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Iran, Iraq and Path Dependence

Tuesday, President Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — better known as the Iran deal. I’m not going to go into depth on the wisdom or folly of this decision — there are better pundits than I on either side. I think my opinion will be clear. But I did want to address one aspect that I think is very important.

Let’s go back to the 2016 Presidential debates. I know, it’s traumatic, but let’s go back anyway. At one point, Trump said something that was actually insightful when asked about his past support for single payer healthcare:

As far as single payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.

Now Trump was mostly weaseling, but he also stumbled upon an important aspect of the healthcare debate: path dependence. Our options are limited by the choices we have made in the past. The current healthcare system — with its overlapping programs and public-private mix — has incredible inertia. You can’t just go back in time to the 1970s and hit the reset button to get single payer. You have to deal with system we have now (which is, indeed, what Obamacare tried to do). Whether you think single payer is an awesome idea or a terrible idea, the opportunity to do it may have passed. And even if it hasn’t, the path to that is complex and difficult.

Path dependence is incredibly important in decision making and is probably the most ignored aspect of our political debate. A few other examples:

  • Republicans talk about “slashing” spending as though we can undo the last few decades of spending growth with a magic wand.
  • When Obama took office, many Dems thought this would restore our reputation in the world, as though the previous eight years had vanished in smoke.
  • Gay marriage opponents believed that passing amendments would turn back the tide and return us to a pre-SSM state.

A great example right now can be seen in the wave of teachers’ strikes in various states. Critics of the unions are pointing out that the median teacher wage — around $58k a year with benefits — is hardly chicken feed. But the path dependence matters: teacher wages have fallen relative to the cost of living. The most important factor, as far as the teachers are concerned, isn’t necessarily the wage, but the changes to it. How they reached that wage matters.

It’s rare that you get — in politics or in life — the opportunity to truly revisit a decision in the purest sense. The most you can do is find a way to improve upon the situation you are currently in based on the decisions you have made.

Before any decision is made, there are many possible worlds we could live in. In this particular case, one where the Iran Deal was signed and one where it wasn’t. Once the decision has been made, however, we are locked into that world. We don’t get to go back and make the decision again. We can’t slide sideways in time into a world where we made a different decision. The possible worlds in front of us are limited by the worlds we closed off behind us.

To get away from metaphysics and back to concrete foreign policy: I supported the Iraq War initially but by 2008 had, like most people, become convinced it was a mistake. I was mixed, however, on the idea of withdrawing from Iraq. Because withdrawing from Iraq was not the same as having never invaded it in the first place. Their military was crushed, their dictator dead, ethnic and religious conflict rampant. Whether we should have left or not, we had to acknowledge that we would be leaving a vacuum (a vacuum that ISIS filled).

By the same token, let’s posit that the Iran Deal was a bad one. (I think it was middling, but that’s not the point.) Withdrawing from the Iran deal is not the same as never having made it in the first place. The sanctions from other countries — notably Russia — will not be put back in place immediately, if ever. The willingness of Iran to negotiate will not be the same after we have a withdrawn from a deal that every objective agency concludes they were complying with. The effects on Iran’s internal politics are unlikely to be in our favor. In short, today’s decision does not turn the clock back to 2015. It puts us into a new and, in my opinion, unfavorable circumstance.

There are a number of conservatives like Jeff Flake who opposed the deal in 2015 but oppose leaving it now. Conservative Twitter is calling them out for “hypocrisy”, but this is ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with having opposed the deal in 2015, when we had a united international front and heavy sanctions, but still concluding that leaving it now — with Iran compliant and the world against us — is a terrible idea. In fact, it’s a perfect illustration of path dependence: once you’ve made a poor decision you to have to deal with that decision, not the decision you wish had been made.

Was there a different course open for Trump? One could claim that the deal was poor, and work toward a better deal. This is indeed how we have done things in the past, mostly notably in the decades spent negotiating the Cold War away from the nuclear brink. Treaties were made, complied with, and slowly improved upon over the course of four decades. Would we have gotten better “deals” with the Soviet Union if each Administration had backed out of the agreement the previous ones had made? It certainly doesn’t seem like backing out of the ABM treaty improved things. The subsequent SORT agreement was one of the weakest in forty years.

