The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Rules for Buying Cars

Everything Barack Obama, John Kerry, and their Teams of 2s needs to know about negotiation with the Mullahs of Iran should have been learned in their youth, when they went in to buy their first used car. The rules for car buying apply equally well to negotiating a nuclear arms deal. They are:
  1. Never fall in love with a vehicle before you negotiate a deal. If you're in love with the idea of owning the car, you'll do poorly as you negotiate because you won't want to lose your love.
  2. Establish your terms early and be very firm. This is a business transaction. There's no worry about hurting the car dealer's feelings or getting him angry.
  3. Keep at it, don't accept excuses, dishonesty, empty assurances, or promises that won't be kept. Get it all in writing and signed by someone with authority.
  4. Understand that the best negotiation is 'win-win,' but that means that both sides win, not that you spend more than you're able and get taken advantage of. If both sides can't win, then it's very important that you win.
  5. If  you can't win, if conditions are such that you'll only lose or be taken advantage of, walk away. Sometimes that will cause the car dealer to come to terms. In other situations, there is no deal -- it wasn't meant to be.
I can only assume that Barack Obama, John Kerry and their team of 2s have never purchased a car, because they have violated or disregarded every one of the rules I just noted.
  1. Obama and Kerry have fallen in love with the idea of a deal and are scared to death that Iran will walk. Why else were they so petulant when confronted with Bibi Netanyahu's criticism?
  2. They have modified their terms repeatedly, all because Iran might get angry or walk. Recall that Obama himself originally stated that all centrifuges must be destroyed. Now, Iran can keep 'em.
  3. Obama and Kerry have kept at it, but they are only too willing to accept excuses, dishonesty, and empty promises in lieu of verifiable acts on the part of Iran. (I know this is ultimate snark, but the reason might be that they themselves are very comfortable with excuses, dishonesty, and empty promises.)
  4. They are perfectly willing to accept a win-lose outcome—one in which the Iranians win and the United States loses. Don't believe me on this, believe, Dennis Ross (see below).
  5. They should have already walked away, but they haven't suggesting—falsely—that the only other option is war. An alternative plan isn't that difficult to develop and execute.
Dennis Ross, Obama's Middle East negotiator from 2009 to 2011, is a seasoned international player and writes the following in USA Today:
... [The Obama administration] should not dismiss the concerns Netanyahu raises about the emerging deal. Indeed, the administration's argument that there is no better alternative than the deal it is negotiating begs the question of whether the prospective agreement is acceptable.

And, here, the administration needs to explain why the deal it is trying to conclude actually will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons for the lifetime of the agreement and afterwards. It needs to explain why the combination of the number and quality of centrifuges, their output, and the ship-out from Iran of enriched uranium will, in fact, ensure that the break-out time for the Iranians will not be less than one year. Either this combination adds up or it does not, but there should be an explicit answer to Netanyahu's charge that Iran will be able to break out much more quickly.

Similarly, there should be an answer on how the verification regime is going to work to ensure that we can detect, even in a larger nuclear program, any Iranian violation of the agreement. The issue of verification is critical not just because Iran's past clandestine nuclear efforts prove it cannot be trusted, but also because the administration has made a one-year break-out time the key measure of success of the agreement. But we can be certain that Iran will be one year away from being able to produce a bomb's supply of weapons-grade uranium only if we can detect what they are doing when they do it.

Obviously, detection is only part of the equation. We cannot wait to determine what we will do about violations when they happen. Iran must know in advance what the consequences are for violations, particularly if we want to deter them in the first place. This clearly goes to the heart of Netanyahu's concerns: If he had high confidence that we would impose harsh consequences in response to Iranian violations, including the use of force if we caught Iran dashing toward a weapon, he would be less fearful of the agreement he believes is going to emerge.
So ... on one side we have seasoned negotiators like Dennis Ross and literally dozens of other serious foreign policy experts expressing concern about this deal. On the other side we have a Team of 2s that has violated even the simple set of rules governing the negotiation for a used car. Who would you believe?

Remember, a mushroom cloud might be the end result of a very bad deal?