Millions of American dinner tables are hosting a debate that soon will engage every member of Congress. The time to vote on President Obama’s proposed executive agreement with Iran is approaching.
Proponents contend that the agreement will forestall the Iranian nuclear program for at least a decade. Without it there will be no inspectors, no restraints, and the United States will be isolated among the world powers. Opponents fear the release of a high-end estimate of $150 billion in frozen assets, the inability to reinstate sanctions if violations are established, and an inspection regime that requires long notifications and uncertain mechanisms for proving violations.
Elements of both conclusions may be correct, but they’re answers to the wrong question. Nuclear weapons are a frightening prospect in the hands of the Iranian mullahs, but they are a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself. The religious dictatorship in Iran has created a sphere of influence from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. It is the world’s most significant sponsor of state terrorism. The regime in Tehran has murdered hundreds of thousands of its own people and has openly declared its hostility to the United States, Israel, and our allies.
The Iranian nuclear program cannot be divorced from the broader strategic problem. The current debate is based on the assumption that Iran’s nuclear program is a singular barrier to relations. Iran is a threat to our security, our values, and our desire for a peaceful and just world order, whether it manifests its policies through terror, conventional warfare, or nuclear weapons.
The reality is that Iran will possess nuclear weapons at some point, whether this agreement is enacted, violated, or rejected. Iran is a nation of strong institutions, an educated population with skilled scientists, and almost unlimited financial resources. Nuclear weapons became inevitable 30 years ago, when the United States and our allies failed to develop an energy policy and poured billions of oil profits into the mullahs’ treasury.
The possibility that the Iranian regime might use its new nuclear arsenal is real. It’s more likely, however, that a hundred Israeli nuclear weapons and an unimaginable American arsenal will dictate restraint. The mullahs are dangerous, but the sobering reality of mass retaliation convinced Hitler not to use thousands of chemical and biological weapons, even as his regime disintegrated and the world’s largest nuclear stockpiles remained dormant through the continuous conflicts of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Delaying, disrupting, and sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program are all vital national objectives, but ultimately security will be achieved only by a regime change in Iran. Our fathers recognized the moral imperative of containing communism. The generation before understood the need to defeat fascism. I recognize our national fatigue with international responsibility, but the aspiration of this generation for security, freedom, and international harmony cannot be reconciled with the ambitions of the religious dictatorship in Tehran.
Our intelligence agencies disregard the chances of an Iranian regime change through internal revolution. These are the same analysts who failed to predict the fall of the Shah, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of Chinese economic power, and the Arab Spring.
The embargo is fomenting opposition in Iran. Street protests and acts of civil disobedience are rising. A generation of educated young people is attuned through the internet to the larger world in ways that young activists of the communist block could not have dreamed.
It’s the wrong time to ease the embargo. Waves of European, Chinese, and Japanese businessman are waiting to descend on Tehran. Every dollar released from Western banks under this agreement and every dollar sent in trade legitimizes the regime and prolongs the threat.
President Obama might be correct that this is the best deal with Iran on nuclear weapons that could be negotiated. If delaying the Iranian nuclear program a few years in our goal, it’s probably the right answer. But if our ambition is a free and democratic Iran, at peace with its neighbors and reconciled with the international community, a more comprehensive policy is required.
The Iranian nuclear agreement should be defeated. Every agency of the United States government should be tasked with supporting every opposition group and destabilizing every economic, military, and political component of the Iranian regime.
Robert G. Torricelli, a Democrat, served New Jersey in the House of Representatives and the Senate as a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Reprinted by permission from the Star-Ledger.