Of course, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. It is certainly possible that backing out of JCPOA will bring Iran back to the table and wring out more concessions. And it is certainly possible that sticking to the deal would have resulted in a nuclear Iran. I have serious doubts about both of those scenarios.

But … we have now chosen a path and the dependence that comes with it. So when the next step in this passion play occurs, it will have to take that into account and decide whether restoring the broken deal gets us back to where we need to be or makes things worse. And that decision will need to be based on the world we live in then, and not on a desire to magically undo Trump’s actions.


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Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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31 thoughts on “Iran, Iraq and Path Dependence

  1. This didn’t fit into the theme of the post but my general feeling of the Iran situation is that a nuclear Iran is inevitable. They are going to look at what has happened in Iraq, Libya and North Korea and conclude, not unreasonably, that they need nukes to survive. I reluctantly supported the Iran Deal because, while it had its issues, it delayed that day at least a few years. The longer we can delay a nuclear Iran, the more likely we are to see a reformed and less dangerous Iran.

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  2. [O]nce you’ve made a poor decision you to have to deal with that decision, not the decision you wish had been made.

    This is a really good line from a really good piece.

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  3. The longer we can delay a nuclear Iran, the more likely we are to see a reformed and less dangerous Iran.

    This is probably another example of path dependence: what makes Iran specially dangerous? And, doubling down on the question, specially dangerous to us?

    Iran’s foreign policy is driven by one single consideration: they are the only country with the capabilities to stand up for Shi’a Muslims. Shi’a are a (despised) minority in most every other Muslim country, and a bare plurality (or minority) in a very weak Iraq. Iran sees supporting Shi’a Muslims anywhere they are as their sacred duty, and most of the population supports that national mission. Regarding places where the Sunni-Shi’a conflict does not extend into, Iran doesn’t really have a view.

    The Iran-Israel problem is also related to Shi’a-Sunni conflicts. Both Syria and Lebanon have significant Shi’a populations embedded into artificial multiethnic countries. Defending that minority drives Iran’s policy in the region, either intervening in Lebanon against the old Maronite/Sunni duopoly, or supporting the “secular” Assad in a civil war against a clearly Sunni uprise. The conflict with Saudi Arabia and the Gilf countries is exactly the same: protecting the Shi’a minorities in the southern Gulf states.

    Ayatollah Khomeini died 29 years ago, “ Death to America” was a rhetoric born out of resentment against the US support for the Sha. The hostages happened 40 years ago, almost as far back as helicopters taking off from Saigon’s rooftops (I mean Ho Chi Minh City) but we’ve made our peace with Vietnam decades ago. We are even going to meet with Kim Jong-un for goodness sake.

    So, again, what’s with all this Iran is an existential danger Axis of Evil thing? Can we get out of this path at some point?

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  4. I mentioned on another thread that I am not able to get why Iran is somehow especially dangerous for America, more so than other nations.
    I get that they fund bad actors like Hezbollah, but that hardly makes them unusual for that region and I am not sure why Iranian hegemony in the region would be worse for America than Saudi hegemony.

    I am willing to be persuaded, but right now all I see is this automatic assumption that they are the boogeyman.

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    • The Fundamental Theorem of American foreign policy since the 1790s is that Maritime Commerce Shall Not Be Impeded. The lemma since around WW2 is that The Oil Must Flow. (the less spoken of corollary is that impeding maritime commerce is a vital tool of national power when the US is doing it in support of its own national interests)

      Everyone in the area is some flavor of autocrat (except the Israeli and Iraq governments), but the Saudi side is receptive to (or has been, since the early 80s) the Fundamental Theorem of American Foreign Policy. The Iranian side (again since the early 80s) is not.

