United States

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By Nicolò Donà dalle Rose

An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on a mission in Afghanistan. Source: United States Air Force

For the first time since 2012, the United States defense budget will increase considerably in both magnitude and scope. Obama’s February 2 Defense Department budget request paints an interesting picture when considering the country’s upcoming foreign policy priorities. Much of the surge in research and development funding will be designated to technologies that are clearly directed towards naval and aerial measures to contain geopolitical foes in East Asia. An electronic and laser weapon systems is chief among these technologies, which will likely be integrated into carrier-group platforms. Most importantly, however, the budget gives us some important signals about Obama’s intended security legacy, especially with regards to the Middle East.

The first element within the new strategic plan focuses heavily on research. In fact, Obama requested to boost overall R&D spending by as much as $500 million to $13.5 billion. As part of this, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) budgetary power will be increased to $3 billion in an attempt to work on developing fields such as synthetic biology. Some of these investments have no clear short-term application, but they give me the sense that the United States is looking for new technological domains on top of conventional platforms and capabilities.

The second, sizable component of the budget entails the purchase of 29 additional Reaper drones, a source of guaranteed business for General Atomics. The use of drones for imagery and strikes has been a centerpiece of the past two presidencies’ policies, particularly in Iraq. Yet not all drone programs were as successful as claimed by the White House. For example, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system was postponed due to technical difficulties, decreasing its budget from $400 million to $134 million after incurring considerable wastes of funding.

USS Theodore Roosevelt leads a formation through the Persian Gulf. Source: United States Navy/Matthew Bash
USS Theodore Roosevelt leads a formation through the Persian Gulf. Source: United States Navy/Matthew Bash

The third and final key element is the strong emphasis the military is placing on the development of space technologies, an industry now gravitating more towards the private sector. The best example of this is one of the latest requests for information (RFI) by the government, which states the Pentagon is looking for ideas related to advanced propulsion, 3D printing, radar affordability and electronic warfare, transparent ceramics, and pervasive technologies. This means the military establishment is beginning to recognize the importance of space-related technologies, a slow and long overdue shift. In fact, the Navy’s Rapid Technology Transition (RTT) program, which seeks to incorporate non-defense technologies into R&D, is probably going to be granted an additional $10 million in the next fiscal year.

R&D, drones, and space. What does this mean for the Middle East?

Let’s start with the short term. The acquisition of additional UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) shows that the Pentagon is turning to the MQ-9 Reaper as its preferred measure to deal with security threats in the region without utilizing land forces. This is increasingly important considering the most recent temporary suspension of Da’ash-targeted airstrikes by the United Arab Emirates. While the country later resumed its participation, US action represents 90% of all efforts in the current campaign. If the United States will be required to conduct operations of this sort on its own, it will try to do it with its gloves on, using more and more drones to do the job.

Beyond the moral and legal question marks revolving around the use of UAVs, this trajectory is extremely dangerous for the region. The use of unmanned aircrafts clearly reduces the political cost of intervening in the Middle East. At the same time, it does very little to prevent the creation of new security vacuums as aerial military action alone does not build institutions, trust, and foreign relations. In an attempt to maintain, unsuccessfully, a non-interventionist approach to the region, Obama has continued to doom its security framework just like his predecessor. While defeating or containing Da’ash aids Iraqi institutions, mere armed action fails to facilitate the establishment of a political environment that can aid Iraqis as they would try, for the first time, to determine their own future with limited foreign intrusion.

As we look at the longer term, Obama’s strong return to investment in space and other adjacent technologies may be beneficial to the United States as it seeks new avenues for disengagement from the region. As the United States gradually turns its eyes East, the ability to acquire intelligence, imagery, and the ability to strike remotely in any part of the region will enable the reallocation of other resources, like carrier groups, aerial platforms, and manpower, to other parts of the world. While this may suit the country’s strategy as it decreases its dependence on Middle East-based resources and energy, the timing of the technological transition will prove decisive for the fate of many Arab and South Asian countries, particularly Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states.

As the United States re-evaluates its security strategy and priorities, the political stakes are higher in the region than anywhere else. While moving away from military occupation will certainly benefit countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in the long term, the very nature of disengagement will determine the fates of these countries. The United States cannot simply become an actor that occasionally identifies and destroys some terrorist cell and leaves. Policymakers need to pay more attention to diplomacy and foreign relations before the United States can leave a now more chaotic region than when it last entered in 2001.

By Vik Shah

U.S. and Kuwaiti troops closing the gate between Kuwait and Iraq on December 18, 2011. Source: U.S. Army

At one point in 2011, the United States had over 101,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. That was the height of the surge, when Helmand province had so many troops from the US Marine Corps that it was referred to as “Marine-istan.” Driven by institutional and organizational rivalries, US troops were heavily focused on “bagging and tagging” as many Taliban fighters as they could and were therefore stationed in the far reaches of Afghan mountains and valleys governed by tribal leaders that never saw themselves as part of the somewhat-mythical Afghan state. Population centers like Kandahar, the quasi-capital of Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan, received a fraction of the troops compared to Helmand, home to only 4% of Afghans. When the surge began in 2010, President Obama made a firm commitment to the American people during a speech at West Point Academy that the operation would only last two years and that in 2012 the US would begin reducing its military presence in Afghanistan and begin transferring over combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Army (ANA). The US forces in Afghanistan during the surge had two, unequally weighted responsibilities. First, to find, disrupt, and destroy the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. More importantly, however, the US forces were supposed to train the ANA in modern battlefield tactics and equip them with the tools they needed to continue the fight against terrorism and to enforce the rule of law in their country.

