By Lucille Marshall
America’s recent agreement with Iran is a “bad deal,” former Bush National Security Council official Michael Doran told students and community members at Columbia University last week.
The United States’ interim agreement with Iran, announced late last month, aims to slow the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But Doran claimed the arrangement abandons the United States’ demand to prevent all nuclear progress in Iran.
“In making the deal, we ceded an enormous amount of leverage to the Iranians,” said Doran, now a senior fellow in Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution. “We said that we are going to recognize their right to enrichment.”
He also asserted that America’s recognition of Iranian enrichment sets the tone for the future, warning that Iran “made absolutely reversible concessions, in return for what I believe, on our part, were irreversible concessions.” Doran stressed that Iran “agreed to step back half a step from break-out capability”—which is too temporary for comfort.
“I believe that the agreement has also taken the credible threat of force off the table,” Doran said. While the Obama administration asserts that the possibility of military action in Iran still holds true, “This is a president who does not want to use force in the Middle East,” he went on. “It’s simply the case that in the Middle East, nobody believes there’s a credible threat of force. For a threat of force to be perceived as credible, it must be perceived by the major actors in the region to be credible.”
Doran emphasized that the loss of this credibility weakens our diplomatic options: “By taking the threat of force off the table, we made it much less likely that we’ll actually be able to reach the diplomatic settlement that we say we want.”
Addressing the general relationship between the United States and the Middle East, Doran also criticized the Obama administration for its under involvement, especially in Syria. “The single most important decision that the president made about the Middle East was the decision to simply pull back from it,” he said, insisting that America’s “stand off-ish” attitude about the region alienates our Middle Eastern allies.
“We fractured our alliance politically. The story now is the United States verses Israel, the United States verses Saudi Arabia, the Obama administration verses hard-liners in Congress,” Doran stated. These divisions within our alliances will be blamed as the obstacle to successful negotiations, “not that the Iranians [refuse] to comply with the will of the international community.”
Doran endorsed even harsher economic sanctions on Iran. “If the Iranians decide that they’re going to go for break out and a nuclear weapon, it’s much better that they do so under a very tight sanctions regime,” he said.
“We have to get tough,” Doran replied when asked what the country’s next step should be. “We have to sit down with the Israelis and with our primary European partners, and we have to come up with a mutually-agreed bottom line of what is absolutely necessary to get from the Iranians, so as to prevent them from having break-out capability.”
Image of President Barack Obama on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani courtesy of Creative Commons.