      Iran has the military capability of greatly interfering with shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, and periodically expresses an interest in actually doing so. Furthermore, if they were successful in establishing a friendly government in Yemen, they would then potentially be able to enhance their capability of greatly interfering with shipping traffic transiting through the Gulf of Aden (i.e. ships that are enroute from or to the Suez canal)

      This is the theory. One can question the underlying assumptions, but that’s why Saudi hegemony is not the same as Iranian hegemony.

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      • Thank you for providing such a clear and succinct answer. Like the person you replied to, I also find a lot of the rhetoric against Iran unpersuasive, but this is a straightforward explanation that clearly delineates the two potential hegemonies.

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      • Iran has the military capability of greatly interfering with shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, and periodically expresses an interest in actually doing so.

        This seems an _extremely_ dubious reason to be against Iran as a regional power.

        I don’t doubt that some people have claimed it as the reason, but in reality, Iran does not have the capability to that for more than an extremely short period of time.

        Moreover, Iran knows that it cannot do that, and such a thing would be a casus belli justifying war. And thus has backed off every time.

        And, honestly, this makes very little sense. The _reason_ Iran saber-rattles about the Strait of Hormuz is mostly because the US is doing something Iran sees as harmful to Iran. This entire thing is circular logic: When the US does things Iran doesn’t like, Iran bluffs about the Strait of Hormuz. Ergo, the US needs to keep Iran down as a regional power, doing things that weaken it. Which Iran then sees as harmful, and thus bluffs about the Strait of Hormuz…

        I’m sure if we went around doing thing Saudi Arabia doesn’t like, they _also_ would make threats about our oil supply.

        ..also, what does this have to do with them being a regional power anyway? Even if they’re not, they’re still right next to the Strait of Hormuz.

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        • It *is* circular. (it’s the same sort of thing that gives us the proverbial ‘cycles of violence’)

          Dibouti, Yemen, and Somalia are also near big shipping lanes. But because they’re either friendly, or hot messes, their threat level to maritime shipping is somewhat different.

          Look, I have no problem, I would actively embrace it, if the US got completely out of the hegemony game tomorrow. But that’s the world not even Obama, Clinton, or Gillibrand want. (or Bernie, for that matter)

          (plus, having Iran ostensibly on our bad side, and Pakistan ostensibly on our good side, is about 3/4 of the reason why Afghanistan is still a soup sandwich despite almost 17 years of cooking)

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          • (plus, having Iran ostensibly on our bad side, and Pakistan ostensibly on our good side, is about 3/4 of the reason why Afghanistan is still a soup sandwich despite almost 17 years of cooking)

            I slightly disagree. Afghanistan, being almost completely Sunni, is outside Iran’s sphere of interest (Iran doesn’t focus on overthrowing Sunniism, just in protecting and fostering Shiites).

            It would have been much better if the USA had brought Iran into the coalition against al-Queda -which Iran loathed, since al-Queda was virulently anti-Shi’a. Iran could have controlled the Western border of Afghanistan allowing the Coalition forces to focus in the AFPAK border. Iran offered, but was rebuffed because something something hostages, something something the 1970s.

            Right now, Iran just lets the conflict there simmer. Why not, the enemies of my enemy might not be my friends, but they definitely help.

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    • I mentioned on another thread that I am not able to get why Iran is somehow especially dangerous for America, more so than other nations.

      Iran actually has the capacity to be a pretty powerful nation, as, unlike Saudi Arabia, they actually have a very well-educated middle class and actual commerce that isn’t oil based. And, also, unlike Saudi Arabia, they aren’t a nation full of religious fanatics. Also, not being a Kingdom, the US can’t just bribe the people at the top, like it’s done with most of the Middle East.

      The actual irony here is that the reason Iran is ‘more dangerous’ to the US than other regional powers is mostly because Iran is basically the US, scaled down. They’re not an _equal_, but that’s mostly because they’re smaller and younger…and they have the advantage of oil money. They’re a threat because they’re _not_ an oil autocracy. We can deal with oil autocrats just fine.

      But instead they’re a smaller us. And they’re not only a smaller us, they’re a smaller us that _really doesn’t like us_.

