Two Faulty Objections to an Iran Deal

by Ali Gharib

The closing months of an Iran nuclear deal were always bound to bring a hailstorm of criticisms from opponents of diplomacy. Well, it’s happening — and maybe “hail” isn’t the right kind of storm: critics of a deal seem be throwing shit up against a wall and seeing what they can get to stick.

Two lines of criticism here are worth exploring. First, that intelligence-gathering and inspections of Iran’s nuclear program will never be good enough to detect whether or not they are cheating. And, second, that other regional powers, namely Saudi Arabia, will seek to build their own nuclear program.

Let’s deal with the second of those first, because it’s in the news. David Sanger had a piece in The New York Times a couple days ago under the (web) headline “Saudi Arabia Promises to Match Iran in Nuclear Capability.” The title largely speaks for itself, so I won’t bother with most of the details. But this line from Sanger is worth noting: “It is widely presumed that Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology, if not a weapon itself.”

Yet, as the Washington Post‘s PostEverything blog recently noted, “Pakistan has of late asserted its independence from Saudi Arabia, as evidenced by their refusal to aid Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.” Riyadh may be furious enough over the Iran deal to forsake the U.S., but Islamabad may not be—a point echoed by the scholars Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai, who disputed the “nuclear cascade” theory in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists last month. So this isn’t quite the universal presumption Sanger presents it as.

Nonetheless, even if the nuclear dominoes, so to speak, do fall, it could be a boon to non-proliferation efforts. If Saudi Arabia does follow through on its threat to match Iran, perhaps it can be convinced to adhere to the same restrictions. “Given the nature of what Iran has agreed to, the appropriate response to such demands [to match Iran’s capability] is probably: you’re welcome to it—although why any unsanctioned state would want to subject itself to such severe restrictions and intrusiveness is another question,” Paul Pillar wrote recently.

Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick echoed this notion. “I say let any Middle Eastern country sign on to an agreement with all of the same limitations included in the deal that has been negotiated by the P5+1 with Iran. That will be true equivalency,” Sick wrote in an e-mail. “And if all the Arab states should do so, that would be a powerful first step toward a nuclear free zone in the Middle East—which they all say they want.”

But there’s more to this objection than the failure to think it through to its conclusion. What’s most strange is that now Saudi Arabia getting a nuclear program is an objection to an Iran deal. Yet, before the interim deal and further negotiations, hawks had these sorts of things to say about why something must be done about Iran’s nuke program: “One certain result [of a nuclear-armed Iran] would thus be a nuclear proliferation spiral in the Middle East, in which Saudi Arabia, Turkey and probably Egypt would acquire nuclear arsenals of their own,” wrote the Wall Street Journal editorial board in 2011. (I won’t bore you with more examples—you can Google around for them.)

Never mind that at least one major think tank didn’t think so much of the Middle East nuclear proliferation cascade theory—despite the Journal‘s cocksure declaration of a “certain result.” What’s really galling is that the situation hawks have used to lament Obama’s supposed inaction on Iran before diplomacy is now being used to oppose diplomacy, Obama, in other words, is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

If that leaves you scratching your head, let me help clarify what’s going on. In this case, too, the 2011 Journal editorial is instructive. The editorial board was insisting that Obama do something about Iran’s nuclear progress, but they weren’t asking for a robust diplomatic process and a deal that curtails Iran’s program. Instead, the Journal called for military strikes against Iran, arguing, naturally, that the negative consequences would be minimal.

With that, let’s move on to the second objection to the Iran nuke deal held up by Iran hawks. This one says that even the heightened regime of inspections on Iran’s nuclear program and the certainty that it’ll remain the world’s most watched program ever simply won’t be enough. Iran will cheat, we’re told, and it’ll get away with it because these methods of detection won’t cut it.

This notion has been proffered, again, by many über-hawks. “The deal’s success is fundamentally dependent on intelligence and inspections. Neither of these tools is reliable,” says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official website. It’s no surprise that the neoconservative Washington Post blogger Jen Rubin shares this view: “Verification and detection are illusory,” she recently wrote.

There’s a grain of truth to the point: intelligence-gathering is never perfect, and neither is any inspections regime. But that obscures a more salient point about this objection to a diplomatic agreement.

Opponents of the proposed deal outlined in an April framework agreement constantly say they don’t want war as an alternative to this agreement. They just don’t want this deal, they want a better deal. That better deal, one where Iran gives up its enrichment program entirely, is a unicorn: it exists only in their imagination. Virtually every Iran expert on the planet agrees that there is no such deal to be had, because Iran would never agree to it. It’s a non-starter.

