Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey became the second Democratic Senator to announce his opposition to the Iran deal, joining Chuck Schumer of New York. Menendez described the deal as an "expensive alarm system" that will increase the Iranian nuclear threat and the stability of the regime.
Menendez gave a lengthy speech dissecting the deal, particularly how it preserves Iran's status as a nuclear threshold state and sets up a situation where it becomes more difficult to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran with each passing day. For example, after the first eight years of the agreement, the regime will be permitted to have centrifuges that increase the speed of its uranium enrichment 15 times over.
Menendez pointed out that if Iran complies with the deal for the 15-year period—a big if—we will have a stronger Iranian regime with a greater ability to resist international pressure. And if Iran gets sanctions relief and then scraps the deal (probably conjuring up some pretext to accuse the U.S. of non-compliance), we will have the same outcome. In other words, the situation will be worse than today regardless of whether Iran complies or not.
Supporters of the deal argue that the deal extends Iran’s breakout time to build a bomb from the current three months to one year, which would be true if there were no hidden sites and Iran complies with the deal. Menendez responds:
"Of course if the Iranians violate the agreement and try to make a dash for a nuclear bomb, our solace will be that we will have a year's notice instead of the present three months. So in reality we have purchased a very expensive alarm system. Maybe we’ll have an additional nine months, but with much greater consequences in the enemy we might face at that time."
Menendez recommends a middle path between scrapping the deal and approving it. He wants President Obama to renegotiate it and preserve the interim arrangement, which Iran should be willing to accept because it includes $700 million in economic relief every month, amounting to $10 billion already. Menendez said he'd even support unfreezing some additional assets to prove our sincerity.
A better deal, he said, would include immediate implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol, the closure of the underground Fordow enrichment facility, a ban on centrifuge development, complete disclosure of weaponization activities at Parchin and an international agreement about the specific sanctions Iran will face if a violation happens. Schumer previously recommended restrictions on how Iran spends its newly-acquired funds.
Menendez rebuts the administration's argument that the only alternative to the deal is war:
“The President and Secretary Kerry have repeatedly said that the choice is between this agreement or war. I reject that proposition, as have most witnesses, including past and present Administration members involved in the Iran nuclear issue, who have testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who support the deal but reject the binary choice between the agreement or war.
“If the P5+1 had not achieved an agreement, would we be at war with Iran? I don't believe that."
And finally, Menendez rejects the argument that the deal will moderate the Iranian regime by strengthening "reformists" inside of it, as President Obama suggested international engagement could accomplish. The gamble is that the Iran of 15 years from now will be vastly different than the Iran of today.
"Whether or not the supporters of the agreement admit it, this deal is based on ‘hope’– hope that when the nuclear sunset clause expires Iran will have succumbed to the benefits of commerce and global integration. Hope that the hardliners will have lost their power and the revolution will end its hegemonic goals. And hope that the regime will allow the Iranian people to decide their fate.
Hope is part of human nature, but unfortunately it is not a national security strategy.
The Iranian regime, led by the Ayatollah, wants above all to preserve the regime and its Revolution, unlike the Green Revolution of 2009. So it stretches incredulity to believe they signed on to a deal that would in any way weaken the regime or threaten the goals of the Revolution."
And that's the fundamental issue. The U.S. strategy towards Iran lacks an end goal, which should be ending the Iranian regime — not merely containing the destructive results of the current regime.
The next generation should not be burdened with a massively increased threat because of our desire to kick the can down the road. Any deal that strengthens the Iranian regime and rescues its Islamic Revolution is a strategic victory for the Ayatollah’s Islamist cause.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.
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