Decertifying the Iran deal

A few of you have asked about Trump decertifying the Iran deal.  I think it is a big mistake, keeping in mind the old chess maxim “The threat is stronger than the execution.”  If we slap them, they slap us back by doing something like, say, green-lighting the Iraqi invasion of Kurdistan.  Whatever next level of escalation we might consider, I don’t think it would do us much good.

That said, I find most defenses of the Iran deal shocking in their naivete or perhaps self-deception.  The deal didn’t do much good in the first place, and came to pass because the Europeans weren’t going to uphold the previous sanctions anyway.  As it stands, the Iranians continue to enrich uranium and develop and test long-range missiles, and they could buy a bomb from North Korea as quickly as it would take to deliver the package.  Furthermore, they still support terrorism on a large scale, talk gleefully about the destruction of Israel, and in general their citizenry favors the idea of the government having nuclear weapons.  They simply decided that a slower path toward nuclear weapons, rooted in stronger international economic relations, was in their national interest.  However much you think they have or have not violated the formal terms of the treaty, they’re using the treaty to get a better, richer, and more stable version of nuclear weapons.  Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that don’t have the luxury of wishful thinking on these issues, understand this quite well.

The thing is, Trump’s action won’t change any of this, and will only make us seem less reliable, should someday further action be required.  It is a foolish, high time preference move, but those who support it — Trump included — often have a better understanding of the underlying realities than do the critics.


Disappointed in this. No Straussian reading? No long range reading of tit for tat negotiations? Someone mailed it in.

+1 If you have an interest in game theory, there is No next period thinking in Tyler's comment. It assumes that when the agreement ends that there will be no further negotiations prior to that or that Iran will not have more to lose as it gets more integrated in the world economy.

The problem is that nuclear technology is over 70 years old, and there are many just as effective ways that exist to wreck destruction on a society without them. Weapons evolve. The better solution is to try to integrate Iran in the world community so they have something that can be lost if they become an economic isolate.

The problems with the "deal" is it guarantees Iran gets the bomb. Iran getting the bomb guarantees nuclear war between Iran and Israel. It does not require any oversight that they even abide by the "deal". But it rewards them with trillions of dollars and the ability to trade with every nation and buy whatever they need including war making materials. It is almost as though Obama wanted Iran to get the bomb and make war on Israel. .

Sure sure. Just like Indian and Pakistan have nuked each other since getting the bomb. And North Korea has used their nukes several times since getting them, what, ten years ago?

+2. These smaller/third world countries that get nukes want them for self-protection, which means they can never use them. If they do, they get wiped out. We're back to 1980s MAD doctrine but with multiple players not just 2. Not happy with countries like NK and Iran getting nukes but it's naïve to think they never would.

Why would a crazy dictator care about MAD doctrine? If you're Kim the Little Rocket Man of North Korea, you are diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, and you have complete control over your people, then why not go out with a bang? You'll go down in infamy, which is the reason a lot of people do crazy things.

I was referring to Iran actually. But your scenario is, while not impossible, overanxious and very improbable. It's never happened before, with nukes or chemical weapons or even a dying dictator launching a war because why not. What makes you so sure Kim is crazy? He's a brutal dictator but seems pretty rational about regime preservation. His dad was nuts, with the weird movie obsessions and so on.

Because that's what we're facing today, right?

Religious zealots eager to see the afterlife after murdering infidels are being held back from acting on their impulses by the fear they may hurt themselves.

And Iran's supreme leader doesn't really believe that the 12th Imam and the End of Days is imminent.

"Religious zealots eager to see the afterlife after murdering infidels are being held back from acting on their impulses by the fear they may hurt themselves."

Are you talking about American new born Christian eagerly awaiting the second coming?

In fairness, you also need a suitable delivery system.

One possible motivation for Iran was to put off 'first atomic test' (and the resulting headaches) until they had all their ducks in a row.

India and Pakistan have come close and I am confident that eventually they will indeed nuke each other.

The difference with Iran is they have voiced their intent much as Hitler did with his Mein Kampf. Iran's primary goal is to destroy Israel and since their belief is that a nuclear war will bring fulfillment of the 12th Imam prophecy they would embrace a nuclear war not fear it.

But the biggest factor in this equation is what Israel thinks. Israel cannot risk a nuclear enemy. They are so small that two nukes would destroy 90% of their population. They would/will have no choice but to make a first strike on Iran before Iran can strike them.

Just like NK, the bomb stops regime change. Nuclear proliferation is awful, maybe the worst thing, but if Americans are happy with Americans and Israelis having lots of nuclear weapons, then griping about other people's bombs is hypocritical.

What if those other people are sponsors of terrorism against civilians?

The US or the UN Security Council is not happy with nuclear proliferation, so I doubt they are being hypocritical. If you have a monopoly on something, you don't welcome competition, that's Econ 101.

The practical rule is that bad people should not have them. Proliferation per se isn't a problem; it's proliferation to bad actors that matters.

The US is fairly cool with nukes belonging to other democracies. Hence they worry much more about Pakistan and NK rather than India or France. And presumably would not lose too much sleep over a Japanese bomb either.

How does it "guarantee" they get a bomb?
They are far further from having a bomb now than they were pre-deal - shut down plutonium reactor, shipped a whole bunch of enriched uranium out of the country, reduced number of centrifuges, and put inspectors on the ground for the first time.
Even after some of the restrictions expire beyond the 10 yrs, they will be no closer to having a bomb than they were pre-deal, and they will still be an NPT signatory prohibited from developing a nuclear weapons program. It's not like the world said "sure, we'll let you have a bomb, just wait a bit"
The criticism of the deal is that "Iran is a bad actor and should be punished/ostracized, and nukes are just a minor part of the story." The second part of that sentence is said sotte voce but it is there nonetheless. And maybe they're right! Maybe the Saudis and Israelis are really more concerned about a richer, more powerful Iran up to its old tricks (proxy armies, terrorism, etc) than an isolated Iran w/ a bomb. Maybe the US should be too. But those against the deal need to be honest about what they're arguing for.

