During the George W. Bush administration, we were told that the United States had to attack Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons. In then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous speech on Feb. 5, 2003 at the United Nations, he asserted that Saddam was “determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb.” The following month, Bush ordered the invasion with no thought given to the consequences or alternative strategies. As a result, more than 4,400 American service members were killed, tens of thousands were wounded and, by one estimate, more than 1 million Iraqis died. And what do we have to show for those costs and the trillions of dollars spent on the invasion? The self-described Islamic State is terrorizing a large portion of the region, the Iraqi government is near collapse, and millions of Iraqis have been displaced by recent fighting. Bush’s war is without doubt the most costly foreign policy blunder in American history.
Now, those who were the cheerleaders for invading Iraq are back clamoring for a way to inflict an even larger disaster on our country. This time, they want to make it impossible for diplomacy to succeed in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Some, like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), even argue bombing Iran would be the best outcome and only take a few days. The opponents of diplomacy claim this historic agreement is a “bad deal.” However, they offer no realistic alternative and make another disastrous war in the Middle East all but inevitable.
Why is the Iran agreement a good deal?
The deal blocks Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Ronald Reagan, paraphrasing a Russian aphorism, once famously said about a weapons agreement with the Soviet Union: “Trust but verify.” This agreement provides the means to verify and does not rely on trust. It has been endorsed by a wide range of experts from across the partisan divide, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Jim Walsh to Stanford University’s Kori Schake, who served as a foreign policy advisor to two Republican presidential campaigns. From a technical standpoint, the agreement stops Iran’s nuclear program from progressing toward a bomb. And if it does cheat, the deal ensures we will know. In short, the agreement ensures that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has imprudently called for Congress to reject the current agreement and return to the negotiating table at a later date. This approach would be bound to fail. The United States has pushed hard with our international partners and come to an agreement. Rejecting the deal would be turning our back on the world and would imperil future diplomatic efforts with our British, French and German allies.
War with Iran would be, in the words of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “a catastrophe.” It would rally the Iranian people around their leaders and give their nuclear program unprecedented support. Military action against Iran would be a moral abomination threatening the lives of civilians in Israel, Iran and throughout the region. It would pour fuel on the flames of an already explosive Middle East. Moreover, even proponents would have to concede that while the deal installs decades of restrictions, a bombing campaign would only set back Iran’s program for two or three years. The deal is the best way to stop Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program.
That is why it’s no surprise that a majority of Jewish Americans supported the then-developing deal with Iran in a J Street poll. They recognize that rejecting this deal will lead to a breakdown of the unity on sanctions and make either a nuclear-armed Iran or another war inevitable. And they know Israel’s security is best served by the agreement that has been reached rather than the unrealistic and unattainable alternatives the opponents of diplomacy propose.
President Barack Obama has led the world to a historic agreement. Through his vote, Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) will play a critical role in approving or disapproving it. The Jewish community in Pennsylvania should speak out in support of this good deal with Iran.
Dennis Jett, former U.S. ambassador to Peru and Mozambique, is a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University. He is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh.
Bradley Harris is the program assistant for nuclear disarmament at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. He is a member of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.