      Even the stuff we complain about like ‘funding bad actor like Hezbollah’ is…well, pretty rich coming from us.

      And one of the few things holding them back, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is 78 years old. While he’s not any friend of the US, he’s actually the person standing in the way of a real nuclear program, and has resisted outright confrontation with the US _and_ resisted democracy. (Note that ‘resisting democracy’ seems like a bad thing, but…uh, democracies often vote themselves leaders that pick wars, especially if they perceive another country harming them.)

      When he dies…things get complicated. There is an elected council of ‘Islamic judges’ that selects the Supreme Leader and _in theory_ can control and remove them, but in reality, Ali Khamenei was so popular they could not. The next Supreme Leader will not be as popular, and they could start exercising some control.

      It is entirely possible that Iran will evolve into a full-fledged democracy (Where people can’t be kept off the ballot because the Supreme Leader doesn’t like them.), although sorta with a ‘secular election’ side and a ‘religious election’ side, or maybe more where the religious side is a supreme court-ish thing. And it’s possible this could happen very soon.

      And, from the outside, seems like it would be something the US wanted, we’re always talking about spreading democracy…but, uh…the Iranian people don’t particularly like us, and are going to vote for people in favor of expanding their regional power and reducing ours.

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      • There is an elected council of ‘Islamic judges’ that selects the Supreme Leader and _in theory_ can control and remove them, but in reality, Ali Khamenei was so popular they could not. The next Supreme Leader will not be as popular, and they could start exercising some control.

        I.e. They’re a theocracy with some democratic flavorings, you expect the theocratic aspects to get stronger.

        It is entirely possible that Iran will evolve into a full-fledged democracy (Where people can’t be kept off the ballot because the Supreme Leader doesn’t like them.), although sorta with a ‘secular election’ side and a ‘religious election’ side, or maybe more where the religious side is a supreme court-ish thing. And it’s possible this could happen very soon.

        I don’t understand how this is your conclusion based on your previous statement. How on earth would this happen with the Islamic judges running the show and preventing from running any democrat who is less popular than Ali?

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        • I.e. They’re a theocracy with some democratic flavorings, you expect the theocratic aspects to get stronger.

          No.

          Ali Khamenei is the theocratic chokepoint currently, exercising more power over the secular parts of the government than he is really supposed to have, but his powers are poorly defined and he is so well-liked that he can do that. He’s basically supposed to be the Islamic Supreme Court of Iran, but he feels willing to just issue ruling on whatever he wants. And the Assembly of Experts are unwilling to swap in a new Supreme Leader, mostly because that would cause a constitutional crisis as he’s so well liked.

          But I think you implicitly read ‘religious jurists’ as ‘religious leaders’, because Christianity doesn’t really have ‘religious jurists’, so Americans don’t really know what that is. They are not ‘leaders’. They are Islamic judges (Aka ‘Mujtahid’), they are supposed to rule solely on how the Quran applies to things, they are not supposed to have political aspirations. Although, of course, many do, but they are constrained in the manner they can forward those. They are basically like judges in the US, in fact, except their book of laws is a religious one.

          But perhaps more important, Assembly of Experts, just like the secular part of the government, are elected. They have to be a Mujtahid, but that basically just means someone with some specific religious and legal training, and technically even women can qualify, although none of have ever been on the Assembly of Experts.

          So the religious side of the Iranian government (Which is basically their court system) is supposed to be structured like an elected parliament (Weirdly, an elected parliament of judges to interpret the law.), with elected members of the Assembly of Experts electing a Supreme Leader from them, and being able to control the Supreme Leader and no-confidence vote them out, basically. But it has not worked that way for two decades, because the Assembly was politically much weaker than the current Supreme Leader, and anything seen as a move against the Supreme Leader would have sparked a constitutional crisis. However, it will soon work that way again, because, again, he’s 78.

          And, right now, the current Supreme Leader is more hardline than most Iranians, and more hardline than most of the people Iranians have elected to the Assembly of Experts..people that Iranians elected with the full knowledge that those people will probably be selecting the next Supreme Leader. (Although I remind everyone that ‘hardline’ is not particularly a bad thing from the POV of America’s interests. His hardline views include things like ‘Muslims can never use nuclear weapons’, although he’s apparently okay with developing them.)