^Yeah I am pretty much on board with this. Those who complain about the agreement never seem to be able to present a deal that the Iranians would actually sign. That's because, as you note, critics are not exactly being honest about their intentions. Many want regime change or a military strike, so nothing short of that will satisfy them. Given that those options would likely have huge unintended consequences, this continuing with this agreement is probably the best we can hope for.

This is true. The hawks wanted regime change within the "axis of evil" in 2004 and still today. Iraq's failures changed nothing. There are plenty of reasons to oppose the Obama deal with Iran but the thought that there was some deal or step the US could take to prevent Iranian nukes silly. Neither Bush, Obama, nor Trump could hault the North Korean nuclear enterprise with 3 wildly divergent strategies so why would things be different with a much bigger and wealthier Iran?

" The problems with the “deal” is it guarantees Iran gets the bomb". [SNIP]

No it doesn't:

But women can drive in Iran.

Yeah. In Israel too. Even transgenders. And they also can become pop stars and win musical prizes.

Where can't women drive?


I LOL'd but felt bad about it

"If we slap them, they slap us back by doing something like, say, green-lighting the invasion of Kurdistan."

You mean their invasion of Kurdistan or someone else's? They will never invade: it's true that they aren't very bright, but they aren't neocons.

Presumably the Iraqi government's invasion of Kurdistan. This is happening right now by the way.

That city invaded today in the news is outside of the region of Kurdistan as commonly understood. It's being invaded since ISIS was in that city, not in response to the referendum to become independent.

If you are referring to Iraq's invasion of Kurdistan, why wouldn't they green-light it? Their position on the issue has always been clear.

To keep the focus on ISIS?

Because their proxies in Iraq may not be strong enough to finish the task, particularly if the US sides with the Kurds?

To prevent inflaming their own Kurdish problems?

There are lots of reasons why Iran would not want Baghdad to press the issue at the moment, even though they share the same preferences. In fact, until now, they have not green-lit it. What changed in the last week or so?

The problem is pretty simple- if a country like Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, there is nothing one can do to stop it short of military action, and not even that is a guarantee against it happening. The deal made by Obama is the simple recognition of this fact. Trump is offering nothing new, either. We will simply have to accept that more and more countries will have nuclear weapons in the future.

We are trapped. It would take another great war to prevent the risk of a great war. A madman's bargain. And so we slide along a less mad path. We can't (or shouldn't) kill thousands (or millions) while peace (even with siloed bombs) is still an option.

Speaking of people getting it wrong though ..

Perhaps Tyler's framing is misplaced.

>>>> "We are trapped"

"We" (American Public) are not trapped. We need simply cease molesting all those foreign nations with our foolish politicians and military legions. We-Americans must -- mind our own (peaceful) business.

There are no U.S. strategic interests whatsoever in the MidEast or Irag. U.S. has been clumsily intervening over there for two generations -- with terrible results and endless bloody conflict guaranteed if that course is continued.

Nobody is ever "trapped" if they can simply turn around and go home.

Path dependency is a thing.

You know the Carter Doctrine?

It would be a very different world if, in response to 70s fuel crises, the US had said "we will buy oil on the open market, citizens plan as you will."

That would have been the moment to say "no blood directly or indirectly for oil."

Now, as Borjigid says, path dependence. Maybe we can't walk away until we are all driving electric cars. Because right now "cheap gas" is an implied guarantee. nonsense -- plenty of oil-sellers outside the MidEast; might even be some oil here in U.S.

The US government's view of history:

As far as today? I think coal rollers will demand war before accepting a Prius.

Yes, it seems to me that the Carter doctrine was due to a great lack of understanding of the economics of petroleum.

1. We use so much oil because it's so cheap.

2. Diesel fuel can be made from feed stocks other than petroleum, including coal and natural gas.

3. The oil producers in high producing nations need to sell the oil much more that the consuming nations need to buy it.

In the 1980s, Henry Kissinger looked back to 1973 and said that nobody in the Nixon adminisration, including him, understood the economics of oil.

' it seems to me that the Carter doctrine was due to a great lack of understanding of the economics of petroleum'

Carter, a Naval Academy graduate, had a very good understanding of the importance of petroleum in fighting a war. And a decent awareness that the Soviet Union was desperately reliant on oil to keep its ramshackle empire up and running.

"We are trapped." One of the democrat Congressional madwomen has the solution. She is pushing legislation (likely unconstitutional) that the US will never use THE BOMB until America is first BOMBED.

There is more bad news for appeasers, globalists, and traitors. Islamophobic, populist wins another election - this time in Austria.

US reliability under Obama - don't make me laugh. Nothing in the Iran was positive to the interests of the US or its allies. It only pretends that Iran won't get the BOMB for 10 years, unless Iran wants it sooner.

Nuclear nonproliferation isn't simply rightwing, Islamophobic whim, its international "law."

And like murder and so many other laws on the books, the mere existence of the 'law' doesn't stop the crime. Nuclear nonproliferation is a fantasy.

@msgkings - That's ridiculous, as absurd as saying there's no such thing as international law, since there's no military sanctions in international law. In fact, nuclear non-proliferation is in the direct interests of the Big Five that have acknowledged nuclear weapons and are in the UN Security Council, so I suspect non-proliferation will get traction in the next coming decades, especially if Iran or North Korea would set off a nuclear weapon in anger.

Obviously everyone (the big 5) wants nuclear nonproliferation. And just as obviously it's a fantasy, as NK, Pakistan, and many others prove. What's your point?

Don't give me that crup. Republicans have no standing. The same imbeciles who thought Hillary was a "warmonger" now want their President to go to war in Korea.

