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The Iran deal bait-and-switch

Jeff Jacoby

By Jeff Jacoby

Published Sept. 14, 2015

The Iran deal bait-and-switch

Barack Obama has never made a secret of his determination to reach a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Very early in his run for the White House, he announced that he was prepared to meet, without preconditions, with the rulers of Iran and other hostile regimes. "I think it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them," he said during a 2007 debate with Hillary Clinton. As president, Obama's outreach to Tehran began on Day 1. "We will extend a hand," he promised in his inaugural address, "if you are willing to unclench your fist." By 2011, he had dispatched then-Senator John Kerry to open a secret dialogue with Iran.

It has long been clear that Obama envisions a grand nuclear bargain with Iran as a cornerstone of his presidential legacy. "It's my name on this," he says. "I have a personal interest in locking this down."

But the terms of that bargain haven't been so clear. Far from being "locked down," the goals and guarantees of the Iran nuclear deal have been a moving target. In one critical area after another, the nuclear accord so enticingly advertised doesn't resemble the nuclear accord actually on the table. When unscrupulous merchants do that, it's called bait-and-switch. The seller may clinch the sale, but customers resent being conned.

Similarly, while Obama's nuclear deal will almost certainly survive a congressional vote of disapproval, public skepticism runs deep. A Pew Research poll released Tuesday found just 21 percent support for the agreement. Gallup reports only one in three Americans approve Obama's handling of US policy toward Iran. That's not typical the public usually backs presidents on arms-control agreements. But voters don't like being conned any more than shoppers do.

How has the administration engaged in bait-and-switch on the Iran deal? Here are five ways.

Inspections. The White House claimed any agreement with Iran would supply international weapons inspectors with the ultimate all-access pass round-the-clock authority to enter any suspected nuclear site. In a CNN interview in April, Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, confirmed that "under this deal, you will have anywhere/anytime, 24/7 access as it relates to the nuclear facilities that Iran has." When a leading Iranian general scoffed at the suggestion that foreigners would be permitted to investigate possible nuclear activity at Iranian military sites, the Obama administration pushed back. "We expect to have anywhere/anytime access," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz reiterated bluntly.

But in the final accord, "anywhere/anytime" is nowhere to be found. The administration claimed it had never existed. (Switch!) "We never sought in this negotiation the capacity for so-called anytime/anywhere," Rhodes told CNN's Erin Burnett. Secretary of State Kerry went even further. "There's no such thing in arms control as anytime/anywhere," he insisted. "This is a term that, honestly, I never heard."

Sanctions snap back. The administration acknowledged that stiff economic sanctions had brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. It repeatedly assured skeptics that sanctions would automatically "snap back" into effect if Iran violated any terms of the nuclear accord. "The UN sanctions that initially brought Iran to the table can and will snap right back into place," Kerry told reporters in Vienna. That echoed what his boss had been saying all along. "We can crank that dial back up," Obama told an interviewer in 2013. "We don't have to trust them."

Yet now they sell the deal as a last chance to salvage some Iranian compliance from a sanctions regime that is crumbling anyway. (Switch!) Our allies "certainly are not going to agree to enforce existing sanctions for another 5, 10, 15 years," Obama said in his American University speech last month. And in any case, "sanctions alone are not going to force Iran to completely dismantle all vestiges of its nuclear infrastructure." Snap back? Merely bait.

Right to enrich. A deal with Iran absolutely would not invest the Islamic Republic with a right to enrich uranium, the administration firmly asserted. "No there is no right to enrich," Kerry declared. "In the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it's very, very clear that there is no right to enrich." This was a key point, since Iran insisted not only that it did have a right to enrich uranium, but that the West must acknowledge that right, or there would be no deal.

Before long, however, Kerry had changed his tune. "The NPT is silent on the issue," he conceded in testimony before a House committee. The final deal authorizes Iran to operate 6,000 centrifuges and to continue enriching uranium. "We understood that any final deal was going to involve some domestic enrichment capability," a senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal in April. "We always anticipated that." (Switch!)