          In fact, for this post, as I was trying to find what potential replacements might be selected and how they differ from Khamenei in any stated views, I read that at least a few people on the Assembly of Experts has suggested they might appoint a small group instead of a new Supreme Leader. Which is certainly one way to make them easier to control.

          Regardless of what happens, the Iranian people will, very soon, have much more say in how the Quran is interpreted in Iran.

          This means Iran will become less restricted in their possible movements.

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          • The Supreme Leader, and the Assembly of Experts, have a constitutional role not unlike that of the Queen and the Privy Council in the UK Constitution.

            Through generations, elected Parliament has in practice eroded the power of the Queen and the authority of the Privy Council. But, in the letter of the law, Elizabeth II’s power and authority are the same as Victoria’, which are the same as George III’s which are the same as William IIII’s and Mary II’s, the first monarchs after the Glorious Revolution. Yet with the same formal powers, each one of them had less and less actual power.

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            • Yet with the same formal powers, each one of them had less and less actual power.

              …while I am not an expert on the Britain, I don’t think that’s a very good description of their government.

              The role of the monarchy has faded, but the government of Britain is best described as ‘operated by committees of the Privy Council’.

              The Cabinet is the executive committee of the Privy Council. Likewise, Britain highest court is actually the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Acts of Parliment technically become law when the Privy Council ‘agrees’ to them via rubber stamp…they are literally called ‘Order of Council’.

              Now, the Privy Council has mostly delegated all authority to make decisions to Parliment and just rubberstamp things, but that ignores the fact that the Privy Council basically is entirely operated _by_ Parliment anyway, and everyone just finds it easier to do things over there.

              Again I’m not an expect, but from what I can tell, the Privy Council is basically the ‘facade’ of an executive (And judical!) branch for the parliment of Britain. It grants them the authority to act because the Privy Coucil are the ‘Queen’s advisors’, so everyting the Privy Counil does is, in some manner, in the name of the Queen.

              So the Privy Council didn’t lose power…even assuming they started as some independent entity originally, which I guess they did. They don’t ‘have less power’ as much as they ‘had a brain slug take over over them and is running around puppeting them while they are still completely in charge of Britian’.

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  5. “You can’t just go back in time to the 1970s and hit the reset button to get single payer.”
    and
    “January 16, 2016, marks Implementation Day of the JCPOA

    I like the concept of Path Dependencies in so far as it is a calculus to cost; however, as a moral argument… well, let’s just say that much greater Path Dependencies than small things like Health Care and Iran deals are tossed in the interest of other moral arguments.

    So that leaves us with the moral ambiguity that Path Dependencies don’t (necessarily) indicate good decisions, only that they are decisions previously made; so in your example, if the goal is single payer, the costs of changing paths are different in the 70s, 80s, and beyond; sometimes new paths open-up that make them even easier to do in the 2020s than they might have been done in the 1970s… or perhaps another decade of Path Dependency just adds more barnacles to the path.

    But, and this is the strange ambivalence of your article, if one wishes for single payer, would not the time to eat the cost of the current Path Dependency be 1971 or thereabouts? Else we end up with a weird sort of Progressive Conservatism that ratifies every previous bad decision on the basis of a sort of Path Dependency Determinism.

    Which is all to say that I acknowledge that the *costs* of Path Dependency for Health Care are substantial (heck I read McMegan too); but the *costs* of stepping away from the Iran Deal, while real, do not really constitute a Path Dependency crisis. Put another way, we have no way of knowing whether 2068 Michael Siegel would be wondering what might have happened had not the 2016 JCAOP been walked back in 2018 rather than us having to deal with [2068 xyz].

    I recognize that your ultimate claims are rather limited… that doing *something* we now live in the world where *something* was done… but I don’t find Path Dependency compelling in any way other than a calculation of cost of doing something differently now. It might be “conservatish” to ask and/or fret about the costs, but those are prudential concerns and only one calculus in policy direction. Sometimes (everytime?) you pay the costs of previous path dependencies.