We obviously can't stop Iran from getting nukes if they really want them, but that doesn't mean we have to green-light a 10 year plan. If Iran pushes for nukes and starts testing them, then they get more sanctions (like North Korea is now). Iran CLEARLY does not want this, because they could've already HAD the ability to develop nukes by the time they designed the deal. They specifically created a bunch of highly enriched uranium and stopped enriching it in order to get a better deal.

As it is, we have to rebuild the sanctions at the end of the 10 year window, starting from scratch, enshrining that Iran has total right to its own enrichment technology. Can kicked down the road, with the US bargaining from an even weaker position.

Are you forgetting Stuxnet? We really did not "green light" anything.

Interesting in retrospect. Who blew the whistle on Stuxnet?

Kaspersky Labs.

Cyberwar indeed.

Anyway, recognizing limits is not greenlighting.

To a sane person, not a madman, or a sociopath, risking high fatalities.

What if the "critics" are only lazily believing the US foreign policy community?

Should we now call this trust of in-domain expertise wrong? Fault it more than people who, as you say, study then fail?

" US foreign policy community .... in-domain expertise"

To whom are you referring?

Any number of past diplomats, Republican and Democrat, have called for approval WITH continued pressure.

In a rational world, the only thing the US would go to war for (excepting actual attacks on our homeland) would be to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Terrorism is almost entirely a law enforcement issue. Who cares about the South China Sea. Who cares about Syria. Or Israel. Or Yemen. Or Niger. Or Kuwait. Or the Philippines. Etc etc.

What we should be willing to go to the mat for is nuclear proliferation. That’s not some elusive nation building nonsense. Nor safe harboring terrorism. It isn’t “we disagree with your form of government” or “your values don’t match ours.” It’s not the domino theory. It’s “we will not tolerate the ability to nuke our country if you have demonstrated that you cannot be trusted.” Russia for all its school boy rebellion is not going to nuke the US. Neither will China. Nor India. NK? Iran?

If you’re determined to get nuclear weapons we should be willing to destroy you. No provisional authority, no foot patrols to “weed out insurgents”. We come in, annihilate the government and military, and drop leaflets that we will do it again if you try to get nukes.

I find it depressing that the only thing worth declaring war over barely registers.

Iran will take its time to perfect ICBMs. Then they can end the deal and have a nuclear knife to the throat of the world by 2030.

I’m glad to take bets with Nathan and Anon et al. You seem supremely confident Iran will not have nukes and the vehicle to deliver them.

5:1 odds Iran has nukes and delivery system by 2030? I’ll throw in 5k. You throw in 25. We can let Bryan Caplan invest it anonymously in a S&P ETF. That way we minimize the opportunity cost.

Money please or stop posting.

“The threat is stronger than the execution.”

Check is always stronger than checkmate? #

'and they could buy a bomb from North Korea as quickly as it would take to deliver the package'

Assuming nothing happened to the package along the way. The Russians, to give one very concrete example, have zero interest in a nuclear armed Iran in the neighborhood. The list is quite long, actually - Israel, KSA, USA, Turkey are easy picks, along with just about every other nation who already owns nuclear weapons.

Lots of nations have zero interest in a nuclear armed Iran. But no one has any chance of stopping it short of a disastrous, costly war, as North Korea proves.

Who has an interest in a nuclear armed US, UK, Russia, France, China, Pakistan, Israel, India?

Since these nations gained nuclear weapons, how many invasions with intent to occupy have occurred between them?

Why did the prior history of repeated invasions cease once each gained nuclear weapons?

Why is the ceasing of invasions a bad thing?

Trump opposes Iran having nuclear weapons because he wants to invade Iran, and his objection to invading Iraq is it should have been iran because he sees Iran real estate development opportunity as far greater. At least that's my theory.

In any case, Trump wrote the book on why he won't get a better with Iran. They have read his book and will not agree to any deal where Trump is not the loser and Iran is the winner. After all, Trump stated Iran is sovereign and should act just like Trump does.

Israel is widely reported to have had nuclear weapons before the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and it was still invaded.

It's a Nimzovitch quote, IIRC.

The idea is pretty basic; a small expenditure of resources in a way to force the enemy to expend more in counter-measures. Employing the threat would expend it and allow the enemy stop general counter-measures, or discover they could concentrate on a sub-set of effective ones.

If they're going to do it anyway, why not try to improve relations, and work to get them to play nice with the Saudis and Israel.

Is it really impossible for these countries to ever live in peace? It's so hard for me to understand the antipathy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I know it's religious, and involves both sides thinking they're better than the other, but can't we get beyond this at some point? You could have said the same thing about France and Germany 100 years ago, and now they get along great.

Does it really take a disastrous war for two sides to finally give up trying to own the other?

>work to get them to play nice with the Saudis and Israel

Hi -- listen, we're going to need you to stay off the internet. At least until you are old enough to drive. Thanks so much!

Seriously, why couldn't this happen? There's has to be a reason, right?

If you understand the differences between French and German enmity and Sunni/Shiite/Jewish enmity the reasons aren't hard to figure out.

One thing the last 10 years of international affairs have caused me to re-evaluate is the Sunni-Shia enmity.

I always knew they hated each other, but boy, they REALLY hate each other.

Seriously though, "why can't we all just get along?" is theoretically possible but not guaranteed. There exist many game-theoretic states where it is entirely rational to fight, sometimes to the destruction of the other party. Simply put, many actors in the world do not have your western liberal positive-sum pluralistic mindset.

For them there is only dominion, or death.

I don't understand this comment. Is it something something Staussian?

There's nothing special or especially religious about Iran-KSA-Israel relationships. They all want local hegemony for normal reasons.

