President Obama believes that the nuclear "framework" concluded Friday in Switzerland is a historic achievement. Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, says he believes the same. Those two positions are incompatible.
Mr. Zarif is also a loyal servant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who believes that the West, in particular the U.S., and Iran are locked in a "collision of evil and evil ways on one side and the path of . . . religious obedience and devotion on the other," as he said in July 2014.
The supreme leader says the Islamic Republic has a divine calling to lead Muslims away from the West and its cultural sedition. The Obama administration has never adequately explained why Mr. Zarif's relentlessly ideological boss would sell out a three-decade effort to develop nuclear weapons.
The defensive and offensive strategies of the Islamic Republic, given the chronic weakness of its conventional military, ultimately make sense only if nuclear weapons are added to the mix. The American, French and Israeli governments have compiled fat files on the clerical regime's nuclear-weapons drive. No one who has read this material can possibly believe Iranian assertions about the nuclear program's peaceful birth and intent. The history of this effort has involved North Korean levels of dishonesty, with clandestine plants, factories and procurement networks that successfully import highly sensitive nuclear equipment, even from the U.S.
A White House less desperate to make a deal would consider how easily nuclear agreements with bad actors are circumvented. Charles Duelfer has written a trenchantaccount in Politico of how Saddam Hussein tied the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear inspectors into knots in the 1990s, rendering them incapable of ascertaining the truth about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The inspections regime in Iran envisioned by the Obama administration will not even come close to the intrusiveness of the failed inspections in Iraq. Worse, once sanctions are lifted and billions of dollars of Iranian trade starts to flow again to European and Asian companies, the U.S. likely will be dealing with a U.N. even more politically divided, and more incapable of action, than in the days of Saddam and the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.
In an effort to circumvent possible congressional disapproval of his deal-making, Mr. Obama is voluntarily surrendering control of the implementation and verification of any agreement to the Security Council, where American leadership and influence are weak. The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, a decent little outfit of underpaid and underfunded bureaucrats and inspectors, can do good work when the Security Council is unified. The IAEA's utility plummets when the council is divided.
The nuclear deal with Iran will now obviously go through without the clerical regime having to answer all of the questions that the IAEA still has about the "possible military dimensions," or PMDs, of Iran's nuclear program. It is perverse to think that the IAEA, having been successfully thwarted by Iran in the past, can now serve as a safeguard against future Iranian cheating.
The president's much-hyped "snap-back" economic sanctions, now the only coercive instrument Mr. Obama has against Iranian noncompliance, will also surely fall victim to the Security Council's politics and human greed. Already the Russians are resisting any snap-back provision that will neutralize their rogue-regime-protecting veto.
The sanctions against Iran are the product of years of dogged effort and good luck (especially the increase in oil supplies). Mr. Obama now seems likely to abandon his position that sanctions be lessened over years to test Iranian compliance. And once strictures are loosened, with major international, especially European, corporations competing for the Iranian market, it will be politically impossible to demand that these companies leave again.
Worse, Mr. Obama's nuclear deal will fracture the Western alliance against Tehran. Most egregiously, we will lose the French, who have, despite their abysmal economy and the political chaos of the European Union, tried to hold a firm line against Iranian nuclear aspirations and Mr. Obama's reflex for concessions. Faced with other countries rushing to the Iranian market and Americans who have given up the fight, the French will probably abandon us, as they did with Iraq 20 years ago. Without the French, economic sanctions on Iran would never have had much European bite.
Critics of Mr. Obama's efforts are going to get lost in the technical details of this "framework" agreement. Yet behind all the one-year breakout calculations, the enormous question marks about verification and PMDs, and sustainable snap-back provisions, the ultimate issue remains: Are you willing to threaten war to get a better deal, and prepared to preventively strike if Tehran moves toward a bomb?
Whatever chance American negotiators had of stopping the Iranian nuclear advance depended on this threat, as Iranian President Hasan Rouhani revealed in his writings when he was in charge of nuclear negotiations with the Europeans after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"The fundamental principle in Iran's relations with America—our entire focus—is national strength," wrote Mr. Rouhani in an academic article in December 2003. "Strength in politics, culture, economics, and defense—especially in the field of advanced technology—is the basis for the preservation and overall development of the System, and will force the enemy to surrender."
Mr. Obama has never understood this, nor has he been prepared to act accordingly. He has barely been prepared to call for more sanctions against the mullahs.
Barring the Iranian supreme leader's ever-present ability simply to say "no," this nuclear framework agreement will probably hold unless 67 U.S. senators—the number needed to overcome a presidential veto—are prepared to see these talks collapse. Is the putative leader of Senate Democrats on Iran, Charles Schumer, willing to walk away from the president's handiwork, and oblige him to threaten war if Mr. Khamenei does something untoward?
Surely not. In all the framework's details, the senator, and so many others, will find hope, like a pilgrim in the desert looking at the horizon and seeing a mirage.