Monday, January 26, 2015

Mr. Thomas' Question: Iran, Congress, and the P5+1

"Turkey in Asia, Persia, Egypt, etc." from George G. Chisholm and
C.H. Leete's 1904 Longmans' New School Atlas courtesy of Maps, Etc. 
The other day I got a question from a dear friend of mine, the eminent Jerrell Thomas.  He asked my thoughts on the post-State of the Union furor surrounding the issue of Iran's negotiations with the US and its partners and Speaker Boehner's invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to speak before the House of Representatives.  I had to put some thought into it, and I still wouldn't say I feel like I've illuminated everything but, hopefully, this is a start.  Cheers.

* * * * * *

Something strange happened earlier this month.  Let's go through the broad strokes before we go any further.  

First, the President of the United States, fulfilling his constitutionally mandated obligation to deliver a report on the State of the Union annually, did so, as has been customary for most of the history of that Union, by speaking before a joint session of Congress.

One item the President spoke on was Iran.  I'll quote his words exactly - won't take a moment:
Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.
This statement says a lot of different things: (1) the president is asserting that Iran has voluntarily decreased the rate of progress of its nuclear weaponization program (with no claim that it has ceased, of course); (2) the president is reiterating his support for the P5+1 group's joint negotiation strategy (more on that below) as the soundest framework for relations with Iran; (3) the president is reaffirming the United States' military alliances with regards to Iran, and the implied deterrent therein, including with Israel (essentially a nod to pro-Israeli American political factions); (4) the president has reaffirmed the United States' right to respond fluidly to relations with Iran, leaving all options on the table (words to sanctions to embargoes to bombs); and finally (5) the president has asked Congress restrain its actions with regards to Iran until this round of negotiations have reached a clearer resolution - clearly hinted at being sometime this spring.

Fair enough.  The sticking point that is highlighting these negotiations lay in the response of elements of the Republican leadership in Congress response to this paragraph.  This faction (I'll define its membership below) is a hawkish group that is definitively pro-Israel and deeply distrustful of the effectiveness of diplomatic and deterrent mechanisms to prevent Iran from first acquiring and then using weapons of mass destruction.  As such this faction responded by inviting the current Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to speak before Congress while reiterating their plan to press for sanctions against Iran, no matter the veto-threat (and the fact that this faction, even if these sanctions passed, certainly isn't large enough to put together a veto-override unless something drastically changes).

Put simply, a faction of Congress is consciously trying to undermine efforts to achieve a lasting interstate solution with the current Iranian regime, and they're fuming mad because the President has a solid chance of achieving a game changing international agreement in spite of the new Congress being a double-Republican legislature.

Okay - let's slow down.  There is a lot to discuss here, so let's take it step by step.

1. What is the P5+1 framework? What, if anything, has it achieved?

This is a strategy that has emerged as the go-to among the great powers for dealing with pariah states like Iran and the far less stable North Korea - negotiate all solutions as a group in order to prevent the states being pressured from playing the great powers against one another.  In the case of Iran this means Iran has to negotiate with the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council (the P5, which is to say the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, and the French Republic) and Germany all at the same time - if they try to exclude one or another polity from the negotiations then they respond in kind and unison - meaning they all respond with similar sanctions at the same time and they all agree on the nature of any Security Council action - meaning that the possibility of an Iran-saving veto approaches zero, giving Iran a powerful reason to play well.

Has it worked, well, better than anything else so far.  Partly the P5+1 can't take credit for this - Iranian politics have slowly, but steadily (and with many setbacks) become more normalized and ordered since the 1979 revolution and, further, Iran feels safer than it has in awhile (in an existential sense, at least) since the United States' military presence on the western and eastern borders of Iran has appreciably shrunk as the Iraqi and Afghani wars have been increasingly wrapped up and as Iraq and Afghanistan's governments have become increasingly sociable with Iran.   But partly this is a clear vindication of the collective negotiating method.  The most important document produced so far is the "Joint Plan of Action" agreed to in Geneva in November of 2013 - heck, why don't I just paste it here:

Joint Plan of Action

Preamble

The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons. This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures and result in a final step for a period to be agreed upon and the resolution of concerns. This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme. This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-bystep process, and would produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme.

