“No deal is better than a bad deal.” Such is the slogan often flaunted by those who believe that the Obama administration is being too soft on Iran with regard to its nuclear weapons program. They worry that the current deal being negotiated might leave Iran with the capability to construct a nuclear weapon in a short period of time and argue that tougher measures (i.e. sanctions and even military strikes) should be considered against Tehran. While the concern is justified, the current dilemma that faces the United States is not about choosing between a “good deal” and “tougher action” (more sanctions or military action). The two actual alternatives that Washington must choose between are an Iran without nuclear weapons as a result of a deal or an Iran with nuclear weapons which could eventually emerge out of failed negotiations.
If no deal is reached, the United States will have to increase the sanctions which might lead Iran to rush to build nuclear bombs. Then, the United States might be forced to choose between accepting a nuclear Iran or taking military action to stop it. But would military action, whether by the United States or Israel, solve the problem? What would such a move entail? As Commander Daniel Dolan (U.S. Navy, retired) aptly concludes in an article:
“…America may be at war with Iran for 10 years, spend trillions, and tens of thousands more people will die. The already unstable Middle East will be smoldering with chaos for years to come. In Iran, every paranoid prophecy of the Israeli-American conspiracy that was preached from podiums in Tehran, by the likes of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, will have been fulfilled. And if attacked, Iran will have every reason and all the motivation needed to try to build a nuclear weapon…”
Military strikes might set back Iran’s nuclear program for a few years. To ensure with certainty that the nuclear program is destroyed and to prevent it from being restarted in hidden facilities, the United States will have to force regime change and occupy Iran, which would be extraordinarily costly. In other words, no deal means that whether the United States decides to take military action or not, the end result will be highly detrimental to American interests. We will either have to accept a nuclear Iran (or set it back a few years at the most) or engage in a highly costly occupation of the country. The latter option is unthinkable for the United States which has many other critical issues to deal with around the world.
Fortunately, we have a deal within our reach. No agreement is perfect, and the current deal being negotiated will leave both sides less than completely satisfied. Iran will keep some of its enrichment capabilities, but they will also be under intrusive inspection regimes and will be limited. Given the cost of failing to reach an agreement, however, even an imperfect deal is better than a no deal.
BGen Stephen A. Cheney USMC (Ret.) is the CEO of the American Security Project
Sungtae “Jacky” Park is Middle East and Nuclear Security Analyst at the American Security Project.