What critics are getting wrong about the Iran deal
November 24th, 2013
10:16 AM ET

What critics are getting wrong about the Iran deal

By Fareed Zakaria

If you’re trying to decide what to think about the deal struck between the major powers and Iran in Geneva, here’s a suggestion – imagine what would have happened if there had been no deal.

In fact, one doesn’t have to use much imagination. In 2003, Iran approached the United States with an offer to talk about its nuclear program. The George W. Bush administration rejected the offer because it believed that the Iranian regime was weak, had been battered by sanctions, and would either capitulate or collapse if Washington just stayed tough.

So there was no deal. What was the result? Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003; today it has 19,000 centrifuges. Had the Geneva talks with Iran broken down, Iran would have continued expanding its nuclear program. Yes they are now under tough sanctions, but they were under sanctions then as well.

More from CNN: 20 questions about the deal

And yet, the number of centrifuges grew exponentially (Despite all the sanctions and sabotage, keep in mind, the costs of a nuclear program are small for an oil rich country like Iran.)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been opposed to a deal. But is it in Israel’s interest that Iran’s program keep growing in size and scope? That’s a strategy that assumes that either Iran is heading for collapse, or that a military strike will take place that would permanently destroy Iran’s entire nuclear program. This seems more like wishful thinking than tough strategizing.

The agreement that the major powers have gotten in Geneva essentially freezes Iran’s program for six months – and rolls back some key aspects of it – while a permanent deal is negotiated. In return, Iran gets about $7 billion of sanctions relief, a fraction of what is in place against it. The main sanctions – against its oil and banking sectors – stay fully in place.

More from GPS: What would JFK have done about Iran?

This is a sensible deal – signed off on by France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – but it is just an interim deal and not a historic rapprochement. And that’s why so much of the opposition to it is misplaced.

Washington has many points of disagreement with Tehran, from its opposition to Israel and its support of Hezbollah to its funding of Iraq militias. This is not like the opening to China – it’s more like an arms control deal with the Soviet Union, with two wary adversaries trying to find some common ground.

Many countries in the Middle East – from Israel to Saudi Arabia – have legitimate concerns about Iran. But many of these countries have also gotten used to having a permanent enemy against whom they could rail, focusing domestic attention, driving ideological and sectarian divides, and garnering support.

The Middle East is undergoing so much change. Perhaps this is one more change.  And perhaps Iran will come in from the Cold. For now, this deal is just one step, not a seismic shift. But it is still a step forward.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (433 Responses)
  1. christopher

    Fareed calls this a small step forward. But is he forgetting about a country called Pakistan? This has the potential of being one of the largest miss-steps in the annals of foreign policy.

    November 25, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply
  2. Ann

    To make this deal one success, NATO alliance countries need to work together for control, monitoring and supervision. Great Britain and France should stand side-by-side with USA.

    November 25, 2013 at 9:32 am | Reply
  3. fortunate

    Almost exactly 75 years ago a very similar action by the US and European powers eased sanctions on Nazi Germany. That was also done to decrease international tensions, allow german people to dvelop their economy, and remove threat of imminnet war. Just to throw a bone to Nazi dog they sold parts of Czech and Slovakian lands to the Third Reich. The Czech government was never asked for their permission. There was such a celebration worldwide, especially, in France and the US of the eternal peace brokered by their leaders. There were voices of doubt and resentment about that 'peaceful agreement'. They correctly called it 'cowardice and opportunism'. However, zakarias of that time (their name then was quislings) supported by 'liberal and realistic' circles in their countries very successfully silenced those voices with celebratory outcries from dominant positions in the press, well paid by Abwer agents.
    That 'eternal peace' lasted only one year.
    The most horrible atrocities that followed are as well on the conscience of those who signed the Munich Agreement of 1938. Instead, the same very signers were later called glorious victors of the Nazi beast.
    All the horrors of the WWII could have been prevented. If Western powers instead of agreeing with Nazis provided a little help and backup to Czech and Polish armies (they were much stronger than German army in 1938), Hitler's ambitions could have been cut short and bottled inside the Third Reich, consisting of Germany and Austria. Takeover of Eastern Europe by Communist regime would also be impossible then.
    Alas, history doesn't have past conditional clause. Though, history has future conditional clause.
    If Iran is not stopped short right now, ayatollas like Hitler will never stop in their pursuit of Greater Persia dream.
    EU and the US have sold their Middle East allies for their short time interests. And again Russia (formerly Soviet Union) is on the side of the horrible growing warmonger, as it was on the side of Hitler in 1938, before Hitler crushed on them in 1941. Doesn't that tell modern politicians something?
    I have a feeling that years of Barak Hussein Obama presidency will not be remembered by their successful or not so successful universal healthcare battles, but by Obama's bow before vahhabit Saudi monarch and by his blessing on Iranian nuclear power ambitions ... because of grave consequences and horrible battles that may follow.
    There is only one hope left – a tiny state of Israel. It is now David to Iranian Goliath. Bible is a holy book for Shia Muslims of Iran, considered to be one of the bases of Q'uran. They have to read it sometimes. Israelites are described there as 'hardnecked'. Ayatollas must never forget that. With our limp president we in the US are reduced to hope that Israelis stay as hardnecked as ever. And again, figuratively, Jew will sacrifice himself to deliver humankind from hellfire.

