The Iran nuclear deal will be legacy-defining for Obama, one way or another. Above, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif speaks at the Geneva convention where the Iran deal was reached. PHOTO: Reuters
The Iran nuclear deal could become the most significant element of Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy, and, other than Obamacare, one of Obama’s most defining moments as president. The consequences of the Iran nuclear deal could end in triumph, failure or a muddling middle, and that will be determined by the coming months and years. Here are three potential paths for how the Iran deal will play out:
Path 1: Iran deal marks the beginning of a new Middle East
Iran has long stood in the way of a peaceful Middle East. Tensions between Israel and Iran keep the region just below a boil and Iran has been instrumental in keeping the Syrian civil war going (Iran supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad). When it comes to the U.S., the question with Iran has long been whether the U.S. will go to war in Iran, not whether they could strike a deal. If the U.S. succeeds in moving Iran away from nuclear enrichment while lifting sanctions which have tamped down its economy, then the Iran nuclear deal could be the first step in reshaping the economic and diplomatic picture of the Middle East.
Path 2: Iran deal is just a blip in time, and Iran goes on to build a nuclear weapon
There is one major caveat in the Iran nuclear deal: the U.S. and Iran have agreed to disagree for now on whether Iran has the right to enrich uranium. While the Iran deal does cover what Iran will do with the uranium it has already enriched to 20% (neutralize it), and the degree to which the U.S. will allow Iran to enrich uranium (5% for peaceful energy purposes), there is still a disagreement on whether or not uranium enrichment is a right or a privilege. This ambiguity is covered for now by the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, but it creates an opening for tension on Iran’s nuclear program down the road.
Furthermore, the Iran nuclear deal is only for the next six months, and is intended to create a wider negotiating window. If no long term deal is struck, Iran could get back to its previous path of moving toward a nuclear weapon.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani, while praising the deal, restated Iran's right to enrich uranium:
Enrichment, which is part of our rights, will continue. It continues today and will continue tomorrow. #100DayReport— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) November 26, 2013
Path 3: Iran nuclear deal is torpedoed by Congress or watered down to the point of meaninglessness
While the Obama Administration has shrugged off the protests of Israel over the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. Congress is still heavily influenced by Israel, and a bipartisan (though mostly Republican) group of Senators is drafting legislation to harden the terms of the Iran deal, likely to the point that Iran would walk away. That legislation would have to make it to the floor of the Senate (meaning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would have to defy the Obama Administration) and make it through a likely veto by Obama. Still, one shouldn’t assume limits on what the U.S. Senate is capable of messing up.