Shadow Government

The hidden costs of the nuke deal with Iran

By Michael Singh

When companies are faced with making a decision between multiple risky options, they will often seek out information in order to reduce their uncertainty. So, a pharmaceutical firm will conduct clinical trials in order to determine if a drug is safe or dangerous, information that could mean the difference between profitable sales and damaging litigation. Such an investment in information is never free -- indeed, it often comes at a significant cost that must be weighed against the value of the knowledge obtained.

In this sense, the recently concluded U.S.-Iran talks in Geneva can be considered a diplomatic purchase of information. The United States, by offering to remove Iran's low-enriched uranium and turn it into the raw material required to make medical isotopes, is testing Iran's claim of peaceable intent and the Obama administration's hopes for engagement. If the Iranians comply, they may be open to further compromise, perhaps as a result of the political pressure they have faced at home since the summer's election turmoil. Their refusal, on the other hand, would serve as a clear signal of intransigence and lead Washington to pursue an alternative path. The most likely result is somewhere in between -- Iran gives no clear answer, but seeks to draw out talks and divide the P5+1 -- meaning that the United States has to ensure that we and our allies agree on what constitutes an acceptable response from Tehran. Whatever the result, it is a bold and innovative gambit by the United States, and the Iran hands at the National Security Council should be commended for devising it.

Like all purchases of information, however, this one comes at a cost. The P5+1 have had to accept the uranium enrichment which Iran has conducted in recent years in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. Even if it ultimately does not reach a deal to send its LEU abroad, Iran will surely seek to pocket this concession and declare a measure of victory. Similarly, by presenting the admission of IAEA inspectors to the until-recently-covert Qom enrichment plant as a concession, Iran gains tacit international acceptance of a facility built in defiance of its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. If the P5+1 accepts this fait accompli and negotiates to limit rather than eliminate uranium enrichment in Iran and to monitor rather than shut down the Qom facility, the result could be a dangerous one for the stability of the Middle East and the viability of the global nonproliferation regime.

Another cost of the current U.S. initiative is that it risks demoralizing Iran's ascendant political opposition by bolstering the regime at a time when its legitimacy at home appears to be waning. Given that an internal transformation in Iran may be the best hope for long-run peace and stability in the region, any action that risks delaying it could be costly indeed. None of this is to say that the current approach should not be tried, given the paucity of attractive options; it is simply to say that it is not free. At some point the purchases of information must end, and a decision must be taken. A pharmaceutical company that conducts many clinical trials but sells no drugs eventually finds itself out of business.

SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Regarding hoisting and petards and Sudan

By Peter Feaver

Will's measured analysis of Team Obama's Sudan policy is kind. Perhaps too kind. From my vantage point, today's Sudan rollout has all the feel of a group being hoisted with their own petard, in this case the bombast of their campaign rhetoric. And precisely because it was all so foreseeable, perhaps this counts as a teachable moment.

The two protagonists, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and Sudan czar Scott Gration, had key roles during the 2008 presidential campaign. In particular, their job was to peddle the meme that Barack Obama could be trusted on national security because he was going to be even tougher than George W. Bush or John McCain when push came to shove. Gration, a retired Air Force general, was trotted out to participate in one of the more remarkable attacks on Senator McCain -- a series of retired military people floating the notion that McCain was temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief, a not-so-subtle effort to play off of the notion that McCain's time as a PoW may have left him unhinged. Gration put it this way: "I have tremendous respect for John McCain, but I would not follow him."

Ambassador Rice, for her part, was especially barbed on the issue of Sudan: "The Bush administration has spent years not only talking at very senior levels with one of the world's worst tyrants, who is responsible for genocide, but also reportedly offered the regime major concessions in exchange for minor steps and rolled out the red carpet for some of its most reprehensible officials." She didn't mention "gold stars and cookies," but she might as well have.

The notion that President Obama was going to be more hawkish on Darfur than President Bush should have been easy to dismiss from the outset. For years, President Bush was the single person in his administration most passionately committed to the Sudan issue (first the North-South civil war and then the Darfur genocide). If memory serves, he would raise it in his bilaterals with other world leaders even when his staff had not included it in the briefing materials. He regularly pressed the staff to come up with viable ways to move the Darfur issue along. Yet we were unable to make as much progress as the president wanted for several reasons: (1) our nonmilitary coercive diplomacy toolkit was already heavily utilized on Sudan; (2) our military coercive diplomacy toolkit was fully extended in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and (3) the global balance of resolve heavily favored those backing the Khartoum regime (what we called Khartoum's "heat shield") and not our weakly committed allies.

The Obama campaign made it sound like the problem was with President Bush. With today's roll-out, the Obama administration is conceding that the problems actually lay elsewhere and they have proven just as insurmountable for President Obama as they were for President Bush. Perhaps it is time for a different kind of apology tour.