By contrast, Germany and France no longer have contested resources or colonies between them. They have no security concerns thanks to nukes, a joint alliance with the superpower, and thousands of foreign troops in both territories. What would they fight about?

Plus Iran and Israel were once allies (when Iran was a US proxy, but still). And Israel and the Saudis are growing closer today.

Just for the record, France has no foreign troops (i.e. US troops) on its territory since the 1960's, when De Gaulle asked them to leave. But otherwise, you're right that the joint alliance with a super-power helped a lot. But we must be more specific if we want the analogy with the analogy to situation of Iran/KSA/Israe to be helpful.

One fundamental thing that the protective alliance of a super-power removed was fear. Fear, on top as real issues like colonies and contested territories was a factor in WWI and to some extent in WWII as well. French feared Germans, after 1870, because it was a unified nation of 80M people (100+M people if counting Germans outside of Germany, e.g. in Austria) while France was 40M, which had shown some expansionist tendency. So France armed itself, which was frightening for Germany, etc. The strong US alliance after WWII reassured France that it could not be invaded by Germany -- and Germany was reassured too, but for a different reason: they could not be invaded and occupied by France and the UK because they already had been invaded and were occupied by France the UK, and the US!
Thanks to the US, the fear has disappeared, so Germany and France (and other European countries) were able to have more ties (the EU) and things are much better. Also helpful is the change in the demographic balance: now France is 67M and growing, while Germany is still 80M people.

Certainly fear is an important factor in the middle east too. Many of Israel's actions are motivated by just fear of its hostile and populated neighbors. Iran also has reasons to be afraid since it was attacked by Saddam Hussein, and also, as the natural leader of Chia muslims, because the Chia muslims are killed in masse everywhere in the muslim world, by Al Qaede/Isis terrorists as well as by the military of Sunni countries, such as in Yemen.

All Islamic terrorism in America and Europe has been Sunnis.

Iran is Shia. They don't like Sunnis.

ISIS is funded by Saudia Arabia, and the US is friendly with Saudi Arabia.

Iran is only called a sponsor of terrorism in the West because of the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel. see:

Perhaps the AMIA bombing of Buenos Aires with its 85 dead is not terrorism for you? For it clearly Hezbollah operated, and Hezbollah is strongly supported by Iran.

It is true that Iran is Shia, and that most of the problem sthe western world (and the world at large) has with Muslim expansionism is with Sunnis, and that some realpolitik thinking may convince us to support Shia groups or countries in order to weaken the Sunni coalition. After all, that was W. Bush did when they overthrow Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein to let the Shia majority in Iraq self-govern. But this won't make true assertion like "Iran doesn't support terrorism".

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was strongly supported by Israel. It was meant to weaken, not strengthen, Shia. Richard Perle wrote a paper called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" for Benjamin Netanyahu which advocated removing Saddam, war with Iran, and supporting militias in Syria. Netanyahu also testified before Congress to advocate Iraq, and also mentioned Iran as a possible follow-up in his speech. The war was also pushed by several Zionist advisers of Bush, such as Wolfowitz.

As for the AMIA bombing, Iran was NOT involved. Do some better research next time.

@Joel - and let's not forget that Argentine special prosecutor who was investigating the AMIA bombing was recently (as a few months ago) deemed to have been murdered, not to have committed suicide, as the money-laundering Kirchner clan claims. It would not totally surprise me if Hezbollah gave the Argentine presidency a bag of money to look the other way. It would be a shock, but not a total surprise given how much corruption there is down there.

>All Islamic terrorism in America and Europe has been Sunnis

It seems you left out the Middle East and Asia, but that's fine, because there has never been any reports of terrorism in those places.

Jesus God, man.

America first?

Iran is much less of a danger to the world than Saudi Arabia.
The only reason Trump wants to end the Iran deal is because Obama was one of its architects.
The current Iranian government does not talk gleefully about the destruction of Israel. Only its previous extremist government does.

"Calling Israel a “cancerous tumor,” Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday expressed support for a “holy intifada” to eradicate the Jewish state, arguing that the international community is headed toward confrontation with the “Zionist regime.” - February 2017

First hit in my Google search.

My neighbor is a convicted murderer who wants to buy a bazooka to kill the guy across the street. But it's expensive and he's poor so I've decided to help him out with his finances if he promises to be nice. Yeah, I know, he keeps promising to kill the guy and I know he is secretly buying bazooka parts and other neighbors are now looking to buy bazookas for their own protection, but honestly, what else could I do?

You live next to Saudi Arabia?

My neighbor is a convicted murderer who already has a bazooka to kill the guy across the street, but its currently disassembled. I don't want him to assemble the bazooka and kill my neighbor, so I offered to find him a job and return some money that I stole from him in return for him giving me some of the bazooka parts. Etc etc etc.

Metaphors are actually not particularly persuasive.

Metaphors are especially unpersausive when they come from a guy who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about.

I could have done without all this "neighbor" stuff. I feel dumber for having read it.

Neighborhoods have laws binding public safety. Countries, literally as far apart as they can be on a globe, have only spheres of influence.

All your interactions with neighbors, friends and family are governed by laws rather than influence?

Not even close.

And the really silly part of your response is the Iran deal pretends our relations with Iran CAN be governed by shared law rather than influence (ie, withholding money, sanctions).

You're apparently supporting the deal at the same time you argue such deals are unsupportable.

Whatever, man

Your posts are consistently drivel. I mean mine are often meant to be idiotic on purpose but you're actually trying to be serious.

Let's apply Occam's Razor. You're a really intelligent person who spends his baluable time being deliberately idiotic. Or you're consistently idiotic because you're idiotic.

Tough one.

I could turn on any standard-issue Nighly News or Sunday Talk Show drivel and get the kind of comments I see from you. You're just a brainless zombie.

LOL The Cuckolds of MR are squabbling again! LOL! You are all still cuckolds even if Iran blows up the world.