There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step, including, among other things, addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council's consideration of this matter. The E3+3 and Iran will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures and the comprehensive solution in good faith. A Joint Commission of E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of the near-term measures and address issues
that may arise, with the IAEA responsible for verification of nuclear-related measures. The Joint Commission will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern.

Elements of a first step

The first step would be time-bound, with a duration of 6 months, and renewable by mutual consent, during which all parties will work to maintain a constructive atmosphere for negotiations in good faith. 


Iran would undertake the following voluntary measures:

• From the existing uranium enriched to 20%, retain half as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel for the TRR. Dilute the remaining 20% UF6 to no more than 5%. No reconversion line.

• Iran announces that it will not enrich uranium over 5% for the duration of the 6 months. 

• Iran announces that it will not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel
Enrichment Plant, Fordow, or the Arak reactor, designated by the IAEA as IR-40.

• Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.

• No new locations for the enrichment.

• Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices, which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium.

• No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing.

• Enhanced monitoring:

• Provision of specified information to the IAEA, including information on Iran's plans for nuclear facilities, a description of each building on each nuclear site, a description of the scale of operations for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities, information on uranium mines and mills, and information on source material. This information would be provided within three months of the
adoption of these measures.

• Submission of an updated DIQ for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40, to the IAEA.

• Steps to agree with the IAEA on conclusion of the Safeguards Approach for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40.

• Daily IAEA inspector access when inspectors are not present for the purpose of Design Information Verification, Interim Inventory Verification, Physical Inventory Verification, and unannounced inspections, for the purpose of access to offline surveillance records, at Fordow and Natanz.

• IAEA inspector managed access to:  centrifuge assembly workshops; centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and,  uranium mines and mills. 


In return, the E3/EU+3 would undertake the following voluntary measures:

• Pause efforts to further reduce Iran's crude oil sales, enabling Iran's current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil. Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad. For such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services.

• Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:

-  Iran's petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services.

-  Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services.

-  Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran's auto industry, as well as sanctions on associated services. 

-  License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of flight for Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services.

• No new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions.

• No new EU nuclear-related sanctions.

• The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.

• Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran's domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad. Humanitarian trade would be defined as transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad. This channel would involve specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks to be defined when establishing the channel. 

- This channel could also enable:  transactions required to pay Iran's UN obligations; and,  direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six month period.

• Increase the EU authorisation thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed
amount.

Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution

The final step of a comprehensive solution, which the parties aim to conclude negotiating and commence implementing no more than one year after the adoption of this document, would:

• Have a specified long-term duration to be agreed upon.

• Reflect the rights and obligations of parties to the NPT and IAEA Safeguards Agreements.

• Comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy, on a schedule to be agreed upon.

• Involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon.

• Fully resolve concerns related to the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40. No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing.

• Fully implement the agreed transparency measures and enhanced monitoring. Ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Majlis (Iranian parliament).

• Include international civil nuclear cooperation, including among others, on acquiring modern light water power and research reactors and associated equipment, and the supply of modern nuclear fuel as well as agreed R&D practices.

Following successful implementation of the final step of the comprehensive solution for its full duration, the Iranian nuclear programme will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT. 

Okay - fair enough - if you're wondering what some of those acronyms mean, well the big ones you're probably not sure of are the IAEA - the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the NPT, or the Non-Proliferation Treaty or more formally the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  And either way you're probably wondering, what the heck does this mean?  Well, the short version is this is an agreement about how to proceed - it is the map of laws, treaties, and practical actions Iran and the other parties have to take if some level of normalization is to be achieved, as Iran wants, and if Iran is to cease developing a nuclear weapons program, which is what pretty much everyone else wants.

I like this plan and I like it for two key reasons - one is a  footnote, literally, in the original that says simply, "With respect to the final step and any steps in between, the standard principle that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" applies." - in other words there are no half-measures here - Iran has to normalize if they want everyone else to normalize, and vice-versa.  That is definitive, clear, and screams that the biggest impediment is getting the relevant factions in each nation to give peace a chance - so to speak - or, equally, simply maintain the status quo.  The other reason I like it is that it is deals with normalization but doesn't eliminate the possibility of later negotiations and pressures from the West to deal with human rights issues - but, this is definitely secondary - hardly surprising if China and Russia are to be brought into the dance.

Seems pretty straight forward.  Right?

Ummmm....

