Monday, May 10, 2021


If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, the Biden foreign policy team must be ready for the booby hatch. 

Recent events have shown that the people in the Iranian Foreign Ministry that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his team are dealing with have little or no control over the actual workings of the nuclear program. Leaked documents from the last round of negotiations show that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) actively subverted compliance with the agreement that diplomats negotiated. 

Since the IRGC physically controls the nuclear development program and has no desire to see it influenced by outside inspectors, it is fair to ask why we are going through the farce of negotiating a worthless agreement for the second time?

Iran’s government has three power centers, and they are not equal. The Guardian Council and the Ayatollah who acts as Supreme Leader may have the ultimate say on any decision; but they have little control over implementation. Their primary interest is remaining in power, and they need the guns of the IRGC to do that.

The IRGC is not only a military organization; it is a “for profit” business conglomerate. The nuclear program makes money for IRGC leaders and — once they get the bomb — it will give them leverage over their hated enemies; those being Israel and the United States. By controlling the guns, the IRGC gets the biggest vote on any foreign policy issue.

The thankless task of running the non-military portion of the country falls on the president and the professional bureaucracy which includes the Foreign Ministry. Occasionally, the president or foreign minister get too far ahead of IRGC and the Guardian Council on an issue. When that happens, they are either subverted by the Guard or publicly reined in by the ayatollahs.

Consequently, any attempt to negotiate in good faith with Iran is dead on arrival without IRGC concurrence. If it ignores the reality of the leaks regarding 2015, the Biden administration will have shown itself to be truly naïve or grossly incompetent.

Let me make an analogy. A neighbor is going through a messy divorce, and his wife’s car is in his name; he offers to sell it to you at a bargain price. However, you have heard through the neighborhood grapevine that the wife has threatened to sabotage the car if he tries to sell it before divorce finalization. Would any sane person continue sales negotiations? That is exactly the situation that President Biden and Mr. Blinken are facing.

The Israelis have made it clear that they will not allow Iran to achieve a nuclear bomb no matter what the United States does. Democrats seem to think that is the worst possible thing that can happen. It is not. The United States made a significant mistake in allowing another rogue state — North Korea — to get the bomb. We have now spent decades in trying to adjust to that reality. Toothless diplomacy did not work with North Korea, and it will not work with Iran.    

President Trump’s sanctions have hurt Iran, but not enough for the ayatollahs and the IRGC to make significant concessions. Without the continuing threat of Israel kinetic and non-kinetic action, those two key power centers seem prepared to let the Iranian people suffer. The United States can leverage that threat from Jerusalem in a “good cop-bad-cop approach.” Dealing with us or suffering the Israelis should be a keystone of any approach to future negotiations.

The American negotiation stance should be based on three points:

• We cannot control what Israel does, and they will not allow you to have nuclear weapons.

• If Israel can be assured that your program is peaceful and verifiable, we are sure that we can convince the Israelis not to act preemptively.

• If you do not deal with us, it is likely that your nuclear program will be destroyed with no gain to you.

It is possible that the ayatollahs of the Guardian Council might pressure the IGRC to back off the nuclear program for a while, but It is unlikely that the IRGC will allow the Executive Branch or the Foreign Ministry to implement any agreement that is reached with the Americans in the long run. 

Agreement or not, if the Israelis believe that the Iranians are near a nuclear weapon, they will likely take kinetic action. Negotiations are worth a try, but a bad agreement is not better than no agreement at all.

• Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

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