    November 25, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
    • CoryTE

      And, again, the worship of invisible sky-gods becomes so insane that countries work to try to destroy each other over it. And they wonder why we work tirelessly to rid our world of it?

      November 25, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
      • superbole

        We have made some progress... most people (not all) now know that the earth revolves around its sun. Maybe we can get them to trust self-determination? Is that too much to ask? Freewill?

        November 25, 2013 at 11:30 am |
      • SwamiAntiZak

        There is no free will. All thoughts and actions are determined by physics. In another century supercomputers will be able to calculate the future of each of us and mankind. Life will devolve into a massive online game.

        November 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • fortunate

        @CoryTE: I am totally in agreement with your statement, as a 3rd generation atheist, with ancestors belonging to different religions and races My Biblical references and similes were provided here just to create more descriptive picture, that would be close to hearts and minds of those in this chat.

        November 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • spocksbrain

        The wholesale ridicule of religion might seem clever to you but the truth is you yourself cannot claim to understand the nature of the entire universe. Yes, religion is often used as a justification for murder, pillaging, and endless hatred. But there is a side to it which simply puts the "goodness" in us in the forefront. The basic tenant of most religion, from my understanding is simply "love thy neighbor as thyself." The golden rule. Such things as love, goodness, nobleness - are all invisible as any quark, electron, or black hole. I believe our tendency to hate and destroy would remain, even if we all abandoned our invisible sky gods. Look deeper.

        November 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  4. Bruce

    There can be no true deal making with Iran. They practice a policy of deception. What we see as an historic agreement, they see as an integral addition to their deception file. Their aims are clear, as they have been for decades. They intend to see Israel destroyed and also replace the Saudi's as the protectors/caretakers of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. They have played the drafting of this "interim agreement" beautifully-first seeming to reject, then accepting. We can declare "they have agreed" all we want, just as Chamberlain declared that Hitler had "agreed"-and Iran will "agree" but their mission-a holy mission, as they see it, will continue until they see it completed, no matter what happens to them. If we keep our head in the sand, hoping that Iran has finally seen the light, we will see a light. But not the good kind.

    November 25, 2013 at 11:17 am | Reply
  5. christian

    Anyone remember the sweet deal Clinton got with North Korea so they would not pursue nuclear weapons?? History repeating itself. Which city will be glowing rubble first thanks to Iran? Tel Aviv, Paris??

    November 25, 2013 at 11:52 am | Reply
  6. Jack 2

    I respect farreds opinon and enjoyed his recent special on the attack in Mambai, however, This deal falls too short and gives time to a regime that has shown not to be trusted. No Nukes for Iran, period!

    November 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  7. Bill the Cat

    Rouhani, in a campaign speech on May 8th, 2013: “'Death to America' is easy. We need to express 'Death to America' with action.”

    November 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  8. Allan Kinsman

    When it comes to Nuclear issues it occurs to me the irrational idea which developed the weapons and put them in the hands of politicians is one of the greatest blunders of history. When the decisions came to using such weapons another blunder. We yet do not know the results of years of explosions into the atmosphere. We may eventually pay dearly for such pursuits. To allow any other countries to attain or have access to such technologies is a foolish pursuit. The world powers which have such weapons need to come together and pursue whatever agreement to make sure these weapons never get into the hands of people which pursue violence against others who through state sponsored terrorism. This is and should be the pursuit of all societies interested in pursuing reason. Otherwise any other opinion toward the non proliferation of Nuclear weapons should be considerated of the highest order of business. The use of such weapons has only happened once in history this is adequate to demostrate the injustices of such weapons.