What’s so curious, then, about the positions of those opposing the current deal is that even their unicorn deal would rely on intelligence and inspections. If, as Jen Rubin wrote, Iran has a “history of lying [and] cheating” then why wouldn’t it cheat on a pledge to not enrich at all? It follows that such a pledge would, in that case, need to be backed up by robust inspection and intelligence-gathering. Then we’d be back at square one, up against this objection that inspections and detection don’t work.

WIth this objection, the logical fallacy runs so deep that it lays bare the intentions of the opponents of diplomacy who raise it. They don’t want a deal at all. Indeed, Rubin has already called for an attack on Iran—in 2010!

None of this is to say that there aren’t real concerns about an Iranian nuclear deal. But some of the objections are so completely hollow that they ought to be seen for what they are: throwing shit against the wall. We should recognize this from a mile away when it comes from the warmongers, and call them to account for it.

Photo: Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. “Throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks”. One thing that has always struck me about all this B.S., is the source, especially the language used. All the vernacular about “lying, cheating, etc.”, reminds me of the line Bogart spoke-“play it again Sam”. “Israel doesn’t have Nukes”, “Israel won’t give up its Nukes”, and the beat goes on. One might even start thinking/believe, that Israel may have already provided Saudi war hawks the ability/even a nuke. Far fetched? food for thought to those who believe otherwise. Keep in mind “Collateral Damage”, extrapolate to include those not often mentioned. Think 9-11 and who went down with the towers. Nutty thinking? In today’s world of ever changing revisions, are you willing to bet the ranch on it?

  2. re: The threat to match Iran
    Saudi Arabia has long planned to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, with the first reactor on line in 2022. In September 2013 both GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Toshiba/ Westinghouse signed contracts with Exelon Nuclear Partners (ENP), a division of Exelon Generation, to pursue reactor construction deals with KA-CARE.

    Saudi Arabia signed the NPT in 1988. Facilities at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE.) will be under IAEA surveillance. Saudi Arabia has been a member of IAEA since 1962 and has had a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 2005.

    What KSA has not planned for is uranium enrichment, which Iran has. Fuel purchases would probably be from France, a close KSA ally, which doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to make lots of money. Plus the US like to control which countries are allowed to enrich. The US has prohibited its puppet South Korea from enriching, even though it produces enrichment plant for others.

  3. It’s all about money and the rest is BS! “Fear mongering” generates business and investment! The scary part is that a bunch of nomads who were responsible for 9/11 then will have access to enriched uranium even if they won’t have the indigenous enrichment capability! The best part of it is though, most of the nuclear facilities owned by the nomads will be supplied, constructed, and operated by the west which means more employment and business for the west!
    Since 1980 there’s been multiple wars in the ME and close 2 million people from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebenan, Palestine and Syria have been killed! Don’t tell anyone gives a shit about the people in that region! The latest philosophy is to arm all of them with nuclear arsenals and let them either deter each other from perpetual wars or take care of each other. Then in that case the owners of the oil facilities will change to someone else! All you need to do is decontaminate the flat sand lands in order to get to the oil facilities!
    There’s a true example of this kind of business philosophy and that is:
    The Cleveland clinic operates a hospital built by the Dubai government in Dubai. CC doesn’t spent a penny there and brings into Cleveland, OH $mm’s every year. This business philosophy can be applied to the nuclear power plants in nomads’ land as well!

  4. If this deal, as Israel and her Saudi cousins claim, gives Iran everything she wants, then… why not y’all sign the same deal and get everything you want? Why is Israel not signing the same, or half, or a quarter or one item from that deal?

    Furthermore, Saudis are promising to match Iran, and they claim Iran has been cheating and working on nukes, then Saudis are promising to get nukes even though they signed the NPT. So, they’re admitting they want nukes which means they were not sincere about the NPT agreement they signed as they’re promising to cheat or break that agreement. So, where is all the outrage? Where are the crippling sanctions Congress loves so much? I tell you where they are. They are in Hypocrisyland, the same place the outrage over Israel’s (stolen) arsenal is, which didn’t motivate the Arab monarchies (who according to Israel’s past claims when it suited Israel had been committed to “push all the Jews into the sea”).

    The push right after this deal with Iran should be to get every Middle Eastern country to sign to a harsher version of the NPT whether they like it or not and to push them to give up any weapons if they have it. Then after that the whole world has to go on a drive to rid itself of these weapons altogether. This double-standard of allowing some to have it or to threaten to have it while others are given a different treatment is never going to fly. We’d better stop that or things will continue to get out of hand.

  5. @Ron Hawk, I like your suggestions a lot but realistically none of that will happen! The double standard will go for ever and nothing will change. In fact Washington likes to see the situation in the ME gets worse than what it is! As the Persian saying goes “muddy the water to catch a fish quicker”

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