President Obama flunks 'Make a Deal 101'


President Obama flunks 'Make a Deal 101'

Dec 6th, 2013 2 min read
Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D.

Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations

Ted Bromund studies Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.

In "Let's Make a Deal", audience members trade one prize for a chance at winning a better one, but take the risk of getting only a worthless Zonk. The pressure is on to take the gamble.

This makes a great game show, but in reality it's a terrible way to negotiate. Good agreements aren't driven by a desperate need to deal. As the Obama administration has illustrated yet again with its nuclear pact with Iran, if you want a deal badly, you just get a bad deal.

The administration has made four big international deals since 2009: the New START Treaty with Russia, the UN Arms Trade Treaty, the Syrian chemical weapons arrangement and, now, the enrichment deal with Iran. They share a disturbing set of characteristics.

In each instance, the U.S. wanted a deal more than the nation(s) it was dealing with. With Russia, Obama was anxious to start the world down the path toward his dream of nuclear zero, a dream the Russians definitely do not share.

With the Arms Trade Treaty, the administration was afraid that the alternative to a UN treaty -- one made by everyone else outside the UN -- would be even worse. With Syria, the president was looking for a way out of a crisis that he created with his own ill-advised "red line" declaration.

And with Iran, he wanted to seize the opportunity supposedly created by the election of pseudo-moderate Hassan Rouhani. Tehran wanted to escape from sanctions, but Obama was even more anxious for a deal: it was for this moment that he ignored the protests that swept Iran in 2009.

What makes these deals even worse is that they are all about constraining us, not the other guy. New START didn't require Russia to destroy a single nuclear missile: it only reduced the size of the U.S. stockpile. The Arms Trade Treaty won't stop the lawless and incompetent nations of the world from selling arms irresponsibly, but our lawyers will guarantee that it restrains us.

The essence of the Syrian deal was that it saved the U.S. from having to carry out Secretary of State John Kerry's "unbelievably small" retaliatory strike on the Assad regime, which gets to remain in power. The Iran carve-up removes the lingering threat of any U.S. military action and makes Israeli action all but unthinkable, while the Iranians keep on enriching uranium and can zoom up to weapons-grade levels far faster than we can reimpose sanctions.

The administration is more afraid of having to respond to an Iranian nuclear breakout than it is of a breakout itself. The deal has bought only a six-month delay in the Iranian program, at the cost of easing UN sanctions the U.S. had carefully built up since 2006.

At the core of the accords is the belief that the U.S. is the nation that needs to be restrained. That is why they involve big concessions from us in exchange for far less from the other side. Since we are the problem, we are the ones who need to give things up to get a deal.

It's also why these deals are not just bad policy. They are also technically crummy: poorly drafted and ambiguous. The White House and the Iranians already are wrangling about what their arrangement contains. The State Department itself called the Arms Trade Treaty "ambiguous." New START's definition of the weapons it covers is equally unclear. And the Syria deal is embodied in a UN Security Council resolution that, to win Russian acquiescence, refuses to set out any consequences if Syria fails to comply.

This administration is at its worst when it enters its 'let's make a deal' mode. To get a good deal, you have to be prepared to walk away, and ensure the deal is equitable, well-written, and enforceable. That's deal-making 101. But the administration has done none of this. Instead, it's landed us with a bunch of Zonks.

- Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Originally appeared in Newsday