The only real question that needs to be answered on the Iran deal is whether the world is a safer place with it, or without it.
Because the world is violent, and things often are not what they seem, the question is extraordinarily difficult to answer.
It’s unfortunate that too many members of Congress had their minds made up before the details of the agreement were announced, and before the deal could be evaluated.
Sens. Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer were among 47 Republican senators who injected themselves into negotiations in March by signing a letter to Iran critical of the proposed agreement. It was not surprising, although disappointing, that Sasse claimed the agreement “lit the fuse for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East” almost before the text of the agreement was made public.
A more statesmanlike response came from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who said he plans to "scrutinize the details of any deal, debate the merits and examine added options."
Congress has 60 days to debate the agreement, so constituents have time to weigh in with their representatives.
One thing to keep in mind is that it will be difficult for Congress to stop the deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, as well as Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. In order to block the deal, Congress has to pass a resolution, which Obama can veto. His veto can be overturned only by two-thirds of Congress -- 67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House.
Another consideration is that, in addition to gradually lifting sanctions, the deal means release of about $100 billion to $150 billion of Iranian assets in frozen bank accounts. This could be used to improve living conditions in Iran -- or to help terrorist groups like Hezbollah or Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
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Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that without a deal, Iran will be free to develop its nuclear program without any restrictions. Iran has everything it needs, including skilled scientists. Informed guesses range from months to years on how quickly Iran could create a nuclear weapon.
If the deal is what the Obama administration claims, it will slow that process, for example, with new limits on how many centrifuges the country can operate to purify nuclear material.
Rep. Brad Ashford has the right idea on how to determine whether the agreement is worthwhile. Ashford said the agreement must be “completely and utterly verifiable.”
Iran has a history of violating promises to drop its nuclear program.
New technology might help the International Atomic Energy Agency do the job. Iran has agreed to live camera feeds at a wide variety of locations, according to news reports. Portable sensing devices can measure radiation levels and particles in the air or on surfaces. However, the agreement will allow Iran to continue its nuclear program, which it says is for peaceful uses, at a reduced level. This complicates the task for inspectors.
One extreme option is an attack, probably by Israel, to blow up Iran’s research facilities. But that could mean all-out war.
The proposed Iran nuclear deal should not be dismissed out of hand. It deserves close examination and serious consideration. Ultimately there are no good options.