Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
Joe Sestak, a retired admiral and one of the many 2020 Democratic candidates for president, makes a solid case in favor of rejoining the JCPOA and against war with Iran:
Having served in the military, I know that militaries can stop a problem, but they can’t fix a problem. This is why I supported the Iran nuclear accord, and still support it today as the best framework for maintaining peace and security for us and our allies. As tensions continue to ratchet up, we must own up to the fact that we are to blame. We broke our word.
Sestak touches on all of the major points that need to be made. He correctly identifies the Trump administration’s violation of the JCPOA as the cause of the current crisis. Everything that has happened with Iran over the last fourteen months can be traced back to the decision to renege on the agreement and reimpose sanctions in flagrant violation of U.S. commitments. Not only was Iran still complying with the deal at the time, but it continued to comply fully for more than a year. Only in early July of this year did Iran’s government begin to reduce that compliance, as it is entitled to do under the deal, and even then it has done so in an attempt to pressure the other parties to the agreement to provide them with the benefits they were promised four years ago. Iran has behaved as the responsible party in all of this, and the US has acted as the rogue deal-breaker.
He emphasizes that the nuclear deal has been working exactly as intended:
The Iran deal was not all-inclusive: it did not deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program, nor with Iran’s meddling in the affairs of their neighbors and support of violent extremists, and had an expiration date. But by fulfilling its fundamental purpose – preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons – it was successful.
Also, critically, it was building trust between Iran and the international community. It takes time to repair fractured relationships, especially when there are decades of animosity to overcome, and the nuclear agreement was designed to be a decade-long first step toward peace and reconciliation.
Far too many defenders of the nuclear deal hedge their support or feel the need to complain about “flaws” in the agreement that aren’t really flaws. Sestak’s position is refreshing and contrasts sharply with many of the other candidates.
Sestak also spells out how dangerous and costly war with Iran would be:
The recent high-stakes drama in the Straits of Hormuz, during which two foreign oil tankers were attacked, followed by Iran shooting down of a US drone, brought us to the brink of war – a terrible prospect. During my years in the Navy and in the White House, I was involved in assessing how a war with Iran would go. In summary: it would be ugly.
Iran hawks are eager to make the president believe that military action against Iran would be short and limited in order to get the war they want, but it would be anything but that. War with Iran would not only be a disaster for all countries involved, but it would also be entirely unnecessary. Iran does not threaten vital US interests, and there is no legitimate cause for escalating the crisis into a war. If the US were to start a war with Iran, we would once again be to blame for the consequences and we would be in the wrong.
Sestak first entered politics as an antiwar candidate for the House in 2006. When he first announced he was running for president this year, I didn’t really see the point of having one more candidate in a field of dozens, but in this op-ed alone he is doing a better job of defending the nuclear deal and firmly opposing war with Iran than all but a handful of the other candidates.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.