Military option. Over and over and over, Obama proclaimed that he meant to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that all options including military attack were "on the table." But that assurance has gone down the memory hole. (Switch!) As he lobbied for the nuclear deal that was signed in Vienna, his message was reversed. A military option is not on the table and will not eliminate an Iranian nuclear threat, Obama told Israeli TV. "A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it."

Deal or no deal. But perhaps the most egregious bait-and-switch of all involves the standard by which any accord with a deadly regime like Tehran's should be assessed. From President Obama on down, administration officials used to affirm constantly that "no deal is better than a bad deal."

They were right. And the deal they produced is indeed a bad deal. It does not dismantle Iran's nuclear program, nor constrain its murderous ambitions, nor lessen its influence. It will not enhance the security of America and its allies, nor make the world more peaceful.

Yet the president and his allies have abandoned their old standard. Their case for this bad agreement comes down to: It could be worse. It may be flawed and far from what was promised, but any deal with Iran is better than no deal. Most Americans, and most members of Congress, don't agree. And the bait-and-switch that was used to clinch this sale is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths for a long time to come.

Last week a middle-aged businessman rescued five students from a lynch mob. Now the lynch mob is after the businessman, threatening to kill him for his act of bravery.

"I'm not a hero," insists the man, as heroes usually do. "I did it because I'm a human being."

The incident happened in Hebron, the ancient city in Israel's West Bank that today is largely controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Five yeshiva students, haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") tourists from America, took a wrong turn while driving to the Machpela Cave, the sacred burial site of the Biblical patriarchs, and suddenly found themselves under attack in one of Hebron's Arab neighborhoods. The students were assaulted with rocks and Molotov cocktails; their car was set on fire.

The mob was just beginning to beat them when a bystander intervened. Faiz Abu Hamadiah, a 51-year-old local resident, quickly propelled the students into his own house nearby, and sheltered them until Israeli security forces arrived nearly an hour later.

"As soon as we saw that a riot was starting," Hamadiah told a reporter, "my family and I managed to bring them inside. . . . We gave them water to drink and tried to tell them that they were safe, though they didn't speak Arabic."

For an unarmed man to save five intended victims from a frenzied mob takes remarkable courage under any circumstances. When the rescuer is a Palestinian Muslim in an all-Arab neighborhood and those he saves are strangers in conspicuously Jewish garb, the moral valor he displays is extraordinary — and a heart-lifting reminder of the goodness that people are capable of, however poisonous the atmosphere that surrounds them.

Jewish tradition famously teaches: "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." That teaching is so famous, in fact, that it is quoted in the Koran.

No society in history — not even the most decent — has ever wholly uprooted the lust to kill and terrorize. Israel comes closer than most; Muslim tourists who inadvertently take a wrong turn into a Jewish neighborhood will not find themselves under attack by a mob bent on slaughter. But the Jewish state has its savages as well, such as the arsonists who torched the home of the Dewabsha family in the village of Duma on July 31. An 18-month-old toddler, Ali, burned to death in the inferno; his father, Sa'ad, died a week later. On Monday, after weeks in a coma, Ali's mother, Reham, died of her injuries too.

Israelis across the political spectrum expressed shame and anguish in response to the arson attack. Many are sickened by the realization that such evil could come from within — and outraged that the murderers are still at large. The Palestinian man who saved five Jewish lives, meanwhile, finds himself reviled as a collaborator. Other Palestinians have reportedly threatened to "burn his house down, or cut off his head."

Heroism comes in different forms, but the greatest is the courage to act in defense of the despised outsider — especially when it would be more prudent to look the other way. Today we use the term "good Samaritan" to mean any charitable person. But 2,000 years ago, when Jesus related his parable about the Israelite who had been beaten and left for dead on the Jericho road, Samaritans and Jews hated each other. Bitterness between the two communities ran deep.

Yet it was precisely the Samaritan who saved the wounded Jew, choosing to ignore the stranger's detested tribal identity, and to see instead a fellow human being.

That Samaritan, like Faiz Abu Hamadiah, would no doubt have denied being a hero. The only difference between them is that the Good Samaritan was a parable. Hamadiah is blessedly, beautifully real.

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