2. Why are some people up in arms about this in the United States?

Oh, there are lots of reasons.  Let me give it to you by breaking down the framework's opposition into factions - and by factions I mean those subnational identity groups who advocate the law and spending priorities of the United States be molded to achieve their particular ideological or practical interests (generally because they convince themselves their faction's interest are identical to the national interests - check out in particular Madison's Federalist #10, dang it!).

The Hawks - I don't mean a sports team, but those folk who believe that strength, and even applied force, are more likely to achieve success when dealing with enemies than negotiation-based strategies.  Bonus: factions materially benefiting from large defense budgets are likely to appear hawkish since being at odds with states increase military spending.

The Pro-Israel Lobby - No other nation is as influential on the United States' foreign policy in a less ambiguous way than the State of Israel, particularly when one considers that state's economic and military significance is dwarfed by many states of its neighborhood.  The reason for this lay in the fact that this lobby is not really a faction but an amalgam of many factions - evangelical Christians who believe that Biblical Israel must be restored, Zionist members of the Jewish faith who believe in the centrality of a Jewish state (though for a variety of reasons - some nationalist and secular, religious or ideological), American members of the Jewish faith (or who conceive themselves as being Jewish in identity but are not religious themselves) who have friends or relatives in Israel, and of course a large portion of the American public who is, rightly, sensitive to the trials persons of the Jewish faith have undergone in the last, well, couple of thousand years, but particularly in the Second World War.  Enormous money is generated by this lobby to support Israel, more than in support of any other foreign lobby, and largely it is hostile towards normalization with Iran.

The reason for this is multidimensional.  For one, since the 1979 revolution Iran has been staunchly anti-Israel, regarding the state as a culturally Western colony established only in the early 20th Century, displacing the Palestinian inhabitants that had lived their for many an age, and violating the no-land-cession to non-Muslims principle of Islam.  As such their relationship has never been normalized, is often stormy, and frequently teeters on the brink of wide conflict even though the states do not border.  This is partly because Israel fears the implications of a radical, ideologically driven Iran with weapons of mass destruction (rather logically) and because Iran supports radical, violent non-state actors in the Levant as a way of undermining and distracting Israel - actors Iran regards as revolutionaries and Israel and the United States regard as terrorists.

Put simply, there is a real fear among the Pro-Israel lobby that normalization with Iran would leave Israel more open to attack, particularly if sanctions are not used and Iran violates any agreement and successfully develops deliverable nuclear weapons.

Other Ethno-National and Religious Groups - Israel isn't alone in having a problematic strategic relationship with Iran - Iran is an oppressive state and is perceived as a threat by non-Persians and non-Shi'a in and outside of Iran.  For many of these the fear is that if normalization occurs for the sake of guaranteeing interstate stability then human rights concerns for groups inside of Iran such as the Baha'i will become so secondary that they will effectively lose all traction - and they're right to be concerned if the normalization of the West with the People's Republic of China is any indication.

The Anti-Muslim and/or Anti-Shi'a Lobby - This may not be openly well organized in the United States but no one with any sense imagines that there isn't a distinct tone of hostility in the US towards Muslims that has been particularly punctuated since the rise of Islamic radical political actors in the late 1960s and 1970s, punctuated in particular by the Iranian Revolution and again by the September 11th attacks, but also founded on general xenophobia and the ancient tension in the West between Christianity and Islam.  There are a helluva' a lot of people who just don't like or trust Muslims.  A lot of these people vote, and a lot of these people are likely to vote Republican and/or Tea Party, if for no other reason than older voters are much more likely to support these bodies and are also more likely to be anti-Islam - simple correlation.  That means Republican Congressmen are likely to feel significant pressure to oppose normalization with Islamic polities whenever possible - and equally are likely to see villianization of these polities as a useful political tool - not unlike many Congressmen similarly villainize other polities that are distinctly non-Western, such as China.

The Anti-Obama Lobby - Here's the deal.  Sometimes you want to hurt someone - if you can't openly beat them you want to incapacitate them, simple as that.  In my life I've seen the deeply anti-sitting president rhetoric reach a similar tenor once before, in the Clinton administration.  And frankly, a lot of folk don't like Obama and many of them so fervently and personally that it honestly seems a little over the top.  As such they want to immobilize the administration, preventing it from achieving anything in order to discredit all its previous achievements (which isn't a moral statement, but a practical one, FYI).  This means disrupting the President's foreign policy initiatives, total war on the area where presidents have traditionally had the most free reign.