I got personal and I apologize for that. There is more to life than insulting each other on the internet. It's a beautiful day and I'm going for a walk.

See, that's a comment that might actually be persuasive! You've got facts and even a thesis in there.

... and the U.S. Government overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950's and installed the dictator Shah

Would you be upset if Iran had ousted President Eisenhower and installed their own guy here?

Go back further. The British set the borders, because oil.

And somebody ate an apple in the garden of Eden, or can we find an earlier excuse.

"Iran already has a job and it involves killing people as the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism."

For example, 9-11, ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Sunni terrorism in Iraq, Africa, Pakistan, India... Oh, no wait. It is another oil-producing country tht sponsors it. If America were serious about opposing terrorism, would America's number one ally be the biggest sponsor of terrorism?

Different strokes for different folks. Not all allies should be treated the same; not all enemies should be treated the same either.

Do you want the Saudis as enemies too? Oh and by the way, should Iran succeed in getting nukes, you can be sure the Saudis will acquire them too, in very short order. It's bad enough that the North Koreans have nukes, but Iran as well?

The threat is only stronger than the execution if the opponent believes the threat is genuine. If the opponent doesn't believe the threat, or worse doesn't care, then there is no threat.

Iran is amidst cultural death throes. The significance of that culture lies in the almost mythical era of Xerxes and Cyrus and the decayed Islamic caliphate. They've been inconsequential on the international stage for hundreds of years. The threat, or even execution, of nuclear war can't revive their moribund and increasingly irrelevant culture, which survives only because modernity hasn't allowed them to be overrun by their neighbors.

But then why does the FP establishment expend so much energy obsessing about them?

It does not occur to you that in the grand scheme of things, foreign policy "energy" is pretty damned cheap?

It occurs to me that most foreign policy has the number one goal of keeping as many in the foreign policy establishment well employed at think-tanks and the like, and advancing national interests are a far, far secondary goal.

Cheap at half the price.

That's absurd, the modern nation of Iran has virtually nothing to do with Xerxes and Cyrus, no more so than Tunisia is the heir of Carthage. Their self-identity is based in large part on religion (a religion that began like a thousand years after Xerxes and Cyrus).

Iran's population identifies much more with ancient Persia than Tunisia does with Carthage. They celebrate the same holidays, speak a descendant of the language, and only 50 years ago were ruled by a claimant to the historical Imperial throne. More importantly, almost any Iranian will tell you the same thing!

Of course you'll still find variation in identity politics across economic differences and geography within the country, just like anywhere else.

That said, I find most defenses of the Iran deal shocking in their naivete or perhaps self-deception. The deal didn’t do much good in the first place, and came to pass because the Europeans weren’t going to uphold the previous sanctions anyway.

So Obama had two choices:
1) Let Europe and China leave the sanctions with nothing.
2) Or sign a deal that gives us verification for the next 15 years.

It seems like Obama chose wisely on poor choices. And isn't a lot of government work?

I think Obama was trying to think long-term. How to get the Iranians to play nice with us, and their neighbours? Remember that for many years, the Iranians and Americans weren't even speaking, instead using -- I recall -- the Swiss ambassador to rely messages. Instead of sabre-rattling, get the Iranians to accept that countries were against them getting nukes, and so signing the deal. In turn, Iran would slowly be integrated into the community of nations.

i) has that worked out? Not really. Iran is a belligerent pariah still. Mostly.

ii) has the deal ensured that Iran won't get nukes? No, it has merely slowed their progress. Why NOT pressure Iran some more? It's clear they are in violation. The time to stop them is now, before they become as untouchable as North Korea.

>So Obama had two choices

That's probably exactly how the Obama administration thought, but that's more indicative of their quality of thinking than anything else. The idea that those are those were the *only* two choices is and was ridiculous

While trying to contain NK through various forms of pressure to agree to a deal to denuclearize, we are badgering a country that agreed to ramp down its program and is by all accounts complying with that agreement. How does this renewed focus on Iran help at all with having diplomatic credibility while dealing with NK (at least, "until the first bomb drops")?

It is not complying. Also, the sanctions don't allow for genuine inspections of the key sites. Also, we don't know if they are developing / acquiring the centrifuges they will need (have?) for moving beyond civilian nuclear power to weaponry.

Here's a good Bloomberg piece.

The argument made there is logical but it is more about what the deal should look like rather than specific breaches of the actual deal as penned. I am not up in the vagaries of the agreement but I had the impression the consensus view was of Iranian compliance.

Are we trying to disprove a negative? If you convince yourself Iran is trying to build a bomb, well, it could always be in the next underground bunker...we just need unimpeded access to every building and cave in the country, two million inspectors, and a decade to make sure.

Yet the perception by a great majority of the world's population is that Iran is compliant. That's why other Western countries feel so comfortable relaxing sanctions.

The lasting effect of cancelling the deal will be that other countries will think America's word is useless. It's a big blow to credibility.

Every republican member of the congress voted again the deal. It should come as no surprise that the republicans now repeal the deal.

They believed that with proper application of force that they could get a better deal. Likely they were right.

Maybe so, but our track record getting a better deal via application of force in the Middle East is pretty bad, so it seems kinda sensible to try some other approaches.

Iran did just sanction its women to compete in international weightlifting. So there's that.

Soon, women will be able to drive in Saudi Arabi, maybe.


We are better to be cautious.

Biggest takeaway from this news story is that people will literally pretend to have an opinion on *anything*.

>those who support it — Trump included — often have a better understanding of the underlying realities than do the critics.

This is really all you needed to say.


LOL now Tyler is your BFF because he said something nice about your Daddy

Virtually all of Israel's defence establishment want to stay with the agreement; Netanyahu always at odds with them is on his own in this

Very good analysis of Tyler today. Even if one doesn't like the Iran deal (and of course there is not much to be liked about it), it is difficult to see what the decertification at this time achieves.

