A strong majority of National Journal's National Security Insiders thought the recent agreement between world powers and Iran — to limit its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief — is a "good deal," despite scathing criticism by Iran hawks and Israel.
The agreement, inked in Geneva, "is better than expected and rolls back key aspects of the Iranian progress toward bomb-grade highly enriched uranium," one Insider said. It also increases likely international support for tougher sanctions, another Insider added, if Iran does not comply with this accord or refuses to conclude an acceptable, subsequent comprehensive agreement.
"Diplomacy trumps war here," another Insider remarked.
However, several Insiders were quick to point out their support is on the condition the deal serves as a temporary placeholder while a better one is crafted, or, as one Insider said, "while we work to hit the delete button rather than the pause button."
"If it becomes the final deal," the Insider continued, "it's disastrous."
However, objections from Israel — and members of Congress seeking to toughen the financial pressure even as talks continue — remain the elephants in the negotiating room. The agreement is "a good deal insofar as it gives diplomacy a chance, when it's most vocal detractors seem intent on some form of military response to the Iranian question," one Insider said. "Tougher, congressionally mandated sanctions now would probably break the solidarity of the current sanctions regime rather than strengthen it." Another added: "Let us hope that Bibi [Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister] does not succeed in killing a final deal."
A vocal 24.5 percent of the pool of national security and foreign policy experts disliked the deal. "Obama probably got the ability to claim that Iran didn't go nuclear on his watch, but he's increased the likelihood that they will on his successor's watch," one Insider said. The deal, another Insider added, "rewards Iran for bad behavior especially by providing sanctions relief and allowing enrichment to continue before Iran has proven it can be trusted."
The deal didn't go far enough, the Insider said. "The Obama administration forgot to include U.S. citizens held hostage in Iran and calls for respect for human rights in the deal."
Insiders were more divided over whether they believed this interim deal with Iran would be the first step on a diplomatic path toward ultimately eliminating the country's nuclear-weapons program. The optimists won a narrow majority, with 58 percent of Insiders believing this deal is the first step toward a lasting agreement.
If Iran complies and negotiates in good faith, the six-month deadline "offers hope," one Insider said. "If the U.S. holds to the deadline and reserves the option of reinstituting or strengthening sanctions, Iran is more likely to comply. The trick will be for the president to balance Iran on one hand and Congress (and its desire to ramp up sanctions) on the other." Both sides, another Insider said, "have strong incentives to settle short of war, with an Iranian weapons program deferred, for now."
Yet 42 percent said negotiations will fall apart. "The deal just kicks the can down the road giving Iran time and money to continue their clandestine nuclear program," one Insider said. "We should not trust Iran's charm offensive under President Hassan Rouhani." Despite this achievement, another added, "it's hard to see Iran making the strategic decision to give up the aspects of its nuclear program that make it threatening."
1. Is the recent agreement between world powers and Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief a good deal?
"As Winston Churchill once said, jaw-jaw is usually better than war-war. A limited agreement now may lead to a more comprehensive agreement later. If not, there is always an opportunity to bring the hammer down."
"It's a first step, but a very important one."
"Since nukes wouldn't buy Iran much power projection capability anyway, basically any deal that lowered the chance of war would have been good from a U.S. point of view. This was more than good because it actually won some concessions."
"The deal is a start, not a final deal. In itself, it does not stop the U.S. or its allies and partners from taking any future action, including military operations, if Iran fails to hold up its end of the deal."
"Only if we are prepared to act if they do not cooperate and act in good faith. No more lines in the sand. Put up or shut up and be prepared for the consequences because there is no military option to end the Iranian nuclear program."
"How can anyone who claims to be interested in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon oppose the only measure that has ever moved Iran farther away from a possible bomb?"
"It's a test, not a deal, but no critic of this process has explained why an act of war is better than challenging Tehran in this way."
"The alternative to diplomacy is war."
"Yes, but only in that it pushes final decisions off for another six months."