    One positive case for the Iran deal (which I don’t think Obama/Kerry) properly made is that rapprochement with Iran gives us better leverage over our headstrong allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia), and opens up more options in the Middle East rather than allowing the ass-end of the dog to set our priorities and drag us where they will. It is certainly possible to wonder whether we paid too much for too little from Iran; or wonders whether rapprochement is even on the table on their end… those are the nuances that Kerry/Obama didn’t want to share publicly, focusing instead on the technocratic merits of nuclear arms control… so we have no idea. And I’m fully on-board with questioning the goals and the foreign policy agenda of the Trump administration … even more-so that Bolton has a seat at the table… and to question the wisdom of aligning even more closely with MBS. And, I think its perfectly reasonable to grill the administration on, “Quo Vadis.” But alas, Path Dependency isn’t one of those critiques I’d make for a 2-year old non-treaty executive agreement.

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    • Regarding the path dependencies of health care i think that leads us towards a German/Swiss model of universal care through very highly regulated insurance companies with people being able to buy additional coverage.

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      • Possibly, I’m not bright enough to know… though the problem with Path Dependency policy making is that it substitutes procedural inertia for political reckoning of costs and benefits. It looks like realism, when its often an inability to reckon one or the other or both and then make the political case. That’s rather the problem with the ACA… as the least bad path dependent option it gets us no closer to Single Payer (if that’s the goal) but adds another barnacle to the barq.

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  6. The whole “path dependency” thing is very well put… but grief, I’m not sure it applies here.

    The deal seems structured for everyone to happily assume Iran isn’t working on nukes while they actually are. That seems a lot more like wishful thinking because they have oil than facing problems. All of the “Iran won’t do this” things expire after 15 years (or 8, or whatever).

    So… in 15 years, the world welcomes a sanction free Iran as a nuclear power? That’s the happy path here?

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    • So… in 15 years, the world welcomes a sanction free Iran as a nuclear power? That’s the happy path here?

      Uh, it’s literally better than the _other_ two possible paths:

      2) The deal goes away, Iran gets nukes in three years.

      3) Only the US drops out, no one else. The inspections continue and no one else re-implement sanctions. So basically the US looks like an idiot, has restricted their own people from international trade for no reason, and has no bargaining power at all.

      In comparison to that, option #1, where Iran _can_ restart their nuclear program 15 years from now, and get a nuke in a few years, is the best outcome.

      Especially when we actually realize that at that point, 15 years in the future when this expires, we (and everyone else) could have gone for sanctions again. Or, heck, Iran might not want a nuke at that time, or perhaps their economy will be so entangled with the world that they won’t even consider doing something that could break it.

      The OP here is exactly about this: What exactly are we comparing to what here?

      The Trump administration seems to want to pretend we should compare the Iran deal to some hypothetical ‘better deal’, but not only can we not alter the past, it is _extremely_ unlikely that such a new deal will exist in the future, mostly because we just proved we can’t be trusted with such deals.

      In fact, blowing up the deal is actually extremely idiotic if we think there was some better deal, because there probably was some _existing_ thing we could have offered Iran to get the things that Trump idiotically thinks should have been included in the original deal, like a reduction in the funding of problematic groups.

      Yes, idiotically, because the Iranian deal was extremely hard to do and required a bunch of sign-on from almost the entire world, and adding anything about regional interference would not only have been too complicated but resulted in countries defecting because some of that interference is in their interests. We actually _couldn’t_ have done what Trump seems to think we should have.

      However, this would not have stopped us from presenting some _other_ deal later, foreign aid or agreements to purchase their oil or something, if Iran would stop other things we don’t like besides their nuclear program.

      But there’s no way in hell we can do that now. We can’t be trusted.