"The threat is more powerful than the execution", for more than you really probably want to know about the phrase, .. (About the threat of smoking a cigar during a chess game -- Emanuel Lasker way was a great kidder and lover of psychological ploys. If you're familiar with the kind of distractors used by Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal .. Also, yes, the Lasker who associated with Albert Einstein IIRC.) (Use search-page function on Qe7 for a chess game version of the threat. -Threatening for several moves to take the rook pawn, which would have been risky, but eventually retreating the queen in order to re-allocate it's power against the center.)

Here is a less opaque explanation of Cowen's rationale. First, who are the greater threat to America, the Arabs or the Persians. Sure, the Arabs can learn to fly jets into tall buildings, but the Persians can actually build jets, and bombs. Second, the Iranians must feel threatened from every direction, given that Sunni Muslims account for over 85% of Muslims worldwide while Shia Muslims account for less than 15%. A country that is besieged is a country that is unpredictable. Third, see the second: would Sunni Muslims actually lose a sectarian war against the Shia given the overwhelming numerical advantage of the Sunnis. It's far better to be on the likely winning side, the Sunnis, than the likely losing side, the Shia. But there are a few problems with this rationale. First, religious fanaticism appears far more prevalent among the Sunnis than the Shia, and far more extreme in their goals. Read this Graeme Wood article in The Atlantic: Second, while Sunni Muslims share holy places with Jews, Shia Muslims do not. Aren't Sunni Muslims and Israelites more likely to have conflict as a result. Third, America's antagonism against Iran has its roots in the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the 52 Americans held hostage by a group of Iranian students, a humiliating episode for America. Sure, I suppose it was humiliating, but none of the hostages died, and it was 38 years ago. Moreover, the hostage crisis contributed to the Iran-Iraq War, triggered by Iraq's invasion of Iran, a war in which America supported Saddam Hussein. How did that turn out for America. I'm no expert on the Iranian culture, but my understanding is that Iranians are much more like Americans than the Arabs, in terms of personal ambitions and goals as well as views about capitalism.

Mostly true, but this is weird: "Second, while Sunni Muslims share holy places with Jews, Shia Muslims do not".
Jerusalem is a holy city for all Muslims, regardless they are Shia or Sunni.

It's true that Shia Muslims view Jerusalem as a holy "place" because the angel Gabriel miraculously took Muhammad to Jerusalem to visit and pray and then miraculously took him to the heavens all in a single night. But there are no Shia holy "sites" in Jerusalem.

We (the US) were not the only country to have major problems with the Iranians after the fundamentalist coup in 1979. That is not a normal polity. The only good that came from that revolution was that the Iranians got to experience the horrible rule of the clerics, including economic mismanagement. The principle at work is: if you want someone to have doubts about an Islamic theocracy, let them try live in one.

The majority of Iranians, not to speak of the diaspora, would love to remove the theocrats, but cannot.

China is less free and also constantly threatens to destroy one of our democratic allies. Why do they get a pass while Iran takes all the heat?

You really don't know why?

Broadly agreed. On paper, the US seems to have fewer severely clashing interests with (Shia) Iran than (Wahhabi) Saudi, with the exception of the formers' enmity to Israel. The Shia don't seem to pose a hegemonic threat in the region, inspire a lower level of terrorism in the west, some capacity for a functioning civil society at home, and an Indo-European culture which isn't as alien as the Arabs. I can't quantify it, but it feels it should be easier to share a planet with these guys.

In fairness, you can see why Washington went with the Saudi option though; the security of the larger oil fields understandably weighed on the mind, especially with the Soviet threat. Add in good trade and arms links, basing and security "co-operation", and a more tractable elite and better public diplomacy ("Death to the Great Satan" is not a good opener), and it must have been the easier choice.

That said, I've always felt a "grand bargain" with the Ayatollahs was at least possible. Perhaps the US-Shah relationship and hostages was a stroke of unique bad luck. It's legacy soured relations with Iran that might otherwise have been functional at least.

The Israeli view

"The nuclear agreement “removes the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program based on dates certain, rather than on changes in Iran’s aggressive behavior, including its support for terrorism around the world,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel two weeks ago. “The deal doesn’t solve the Iranian nuclear problem, but rather delays and intensifies it.”

"Iran is not a nuclear power at the moment but has the capability to become one on relatively short notice. It has continued to develop its ballistic missile arsenal, whose primary objective is to launch nuclear warheads against those Iran considers its enemy. And Iran, relieved of the economic sanctions that had forced it into the negotiations, has used resources that have become available to project its power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It keeps threatening Israel."

read more:

"The nuclear deal neglected to address Iran’s ballistic missiles, and ignored Iran’s well-known ambitions to become the dominant power in the Middle East. Barack Obama, the architect of the agreement with Tehran, then stood by while the slaughter in Syria continued, and Iran and Russia moved in to take over. Now the Iranians and their proxy, Hezbollah, are approaching Israel’s borders."

read more:

"Q: Why do you think this time around the U.S. administration appears to have embraced Israel’s position?

A: None of this would have been possible if the threat from North Korea had not increased. What happened in North Korea was very dramatic. Suddenly there was a nuclear threat against America’s allies in Asia. It then became clear that Iran needs to be dealt [with] so that it cannot get to that same point.

The lesson is that discussions and deals with dictatorships trying to reach nuclear capability do not work. We saw that happen with North Korea. None of the agreements with them have stopped them from gaining nuclear capability.

The situation today is that Japan and South Korea live in fear; there are no suitable solutions for them. What will happen in the Middle East if there is a situation where Iran becomes a nuclear nation? It will turn the region into the most dangerous in the world."

" It will turn the region into the most dangerous in the world.”

Um, this is already true.

