Debate regarding technical details of the deal has thus far inhibited the soul-searching necessary regarding its deeper implications. For 20 years, three presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests—and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it. Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years. Mixing shrewd diplomacy with open defiance of U.N. resolutions, Iran has gradually turned the negotiation on its head. Iran’s centrifuges have multiplied from about 100 at the beginning of the negotiation to almost 20,000 today. The threat of war now constrains the West more than Iran.
The only possible counter is that poor negotiating performance demonstrates to other states that the U.S. can be easily rolled over at the table. In this case, I suppose the implication is that leaders who genuinely want nuclear weapons will now see that they can negotiate something short of what they want while only having to endure crushing sanctions and international isolation for the majority of their remaining political lives. And note that the "open defiance" mentioned by the authors was only "open" because Western intelligence agencies were able to detect defiance in the first place, and that this has its own demonstration effect.
Kissinger and Schultz claim that negotiation hasn't stopped a large increase in the number of centrifuges, except it is well known that much of this growth occurred while negotiations were not happening. And, in the last line of the excerpt, the authors state that "the threat of war now constrains the West more than Iran." Is this because of Iran's deft approach, or because of the wars the U.S. has engaged itself in such that another conflict is now difficult to contemplate?
Later in the article, Kissinger and Schultz play up well-known and justified fears about Iranian regional hegemony, and suggest American leaders develop a strategy for accommodation between Iran and its Arab neighbors. But even if one believes as they seem to do that the nuclear agreement would only provide a 10-year delay on weaponization, isn't a deal the best hope for striking a regional bargain of some kind? The authors themselves state: "For Iran to be a valuable member of the international community, the prerequisite is that it accepts restraint on its ability to destabilize the Middle East and challenge the broader international order." Do we really believe Iran will "accept restraint on its ability to challenge the broader international order" under continued sanctions and possible airstrikes?