The proof in this pudding lay in the origin point of this move - it isn't the Republican leadership of the Senate, the traditional center of legislative foreign policy expertise, which is leading the call for more sanctions but that of the House of Representatives.  The Senate is probably pretty darn uncomfortable with this too since the House taking foreign policy prerogative doesn't just undermine the President's traditional role but the Senate's as well - an example of institutional factionalism that'd make James Madison grin ear to ear, I'd imagine.

3. So, what are the obstructionists actually doing? 

A note - I'm using the word obstructionist here not because I'm trying to make a judgment, but because it is a description of the stance of those who are trying to obstruct normalization with Iran - please don't infer anything beyond that. 

Well, there are two key things.  First, they are pursuing new sanctions against Iran - these are unlikely to be successful if they pass since they will definitely be vetoed and there is inadequate support for these measures for a veto override.  Second, Speaker Boehner has invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before Congress in February, an invitation he has accepted.  This is kinda' weird.  Sure, Congresses have invited foreign leaders and dignitaries to speak before.  But this, this is clearly aimed at attempting to generate public pressure on President Obama to cut the normalization bid off before the next round of talks really gets underway.

Will it work?  I sort of doubt it.  But it is certainly controversial and is generally regarded as the foot working against the leg.

4. Where does the Constitution sit on this?

Well, this is a classic dilemma of American politics.  Let me quote the relevant parts of the Constitution.  First, Article I, Section 8 on the powers of Congress:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

And now Article II, Section 2 which details the powers of the President:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Okay - now, because I'm so useful I have highlighted in red the relevant parts of the these passages, as I see it, to the conversation herein.  You're welcome.  And something should be clear - both Congress and the President have a horse in this race, but their particular roles are nonetheless somewhat ambiguous.  Certainly when it comes to international commerce Congress has first dibs, so point to the obstructionists, but when when it comes to the generation of treaties it appears the President has the right to take the lead, though final decisions remain the Senate's to make when it comes to making treaties, that is to say international agreements that carry the weight of law - note the House, where most of this kerfuffle is originating from, definitely doesn't have a role at that point.
So, does the President have a legal right to pursue normalization agreements with Iran as part of the P5+1?  Yup, but the Senate still gets a say.  And can the Congress pass a bill which would make that all but impossible, although it is unlikely to stick since the veto isn't going anywhere in the next two years?  Sure.

In the end no one is violating the law here.  But the notion of the House's leadership trying to influence foreign policy as much as they are, well, that is certainly not something one would predict based simply on the reading of the Constitution.  But it was written, I'll admit, a long time ago.

5. What would happen if somehow Congress derailed the talks?

Simple answer?  Iran gets nuclear weapons.

Why?  Because Iran's leadership is scared - they're scared of Israel, Russia, Britain, France, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, ISIS/ISIL, and the US of A.  There is a helluva lot of time and money put into undermining Iranian military, diplomatic, and economic development and capabilities - sure, you can argue much or most of it is completely logical on the part of the states doing it, and probably much or most of it is for reasons that are fairly ethical - but frankly, the leadership of Iran, rightly, logically, sanely sees all this effort as an existential threat to the regime and sovereignty of that state.

Existential threat.  Put in West Virginian, my native language, that means the mother bear and her cubs are backed into a corner - if she becomes convinced there is no other option she'll do things she otherwise would think of.  Not because she is morally superior or inferior, but because she is desperate.

The logic for pursuing them is pretty irrefutable - Iran gets nukes and no matter what else, no matter the other elements in the equation, the great powers have to treat it as legitimate polity or else risk their own existential threat emerging.  If Iran wants normalization and the West won't give it normalization, well, then it gets nukes and then the West gives it normalization.  Hell, the great powers' representatives in the talks are proof in the pudding - five of them have nuclear weapons (indeed, they are the top nuclear weapon possessors in terms of number and capabilities) and the one that doesn't could have a full arsenal after a long weekend of working with their vast nuclear infrastructure.

6. What would happen if Iran got nuclear weapons?

Damn.  Dr. Smith is about to give an opinion. This can't be good.

Here is the kicker - probably not a helluva' a lot at first.  Having nukes gives you a weapon you cannot use - its chief advantage is that others cannot use their equivalent weapons against you either.  If no one can pull their swords to solve problems, then you have to talk to achieve the same.  And, honestly, Iran isn't much of an international threat in direct terms.