The Saudis will be forced to acquire nukes too, and goodness knows who else will. (Pakistan will be the supplier, probably, though the North Koreans would be pleased to sell a more compact version.) Can you see the Turks sitting on the sidelines? Me neither.

If the Iranians are interested in having nuclear weapons, and if they could buy a bomb from North Korea at any time, then why don't they?

Because anything contrary to Tyler's preferred reading of the situation must be ignored -- see the insinuation that only Saudi Arabia and Israel see the situation clearly for example. This is Tyler's game -- pretend to be reasonable by acknowledging something uncontroversial (that European powers would not join us in further sanctions) and using that as cover for a bunch of nonsense.

It's a shame that GMU continues to support intellectual dishonesty of this sort.

The simple answer is that they could not, in fact, buy an actual complete bomb from North Korea at any time. Perhaps if it were technically possible to get away with it, the North Koreans would be willing to put their weapons up for sale. However nuclear material has a unique chemical signature that could be used by to identify North Korea as the source.

Cowen redux: Trump does a bad thing. It is hard to deny this is bad. However, somehow this shows the wrongness of the people Cowen is mood affiliated against!

Tyler is mood-affiliated against the Anti-Trump people? Were you in a coma the last 11 months?

They're technically (which is important) in compliance with the agreement. It's bullshit what you wrote here. You're not the only source and authority on every thing. We read other sources as well. Don't do this to yourself.

I have no idea whether you're right or wrong, but it's interesting that you are the first to even bring the truth or falsity of the re-certification factual predicates.

Everyone else is arguing about whether the U.S. should (already did?) lie about something, and if so, about what.

A major war in the MidEast is inevitable.

Decertification and sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard hasten the day so are a good thing.

I don't know what the logical fallacy of this argument is called, but it is an argument that basically ASSUMES a war in the middle east and then reasons (?) backward from that assumption.

What if you ASSUME that war is not inevitable. Then the argument fails.

Assume, assume, assume.

Yes, an assumption. So what?

The MidEast is like the Balkans in 1913. Only takes a spark to create a general war.

My assumption is the spark will happen. Better sooner than later.

It's nothing like the Balkans in 1913 (or Europe in general, which is the real reason a Balkan issue turned into a World War)

Sure it is. Nationalism and religious conflicts between small states backed by major powers.

Never said it will be a world war though.

1913 had nothing to do with religion

I have for a while thought the best course of action with Iran was to give them whatever they wanted.

Combine two characteristics of Iran

1) Culuturally/educationally they have more in common with western civilization than any other Middle Eastern Country.

2) Their county has repeated been attacked; while we have backed their mortal enemy (and backward country) the Saudis for a generation (for their oil).
Iraq invaded them. BP was paying something like 1-3% of the revenue from oil sales to Iran. The west really did steal a lot from them. Then we had the Shah accumulated wealth. For self-defense and as a reaction to prior abuses the Iranian Revolution was a lot more than just a path to theocracy.

Lots of intelligent Persians in America.

Don't forget we still sell a ton of arms to every Arab country in the Middle East. Those are Iran's enemies. A lot of their "terrorism" is just a rational geoplitical game to project influence in the area.

Rhetoric is against Israel at times. But Iran doesn't really care about Israel - Its really a Iran - Saudi Arabia that is the real middle east game. If you don't realize that then you are not fit to comment on Iran.

1) Most of those intelligent and westernized Persians that you speak of do not support the regime and are not represented within its ranks. In fact, that's the main reason there are so many of them living in the West in the first place.

2) The only time Iran has been attacked in recent history was by Saddam, which had more than a little to do with Khomeini's meddling in Iraq. Saddam was a Soviet ally, and US support for him during the war (minuscule in comparison to Soviet support) did not come until after Khomeini rejected his peace offer and made clear that his intention was to conquer Iraq and turn it into another Shia theocracy.

3) Obsession with Israel is absolutely a central pillar of the Islamic Revolution.

4) It's not just Saudi Arabia; Arab countries as a whole have been in conflict with Iran since the revolution due to its support for (extremest) Shia movements within those countries (e.g. Gulf countries, Yemen, Lebanon) or extremest groups in general (e.g. in the case of Egypt).


Iranians expats have a good reputation in the west. But they are NOT representative of their countrymen (like earlier Syrian expats).

Wrong on so many fronts.

1. While many Iranian (not Persian) expats do not support the IRI gov't, they most certainly do not wish for war against it either.
2. Saddam invaded Iran not because of Khomeini's rhetoric, which came AFTER the invasion, but because a) he was being an opportunistic war monger looking for extra land and glory and b) because the rest of the Arab monarchies were scared sh*tless of Iran's clerical rule

3. The main reason for the Arab's fear of Iran has nothing to do with Sunni/Shia nonsense. It has to do with the fact that in both Sunni and Shia Islam, monarchy is strictly forbidden (haram). Forget eating pork, being gay, or worshiping statues. The one thing that Islamic scholars throughout the ages had agreed on was that hereditary monarchy should be forbidden. The royals are very concerned about a spread of the kind of anti-monarchy Islam propagated by Iran.

4. The obsession with Israel is real but has much more to do with Israel's threat of regional hegemony than anti-jewish sentiments. Contrast this with Saudi Arabia, where virulent anti-semitism is quite common and publicly displayed; however, there is little anti-Israel rhetoric.

Wrong on so many fronts.

1. Nobody said most expats supported war. The point was that the secular and westernized Iranians (expat or not) are not represented within the Iranian government, so pointing out their liberal attitude is irrelevant when it comes to analyzing the behavior of the government.

2. Nobody said that was the ONLY factor, but it was an important one. Khomeini called for an Islamic Revolution in Iraq BEFORE the invasion; here is the history:

3. Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen aren't monarchies, but they are the focus of heavy Iranian intervention. Nor is Egypt, which is the only Arab country without diplomatic relations with Iran. The Shia-Sunni conflict is absolutely important; Iranian influence is mostly limited to countries with a Shia population.