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      • Uh, it’s literally better than the _other_ two possible paths:

        The choices Trump is angling for are…
        1) The rest of the world is forced to face Iran as a bad actor and maintains sanctions.
        2) Better deal. I.e. Iran modifies some of it’s actions, less terrorism, less formeting revolutions, and/or less nuclear program.

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        • The choices Trump is angling for are…
          1) The rest of the world is forced to face Iran as a bad actor and maintains sanctions.

          Oh, I know Trump thinks he can sanction European businesses that keep doing business with Iran, but European countries are pissed enough to figure out ways around it. For example, the EU could just make banks that are completely unlinked from the US, and have them deal with Iran.

          And more importantly it’s seen directly threatening the sovereignty of other nations and they are not going to let the US get away with it, so they might just cut off access to US banks instead.

          I don’t think people are actually understanding how destructive it will be in the future if the US forced the EU into doing this, because there is a _hell_ of stuff the US _can’t_ force the EU into doing it. We are talking about the US basically threatening mutual assured destruction with the EU unless the EU does what it wants…undoing a deal the US was a major driver of. Even if the US ‘wins’ that situation, we’re talking about complete deterioration of relations between the US and EU.

          2) Better deal. I.e. Iran modifies some of it’s actions, less terrorism, less formeting revolutions, and/or less nuclear program.

          There’s not going to be another deal with the US. Period. Iran cannot trust it will be upheld.

          I mean, you might be right in that is what _Trump_ thinks, but we all understand Trump has no way to stop all the other countries from staying in the deal and not putting back sanctions, right?

          Likewise, the US has no ability to stop Iran from just stopping all this nonsense and making nuclear weapons.

          Also, it seems pretty clear the wanted outcome is:
          3) Trump declares war on Iran.

          It is at this point that I remind people it is literally a war crime to invade a country under the justification of stopping them from having nuclear weapons. (Or, in fact, for any justification at all beyond ‘they are massing forces at the border for imminent attack’, and even that one is dubious.)

          A lot of people seem to have gotten confused by the Iraq war by this, thinking the supposed WMD justified it. Which they would have (if they were real) _only_ because Iraq signed a surrender that said they would not develop them, so technically the ‘invasion’ was just a re-commencement of the Gulf War…that Iraq started.

          Iran is under no such agreement and has much right under international law as the US to develop, test, and maintain a nuclear arsenal. Granted, they have signed onto the NPT which means they aren’t supposed to be doing that, but violations of the NPT just mean that other countries no longer have to sell them uranium and nuclear weapons(1) for non-military purposes. It is not legal, under international law, to invade someone because they broke a treaty about their own behavior.

          OTOH, it is also not legal under international law to _threaten_ to invade them for such a reason, and yet the US seems to have no problems doing that either.

          1) As literally no one has ever used a nuclear weapon for non-military or non-testing purposes, this part of the NPT is probably moot. It turns out that geoengineering with nukes is a bit more…radioactive fallout-y than assumed when the NPT was written. But _in theory_ Peru or some other signatory of the NPT could request a nuclear device to blow up a mountain and the US (Or some other nuclear power) is required to provide them one at a reasonable price.

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          • As we saw with Iraq, sanctions are a very weak tool, requiring massive cooperation and consensus among world powers.

            And they degrade over time, as more and more ways are found to circumvent them. As our economist friends will tell us, markets have a way of bringing buyers and sellers together and it takes great effort to prevent that.

            So the idea that Trump will somehow get the world’s leaders to cooperate with the goal of a man they consider a dangerous unstable buffoon is…not well thought out.

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      • Under the Iran deal, Americans are required to buy Persian rugs and Iranian food. Obviously an American wasn’t writing the deal or that wouldn’t be in it. Improving Iran’s existing centrifuges and developing much better centrifuges is also required under the deal. Also, no international inspectors are allowed to inspect Iran’s suspected nuclear weapon sites. Instead they request video footage from Iran, and Iran then sends Iranians to make videos of what the inspectors requested to see.

        Some deals are so absurd that only John Kerry could’ve signed off on them.

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        • Also, no international inspectors are allowed to inspect Iran’s suspected nuclear weapon sites. Instead they request video footage from Iran, and Iran then sends Iranians to make videos of what the inspectors requested to see.