"There are too many ways for Iran to abide by the deal and yet be in a position to develop a weapon relatively quickly. In addition, by loosening the sanctions, even temporarily, the agreement undermines the basic principle of the sanctions, which was not only to force Iran to terminate its weapons program but also to prevent an Israeli strike. Once six months have passed, if there is no sign of further progress, a strike may become inevitable."
"While it may provide Iran with sanctions relief, the deal does very little to stop Iran's nuclear program. It also does nothing to assuage the concerns of U.S. regional allies like Israel and the GCC states. It is an ill-considered effort designed to grab headlines and provide the president with some foreign policy 'street cred.' "
"Definitely not. the question is, given how badly the administration has handled Iran for the last several years, is this the least bad deal?"
"It's a great deal — for Iran. They have contracted out their nuke work to the Norks and Paks so they win all around."
2. Is this interim deal the first step toward an accord which ultimately eliminates the Iranian nuclear program, or will negotiations in the end fail?
- This is the first step toward a lasting agreement 58%
- Negotiations will fall apart 42%
First step toward lasting agreement
"The verification processes and insertion of personnel from the U.S. and other countries into Iran will help to ensure this deal's success."
"It may not be everything we want, but there's a decent chance that it'll be good enough."
"A real coin toss on answering this question. The negotiations will be vulnerable to far too many as yet unforeseen pressures over the next six months to make more than an informed guess."
"But it will not eliminate the Iranian nuclear program — just keep it peaceful."
"If it is up to Israel, they will certainly fail, which is why Israel should be sidelined for their own best interest."
"Constant vigilance will be required."
"Some lasting agreement is the key to peace. For myself, I think very little will change if Iran gets the bomb. However, I am in the minority, and if they 'go for it,' there will be war."
"There will be a deal, but the Iranians will work around it eventually. Sometime in the future, we will see an Iran with a nuclear-weapons capability."
"If Western sanctions coalition can remain unified to reimpose even tougher sanctions in six months should the interim deal fail, this plan will work."
"While the deal may fail, other regimes (Taiwan, South Africa, Libya) have decided they can get more security from trading away their weapons program than keeping it. Considering the alternatives, it is worth the effort."
"And not just on the nuclear issue but, over time, toward normalizing ties."
"This could also be the first step toward another even worse deal."
"The final deal may not be total elimination of the nuclear program but will result in elimination of the threat."
"Sadly, I think this is the first step to a lasting deal — one that will make the world more dangerous."
"It's a bad agreement that will last because the president wants to wash his hands of the issue and focus on domestic legacy building, while SecState is happy to back into the the Nobel he covets. The Iranians will do just enough to keep them both happy."
Negotiations will fall apart
"Iran will give up its ambition to become a nuclear-weapon state, after having devoted so many resources to the endeavor for over a decade. Iran's diplomatic strategy is to buy time until it can conduct a nuclear test, proving its new status."
"Khamenei's rhetoric has not changed, nor has he given up any of his powers. Ultimately, he will walk away from any concessions to the West."
"At the end of six months, the Iranians will push for a 'continuing resolution.' Shame on us if we allow it to happen."
"While it would certainly be desirable, from the U.S. point of view, to reach a lasting agreement with Iran, the likelihood of reaching such an agreement is remote given the political hurdles and the mistrust both sides must overcome. While we should certainly try to achieve a long-term agreement, we have to plan for the likelihood that such efforts will fail."
"I have little faith the Iranian supreme leader is seriously considering giving up his ability to create a nuclear weapon. But as Yogi Berra once said, it's hard to predict the future when it hasn't happened yet."
"Ultimately, the Iranians want a bomb and they will either have one or be able to assemble one quickly."
"I don't think anybody serious is talking about 'eliminating the Iranian nuclear program' at this point. But sure — everything falls apart eventually. Although I should say in the interest of full disclosure I didn't think we'd get this far."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.