That old bromide that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has been falsely attributed to Albert Einstein, according the “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,” published by Princeton University Press. One of its earliest appearances in print was in a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet. Certainly it’s suitable advice for drug addicts.
But this point also is valid in the realm of foreign policy.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, after a frustrating failure at forging a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, the administration sought a signature foreign policy victory as its crowning achievement. The need to curtail Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb was of the utmost importance. But in its quest for a deal before his term of office was over, Obama’s team, led by John Kerry, narrowed the focus of the negotiations, sidestepping Iran’s support of terrorism in the region; its role in supplying IEDs and arms to its proxies in Iraq, which killed and maimed thousands of our troops; and Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. The Obama team also did not engage with its closest allies in the region, Israel and the Gulf States, which were most adversely affected by Iran’s aggression.
So it was not a surprise that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was totally inadequate in addressing Iran’s threat to the region and the world. Other than ignoring Iran’s nefarious behavior, the deal contained sunset provisions that would allow Iran legally to develop nuclear weapons by the end of this decade. Meanwhile the ban on the purchase of advanced weapons already passed its deadline, which was last October. And the deal released tens of billions of dollars for Iran to feed its terrorist proxies in the region, Africa, and Latin America, and fuel its ballistic weapons program.
The JCPOA encountered so much opposition, which was led by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), that it never was submitted to the Senate as a treaty. It never would have garnered the two-thirds vote necessary for it to pass.
In the ensuing years, Iran has propped up the murderous Assad regime, armed Hezbollah and Hamas with precision guided missiles, destroyed Saudi oil installations, backed the Houthis in a civil war in Yemen, attacked tankers in the Gulf, quashed protests by killing and imprisoning thousands, and prevented nuclear inspectors from visiting military sites.
In light of the above, the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA and imposed additional sanctions to pressure Iran for a better deal, which would address its deficiencies.
Candidate Joe Biden said he would return to the JCPOA if Iran returned to full compliance with the deal; Iran has enriched uranium to a degree suited only for military purposes, not civilian use, as it had proclaimed persistently.
In order to sweeten the deal for Iran, in advance of any negotiations, the Biden administration lifted the terrorist designation from the Houthis and removed some of the sanctions on Iranian leaders. The Houthis honored this good-will gesture by attacking Saudi civilian targets with missiles.
Now we’re negotiating sanctions relief in exchange for staggered moves by Iran to return to compliance, in effect negating Biden’s campaign pledge. And what is the hoped-for result of this approach, Iran’s return to a fatally flawed agreement with billions to revive its economy and the negation of most of our economic leverage? And without addressing the other issues not even covered by the JCPOA.
The administration’s hope is that with our return to the JCPOA, Iran will agree to negotiate its missile development program and imperialistic advances in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and other countries. But what incentive will Iran have if it can build a bomb legally, or have the capacity to do so within nine years? Shouldn’t our minimal position, when we have maximum leverage, be at least to eliminate the sunset provisions, which should be agreeable to our European fellow negotiators? Or is the need to return to the Obama deal, erasing any trace of Trump, so paramount that we invoke the insanity rule?
A team of Israelis, led by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen, are arriving in Washington next week. They will try to convince their American counterparts to strengthen the terms of the deal. The United States can contain a nuclear Iran. But for Israel and the Gulf States, it becomes an existential issue.
I sincerely hope that we’re not in a situation best described by the philosopher Lawrence “Yogi” Berra: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.