          I have no idea why you think this, but it’s not even vaguely how the deal works. No parts of either of those sentences.

          From what I can tell, you are working off half-remembered things from a repeatedly-revised and mostly nonsense AP story. The AP story was so wrong it was altered beyond recognization, but here’s an article talking about it:
          https://www.vox.com/2015/8/20/9182185/ap-iran-inspections-parchin

          1) This supposed agreement to let Iran tell us about the place literally was not part of the nuclear ‘inspections’ in the deal. This was the ‘We have to know about every part of your nuclear weapons program in the past’ pre-inspection check.

          If the IAEA later thinks there is active nuclear development happening there (Which again, no one thinks.), the IAEA would be allowed to check under the terms of the deal. In person. Just like anywhere else in Iran.

          2) Absolutely no one believes any current nuclear work is being done at Parchin. Part of the nuclear agreement is that the IAEA has to look into past nuclear development (See #1), and some nuclear work happened there until 2002. So it needs to be looked over. And in reality, looking over that particular site is probably pointless, because it’s been rebuild so many times since it was suspected of nuclear work in the early 00s, no one is going to find any trace of anything.

          What honestly was supposed to be the outcome here if the IAEA was allowed to inspect? ‘Aha! Iran actually did have some nuclear materials here a decade and a half ago! The deal is off!’ That’s not that that works. In fact, the IAEA literally concluded that. It detected uranium in the soil in unnatural proportions.

          But, hey, don’t take my word for all this. Here’s someone who is _extremely_ critical of how the IAEA behaved at Parchin, and demands they do more work there: http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/revisiting-parchin

          You will notice he doesn’t think there’s any current nuclear development happening there either. He’s insisting the IAEA go back and do more in-depth research to see where exactly Iran had gotten in their nuclear program there.

          But I guess he won’t get his wish.

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  7. Great, great, great piece!

    I am eternally frustrated by people of all locales upon the political spectrum who base their beliefs on “this never should have happened so let’s get rid of it totally” rather than acknowledging that we live in the real world and have to deal with things as they are and not as we would have liked them to be. Plus, it squanders whatever benefits that the status quo bestows.

    The example that comes to my mind is a small one – the Salton Sea. Yes, it never should have been created in the first place, but it exists now, has been very beneficial to birds/recreation, and has to be dealt with. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salton_Sea The problem of not dealing with it and letting it return to its “natural” state – a dry lake bed – will cause huge environmental impact on animals and humans alike. But there are still plenty of people who will suggest just letting it dry up because it’s “natural” and was “meant to be that way” despite the many downsides.

    Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks

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    • I heard this issue/argument frequently growing up in a slightly different context. My hometown was forever changed by the damming of the river creating a large lake in the 60’s. This was done for flood control, and the community my Mother lived in was completely removed by eminent domain. There was a distinct thing where from one generation to the next the makeup of the area completely changed. The now-lake area is popular for outdoors, tourist, etc, and the flood control has worked as advertised. Also recently hydroelectric power was added to the dam as technology improved. But there are groups that insist this type of development should never be done, and the occasional extremist that argues for its reversal. But it’s 50 years on, I don’t see the point in making an argument against, especially an environmental one as removing the largest lake in the state would be an unmitigated disaster.

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      • Oh yes, totally. We have the same situation with the dams in Washington State. Quite a few people call for their removal, and several of what they call “deadbeat dams” have been successfully removed. But so many of the arguments for tearing them down seem to involve a denial that there are very real benefits to many of the dams and that there would be huge consequences in their removal. Yeah, probably they should have never been built, absolutely it was awful in lots of ways that they were (destruction of communities, habitat, violation of the rights of Native Americans) but they’re here now and dynamiting them is not going to undo those harms. And several of the dams, when destroyed, released a lot of sediment that actually proved to have environmental impact of its own, for better or for worse. Just not a good thing to have a knee jerk, “get rid of it” mentality without understanding there will be losses and consequences.

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