Hold on, I know, I know. Controversial.  But it shouldn't be. Seriously - Iran has done, and still does, some things that are morally questionable to repugnant, both to their own people and in terms of supporting regimes and non-state actors that are pretty horrible.  But they have consistently done this largely to gain international leverage - you know, like the United States when we supported the Khmer Rouge, a polity substantially more nasty than Syria or any Palestinian radicals.  Now, two wrongs don't make a right, but the comparison is valid - this is interstate politics and bad $#&% happens in the sphere of interstate anarchy.

So, here is the thing - Iran getting nuclear weapons is unlikely mean they'll use them - heck, they use them and the equation is suicide for Iran in nearly every scenario: the only question is will it be one nation or several responding by detonating nuclear weapons in Iran and completely destroying the regime.  Rather, nuclear weapons will be a deterrent, used to blackmail, most likely, normalization of economic and diplomatic relations.

In the long-term, though, this means Iran loses.

What? WHAT?

Easy there, pardner.  Remember the greatest characteristic of American culture in particular and modern Western culture in general?  It is addictive.  Like meth.  You normalize with the West, you start getting Western products, tourists, your kids study in the West and vice-versa, and steadily, ever so steadily, Western ideas, including liberalism, have a tendency to seep into your own culture.

Hell, such namby-pamby fellows as Nixon and Kissinger held to this, though, so maybe it isn't bad-ass enough.

7.  What would you do, Professor?

I thought you'd never ask.

Well, simply put we are likely to get to the same outcome regardless of what strategy we take, so panic is probably unnecessary.  But there is one major risk that I think warrants trying every avenue of normalization without nuclearization of Iran that is possible - which of course means no further sanctions in the near future, or at least till the next round of P5+1 talks end.

Israel might start a nuclear war.

I know.  I freaking know.  If talks are derailed and normalization doesn't occur and Iran does pursue nuclear weapons, honestly, Israel might freak the hell out.  And Israel takes an - well, shall we call it "aggressive" - stance on its defense.  I understand why - hell, the history of the 20th Century is replete with reasons for Israel conceiving of every action taken in their general vicinity as presenting an existential threat.  But preemptive nuclear strikes are just - - - well, to be avoided.

This could be bad in tons of ways.  First, the entire global nonproliferation regime is based on one basic rule - no one uses nuclear weapons anymore.  At all.  Nuclear weapons exist solely for deterrence - not defense.  Why not defense?  Cause you can't defend against a full-tilt nuclear assault, you can only retaliate.  Virtually every developed or semi-developed state could build and maintain at least a small arsenal and, like cigarettes, you're a helluva' lot more likely to smoke'm if you've got'm.  If Israel used nuclear weapons offensively against Iran, well, I can't imagine many Arab polities, if any, with the ability wouldn't have them in short order because, even though they may not like Iran, they surely don't trust Israel, and would trust them even less if Israel demonstrated a willingness to engage in such radical unilateralism.  This would render Israel, in essence, indefensible.  It would also lead to a catastrophic arms race - Africa, Asia, and Southeast Europe, at least, would probably see nuclear weapon possessing regimes become commonplace, the NPT would collapse, and nuclear war, at least at the tactical scale, would become more likely in any given conflict.  The meaning of great power would decrease even more than it has since the emergence of capitalism, neoliberalism, and international law and American influence would decline in lockstep.  The only solution would be to totally ban all nuclear weapons - and, well, good luck getting that back in Pandora's box.

Finally, there is one other thing that bothers me - I don't like American foreign policy being co-opted, in part or in whole, by other polities - Israel included.  Call me an old fashioned Washingtonian and Hobbesian, and I won't be upset, but honored.  I'm not anti-Israel, not by a long shot, but I'm also not Israeli - I'm American and my nation's foreign policy interests have to come first, frankly - though if you're from another polity I except you feel the same, and I totally don't blame you!  If you want to understand co-option I want to recommend two things.

First, read everything you can on soft power as conceptualized by the great Joseph Nye, one of the greatest political scientists of our time.  In particular I recommend his book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.  It is an easy read and useful for the expert and non-expert alike.

Second, I want to share with you an excerpt from the Farewell Address of another of my heroes, the Good Mr. George Washington.  Read it in good health, and cheers until next time!
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it - It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.