4. There is no conflict between the national interests of Iran and Israel; it's purely a Muslim vs. non-Muslim issue. Relationships were quite friendly under the Shah, whom most Iranians consider to have been a far better protector of their national interests than the Mullahs. Anti-semitism isn't widespread, but it exists and is quite common within the government ranks.

#1 is a great point, there's a significant Persian diaspora that has integrated well into the West, and opposes dictatorship. Meanwhile we have huge numbers of first generation Chinese immigrants who maintain loyalty to the communist party. Now they are trying to tell us who can speak at our universities - look at the UCSD/Dalai lama fiasco.

The ones stealing industrial IP from the West get a free pass, while Iranian sanctions hurt families of the liberal diaspora and conservative regime alike. Remarkable double standards we have.

Almost everything Tyler Cowen wrote is contradicted by John Kerry's recent FB post warning Trump not to revoke the deal. Whenever economists wander into political waters, especially international ones, they rarely emerge with credibility left.

"contradicted by John Kerry" is a hint one is correct

"and will only make us seem less reliable."
An unfortunate but acceptable cost of recovering from Obama's horrible foreign policy.

Oh dear, Tyler, I have not seen you make so many outright false statements in a post in a long time, if ever.

1) Public opinion in Iran has nearly always opposed getting nuclear weapons and definitely does so now. OTOH, it strongly supports, and long has, their civilian nuclear power program.

2) In fact, since the government shut down its nuclear weapons program after the US invaded Iraq (one of the few good things to come out of that invasion), Ayatollah Khomeinii has repeatedly issued fatwas against nuclear weapons. Even if the JCPOA is dumped, they probably will not pursue a nuclear weapons program until after he dies. Even the US intel agencies agreed with this issuing two NIEs agreed to by all of them during the Bush admin that Iran was not actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but, hey, our politicians claimed to know better.

3) While there are clerics still making super unpleasant statements about Israel, the current leadership has pretty much stopped that. That was former president Ahmadinejad who did that. The more moderate Rouhani got elected to negotiate a nuclear weapons deal and end the sanctions, and he did, and they are keeping to it, even though the US seems intent on blowing it off.

4) Regarding the views of Israel and Saudi Arabia, it has long been known that top intel-military people in Israel have supported the deal, with several retired such figures openly saying so back in 2015. Bibi has long run on an anti-Iran platform, which most informed observers there think is ridiculous. I do not know about UAE, but in KSA, current policy is run by the irresponsible idiot, Muhammed bin Salman, who has also entered into a disastrous and failed war in Yemen as well as a silly effort to isolate and condemn Qatar. I do not think they would be pursuing such obviously self-destructive policies (it would be good for them if Iran were actively pursuing getting nuclear weapons?) if one of the Faisals were in charge there rather than this clown.

I could comment on several other points you made, Tyler, but those are some biggies where you are just way off, making your remarks about others being "naïve" sort of embarrassing. I posted on this on Econospeak at

Are foreign names hard for you, or is this the same Ayatollah Khomeinii (sic) who has been dead since 1989?


I think he's Eternally Alive and Supreme Leader in the hearts of his followers. Or something.

This is a case where Barkley is 50% right. There are a lot of statements, and a few full-on fatwas, which are broadly anti-nukes in the Supreme Leaders record. But it's not unequivocally anti-nuke as he represents.

I meant to write Khamenei, not Khomeini. I have it right in the link.

"Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that don’t have the luxury of wishful thinking on these issues, understand this quite well."

Sounds like a problem for Israel and S.A., then. Not us.

Do you feel the same about Japan and Korea?

Some of the commenters appear fairly uninformed about nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

First, many claim its never actually succeeded.


The USA, all by itself, convinced South Korea and Taiwan to not have nukes.

This is hugely important. Taiwan would have had a 30 second "use it or lose it" window - any radar error could have led to nuclear holocaust. But don't worry, Iranians technicians are far more advanced than Taiwanese...

South Africa and Brazil also stopped nuclear programs. Its amazing what international pressure can do when its serious.

So, non-proliferation does work.

You just need more leverage. We'd used up our leverage. Europe and China didn't want to help. That's it.

There is no such thing as **any** President "DE-certifying" the JPOA (the "Iran Deal" with the P5+1).

Pursuant to Public Law 114-17 (a dog pile of "sense of Congress" legislation) the President shall either certify or fail to certify (every 90 days) as to certain conditions (elements) specified in that **U.S. legislation.**. That law provides for the President to inform Congress of any breach of the terms of the JPOA, but not to do anything about it - but specifies "the sense of Congress" as to what ought be done- but, of course, not that it **will** be done.

Read the whole thing, produced by Corker et al., in reaction to the mighty works of those co-opted by the Russians, and laid before Congress as an Ostrich-egg omelet -never cooked.


If you read my linked econospeak post, you will see that I label what Trump is doing as "failing to certify" the JCPOA.

Public Law 114-17 does not call on the President to certify or fail to certify the JPOA.

It calls for the President to certify or fail to certify matters specified in Public Law 114-17.

We are not privy to the entire JPOA, with all its annexes, etc., but there has been no reference to any provision of the JPOA calling for certification by the President of the U.S.

Failing to certify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA (not "JPOA").

There will now likely be quietly made, under the radar, amendments to Public Law 114-17 that will eliminate (or drastically modify) the role of the President, probably moving "certification" (vel non) to some form of Standing Joint Committee that will hold only closed sessions..

The "sense of the Congress" wordings will likely become more Shakespearean; and, Trump will Tweet.

"Trump included — often have a better understanding of the underlying realities than do the critics"
Im pretty sure Trump does not have a better understanding of just about anything.

Thank you

Really good.


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