As Americans, we have high ideals and a vision of the world in which those high ideals can be put into practice in a way that improves the world for ourselves and for the peoples of other nations. There have been times when holding strongly to a position has achieved a great outcome.
The world that we live in, however, is complex, and as we are working to bring about positive change in it, we are wise not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In the ongoing effort to bring peace to the Middle East, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois is leading the effort to impose new sanctions on Iran, and I believe that he is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. As a result, he will create a situation much worse than what we have now.
There are many items in Senator Kirk’s bill that I think would be wonderful. It calls for an end to all of Iran’s nuclear enrichment, from the high levels required for the building of nuclear bombs to the low levels that would allow for electricity generation and cancer treatment. It calls for an end to Iran’s support for terrorism against Americans anywhere in the world. I think that if there conditions were met, the world would be a lot safer. I just do not think that this bill is going to accomplish these goals; rather it will make the situation worse.
Why is Iran currently involved in a negotiation process? It is involved because the economic sanctions in place have hurt it. These sanctions have been successful because of a coalition that includes China and Russia. Because every avenue is closed to Iran, it entered negotiations and agreed to begin to freeze and dismantle some of its nuclear infrastructure under the gaze of unprecedented international inspections. This work will lay the foundation for our negotiators to negotiate a final deal in the coming months, one that would eliminate the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
The bill under consideration in the Senate would increase the sanctions, over the objections of our coalition partners, in 90 days. Under the bill, the president could only prevent these sanctions from going into effect by vouching to Congress that Iran was meeting certain conditions which they clearly cannot — such as that they are not supporting terrorism against Americans anywhere in the world.
We would be guilty of negotiating in bad faith — saying one thing at the negotiating table, but then moving the goal line so that Iran is unable to meet the conditions necessary to achieve benefit. Our own intelligence community has warned that it would send the message to our allies that we, and not Iran, are the intransigent party, more interested in strangling Iran’s economy than turning the diplomatic tide. China and Russia would relax sanctions, thus freeing Iran from the pressure it has been under. Iran would then be able to retreat from the agreement, and bring us back onto the road to war.
We would do well to remember that the goal of these negotiations is to ensure peace for the Middle East and security for the state of Israel through the prevention of Iran’s developing nuclear weapons. The goal is not to punish Iran, and it is not to prevent them from treating cancer. If these negotiations fail because we alienate our partners and create conditions that are impossible for Iran to meet, then we will be left with an Iran that supports terrorism and is in possession of a nuclear weapon.
As President Obama said in December:
“One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone ...” But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected?”
The answer is clear: we have to test Iran, giving these negotiations everything we’ve got and exhausting every opening before turning to other options. Doing so will strengthen our hand if it becomes clear that Iran is cheating or wasting our time. In that event, our allies will line up behind us, prepared to impose even tougher sanctions. Then it might be time for Senator Kirk’s bill. Until then, this bill and the idealized version of the world it imagines only moves us further away from a real world in which we are safer.
Rabbi Frederick Reeves is the rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago.