which is extremely difficult to completely eradicate. That has not stopped Iran from spending a decade doing so.

An extraordinary effort by Iran to sanitize the site has been in full swing. It has involved, among other measures, removing tons of dirt and replacing it with dirt brought in from elsewhere and laying down new asphalt. But, just like Obama and his original birth certificate, all inspection efforts have been rejected. Undoubtedly, Iran’s own soil testing still detects traces of uranium.

So how best to resolve the issue? It appears the U.S. has agreed to a side deal, to be cut between Tehran and the IAEA, the details to which we are never to be made privy. However, the indication is the mullahs will be allowed to collect and submit soil samples on their own for testing! Is this the “unprecedented verification” Obama promised us? Is this what twenty months of negotiations with Iran generates?

The side deals were never even disclosed to Congress, only coming to light during discussions involving two Republican lawmakers and IAEA representatives.

In evaluating the nuclear deal with Iran, Congress has to focus not only the mullahs’ deceit but Team Obama’s as well. In no case should Congress fall for Kerry’s anti-war tune it represents our last best option.

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.


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