    November 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  9. chrissy

    @ Kevin @ 1:55am, WHAT in your mind has Israel done, to convince you they are the "good guys"??? They have stolen other countries land, and imprissoned the very people they've stolen from. They also have nuclear facilities that they refuse to allow inspections of, the very thing they've accused Iran of doing. They've manipulated the US gov time and again, so much so that they recieve a very large percentage of OUR tax dollars! Thats yours, mine, and everyone posting here! And you're ok with this? Well im NOT! Im tired of my taxes going to all these warmongering countries, while they try to take our children as well, in wars that have nothing to do with us at all! And our tax dollars are needed more now, than ever before, to fix things inside our own borders!

    November 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
    • jim

      Simply. Israel has had the nuke, and has NOT used it. If roles were reversed, Iran had the nuke. not Israel, Well, with all their threats, I feel confident in saying there would be no Israel. Does that clear it up for you, Chrissy. Israel is not as fanatical as the other countries in the region. They don't stone men and women, or cut off body parts, or kill for adultery. Try as you might, do you really believe what you say.

      November 25, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  10. chrissy

    And once again, @ Allan Kinsman, your post at 12:38 was SPOT ON!!! 😉

    November 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Reply
  11. Chuk

    Most of those opposed to this deal are listening to Bebe Netanyahu. Yes, Bebe is the one we should all be listening to since he always tells the truth. In fact, no outcome would be good enough for Bebe until he bullies the U.S into another war with Iran so he can sit back and watch the fireworks.
    He has this threat of bombing Iran unless the U.S does something about it. So bomb! If Bebe can't wait to get into another war, then let him!
    After all, why can't we talk about ALL the nuclear arms in the that region? Is that because Bebe is sitting on multiple warheads? But if Iran tries to make ONE then the entire world is threatened?
    It is amazing that Israel's stash of nuclear warheads are totally harmless but a single weapon from Iran will destroy the world. It's as if everyone has become mindless.
    So before we make any decision we better check with Bebe to make sure he's happy. There's a general knowledge that there's only one superpower left in the world. One would be surprised to learn who it is.

    November 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • Bill the Cat

      Sure, because it is ISRAEL that is interested in wiping Iran off the face of the earth...

      November 25, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  12. saywhat

    "Top Israeli ex-officials and analysts praise Iran deal" News.
    "Israeli stock market soars' news.
    "Oil prices slide" News.
    Well the world suffering consequences of past decade of catastrophes, needed some semblance of sanity. All level headed folks would welcome this first step to stability.

    " Congress threatens to derail Iran deal" News. A do nothing Congress bent on undoing any good on the horizon.
    "Schumer, menendez call for tougher sanctions on Iran". Being among the
    perennial idiots up on the Hill, what else can one expect from the likes of these.

    November 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  13. saywhat

    why block my comments right away GPS?

    November 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  14. saywhat

    O.K GPS so you don't want me to post?

    November 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  15. saywhat

    House of Saud and Netanyahu and their supporters up on the Hill, as expected, would continue decrying this 'obstacle' to their agenda. So? let them. All level headed folks everywhere and thinking Americans who care for where their country is headed would welcome this move.

    November 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  16. TiredOfPaying

    None of this matters. The real issue is Islam and the Shiite-Sunni split. Until Islam undergoes a Reformation similar to the Christian religions the two factions will continue to kill for their cult. Israel is just stuck in the middle. Giving a nuke to Iran is just plain irresponsible. Perhaps 6 months from now, when Iran has failed in all of its commitments, the military option will finally be used. It seems to be the only thing Islam understands.

    November 25, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  17. chrissy

    Lol @ Jim, yes i most certainly DO believe what im saying! The ONLY country opposed to peace is Israel!

    November 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  18. saywhat

    As Mark Twain said, travel is the enemy of ignorance. e confessed that travel is what cured him of ignorance, bigotry and prejudice.
    those who had the opportunity to live and work in any M.Eastern or muslim country prior to the commencement of this 'war on terror' or traveled there for leisure know that Islam is not the problem.
    The war for geopolitical positioning by the West and those arrayed traditionally against it, China & Russia. Meddling, militarily or otherwise in these countries. By passing the aspirations of the general population, buying and selling corrupt leaders, installing favorable dictatorships etc. has been the problem.
    As for Israel, suffice to say those familiar with ' The Oded Yinon Plan for Greater Israel' know that the rogue leaderships in this country are the real threat.

    November 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  19. chrissy

    And this American is opposed to anything our congressional brats say is in our best interests! And the reason being the "only" su c cessful thing they have done is the last several years is prove that they do NOTHING that is in the best interest of the american citizens!! They have an ulterior motive for every single thing they do and only consider what is in theirs, and their special interest groups! And NO ONE else! The biggest traitors this country has had thus far!!

    November 25, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Reply
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