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Another reason Congress should support the Iran nuclear deal: Russia

If you don’t like Russia with nuclear weapons, then you’ll hate Iran with them.

That’s the choice coming to American policymakers’ doorsteps soon. This is because Donald Trump, who unilaterally left the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, enacted a policy that, instead of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, unleashed them. 

But don’t just take my word for it. My own Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.,) recently remarked how he viewed Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal — one that he originally opposed — as a “major disaster.” 

Cardin was right to take this view and soon may have an opportunity to correct Trump’s mistake. That’s because, fortunately, President Biden is working with our international partners to reverse Trump’s failed policy and to put Iran’s nuclear ambitions back in a box.

And if he does, we should vociferously support Cardin’s instincts about the need to return to the deal for the sake of American national security. The same goes for all of Congress.

Look no further than Vladimir Putin to see how bad it can be when a dangerous dictator gets their hands on nuclear weapons. Putin’s nuclear extortion during the war in Ukraine is working, as his not-so-veiled threats to launch a nuclear bomb have prevented the U.S. and NATO from creating a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Putin has a nuclear umbrella and he’s using it to kill thousands.

Just imagine the nightmare scenario of an Iran with a nuclear weapon. A nuclear bomb in Iran’s hands would create an unacceptable nuclear umbrella for Iranian terror across the Middle East. Instead of sending rockets to regional proxies for arm’s length attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis against our allies, Iran would instead operate without fear of retaliation and could engage more directly — and dangerously — in the fight. 

Yet that’s the path that Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has put us on. Fortunately, we know better.

In foreign affairs, one rarely gets to test two competing policies to see how they work. But on Iran’s nuclear program, we don’t just have the test. We have the results.

The first test began in 2015 when the JCPOA was signed. Before then, Iran was several weeks away from a nuclear breakout, making it a near-threshold nuclear state. Yet after the JCPOA was signed, the situation reversed and Iran’s nuclear breakout time was pushed to one year, giving the international community more than enough time to react if Iran were to sprint to the bomb. 

The second test began in 2018 when Trump ripped up this nuclear nonproliferation success and withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA through a “maximum pressure” policy. This move didn’t just isolate America from our allies, but it predictably unshackled Iran’s nuclear program to the point where it is today, once again only weeks from nuclear breakout. 

Instead of reining in Iran’s nuclear program, Trump’s policy let it run loose. 

It did so by terminating intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, lifting constraints on Iran’s nuclear fuel stockpiles and enabling Iran to master the knowledge needed to build more advanced centrifuges. From a nuclear nonproliferation perspective, Trump’s JCPOA withdrawal was an utter fiasco.

So now that these two policy choices have been tested, we can clearly see that the former policy worked to thwart an Iranian nuclear bomb while the latter did the opposite. There is, of course, a third policy choice available. That is to start a war with Iran in a vain attempt to thwart its nuclear ambitions.

But when it comes to war against Iran, good luck. There’s absolutely no fail-safe military path to terminating the Iranian nuclear program. If there was, it would have been done years ago.

Remember, Iran is a country of 83 million people and 636,000 square miles. It’s roughly four times the size of California and has more than twice the population of Ukraine. Iran has thousands of nuclear scientists and engineers and dozens of nuclear facilities. Military action would not only be an impossible task, but it would also only delay an Iranian nuclear weapon by mere months while legitimizing Iran’s nuclear ambitions as necessary for self-defense. 

We’ve already unleashed a disastrous regional war once before in Iraq in the name of nuclear nonproliferation. Doing so again neither makes sense nor is it viable.

The painful truth is that only one country can stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. That country’s name is Iran. And nuclear diplomacy has already proven to be the only way to verifiably convince it to make that choice.

Donald Trump’s reckless policy undermined that Iranian commitment before, putting Iran on a fast track to a nuclear weapon. Joe Biden is about to put the brakes on this runaway nuclear train and roll Iran’s nuclear program back.

Policymakers, therefore, need to back Biden’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran right now. And if Biden does get a deal, we should breathe a collective sigh of relief and they should support it. 

Because if they don’t and instead oppose it, they’ll be maintaining Trump’s failed status quo and will give Iran a nuclear weapon, making Putin’s nuclear venom look like child’s play.

Joel Rubin is a former deputy assistant secretary of State and a town council member in Chevy Chase, Md. He’s also the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress.

Tags Ben Cardin Donald Trump Donald Trump Iran nuclear deal Iran nuclear weapons Joe Biden US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal Vladimir Putin

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