This meant giving them billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, vehicles, equipment, and training them to use and maintain them without US or NATO support. However, this second responsibility was given far less importance in the eyes of senior military commanders who were concerned with racking up as many enemy killed-in-action’s (KIAs) as possible. Once the drawdown began, the ANA was so poorly prepared that they sustained 7,000-8,000 battlefield deaths in the first fighting season in the summer of 2012. This toll was twice as high as the combined deaths the US had in both Iraq and Afghanistan after over a decade of conflict, which was just over 3,000 servicemen and women. In addition, the ANA still lacks the close-air and emergency medical capabilities necessary to sustain long-term operations. This past summer, the President announced the final troop drawdown timetable and set 2016, coincidentally also an election year, as the year that all military personnel will leave Afghanistan, save for the 1,000 stationed at the US Embassy in Kabul.

This presents a major threat to the overall US strategy. The Taliban know that the largest threat to their resurgence, the US military, will only be operational in Afghanistan for a few more months and then will begin sending resources state-side to meet their 2016 deadline. This means that all they need to do is head to Pakistan, their de-jure and de-facto sanctuary, and wait until the last US boots have left the ground and launch their resurgence. One of the first Taliban commanders captured by the US Army’s fabled 82nd Airborne Division in early 2002 said upon interrogation that the US will never win this war. He predicted that we will grow tired and leave Afghanistan much like we did in 1989 and that when the dust finally settles, the Taliban will return.

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By Tyler Abboud

Members of Witness Against Torture blockade an entrance to the CIA in Langley, Virginia. Source: Justin Norman

I remember reading a story about the difference between being taken into custody by the FBI versus being taken by the CIA. In the former case the suspect may have been roughed up but they were ultimately arrested and given a trial, whereas in the latter case that individual was almost never heard from again or placed into one of the now infamous “black sites.” While the story can be dismissed as apocryphal, it does shed some light on the American justice system post 9/11; when the word “terrorism” is invoked it seems that all vestiges of the judicial process are thrown out the window. The recent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on torture confirmed some of my worst suspicions. Not only was our primary intelligence agency violating both international and domestic law with horrendous techniques like “rectal feedings,” it was doing so in a way that can only be referred to as institutionalized rape. Unfortunately, those were just the instances the CIA bothered to document; the untold stories could be much worse.

The lack of oversight of the systematic abuses during the Bush Administration, which carried over to the Obama Administration’s method of combatting terrorism, is rarely discussed. Following his election in 2008 President Obama, made it quite clear that the United States will no longer be torturing detainees under his watch. Instead, President Obama and the CIA implemented the drone campaign that has been focused on three countries: Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Unfortunately, the strikes have had little effect in mollifying the situations in any of these countries. In light of the revelations from the SSCI report, this should not come as a surprise.

I can only imagine that some of the rampant abuse that occurred within the torture program has spilled over into the drone campaign. As late as 2013, the head of the CIA John Brennan admitted that his agency did not have the capacity to evaluate whether or not they could objectively analyze the effectiveness of any of their covert programs. He did not just refer to torture. Keep in mind; the torture program only involved 119 individuals, 26 of whom were innocent. The drone campaign is far more all encompassing; nearly 3,500 individuals were killed over the course of the last 13 years. While a scant few missions occurred under President Bush, most came to pass under President Obama. Of the 3,500 people killed, it is nearly impossible to differentiate between civilian and combatant. The Obama Administrations “signature strike” method, whereby an individual could be targeted for living a certain lifestyle, obfuscates the number of innocents killed in any given strike.

On this there should be no equivocating; what the CIA did under the Bush Administration is not only illegal but morally reprehensible. Yet what is occurring under the Obama Administration could turn out to be just as disgraceful, if not worse. One of the CIA’s infamous techniques was to threaten the suspect with harm to his family; this is a daily reality for anyone living in the above-mentioned strike zones. Is it not torture when members of your family die in front of your eyes on a wedding day? Is it not torture when bodies of your loved ones have been so incinerated they resemble cooked meat on the ground, especially if none among you is retroactively found to be associated with Al-Qaeda? I suppose these are questions best left for future analysts. I only hope we do not have to endure more politically crafted terms like “enhanced strike techniques” in the future.

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By Olivia Daniels

Source: Al-Arabiya News

Last month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi appointed Faiza Abou el-Naga as his national security advisor. This is the same Faiza Abou el-Naga who, as Egypt’s Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, insisted that Egypt reject a $3.2 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund in June of 2011, and, later that year, requested an investigation into the foreign financing of various pro-democracy non-profit organizations. The investigation led to criminal charges under which the nonprofits were accused of using the foreign funds to aid protests against Egypt’s military regime. Abou el-Naga claimed that the International Republic Institute in Egypt serves the “right wing” agenda, and Freedom House as a front for the “Jewish lobby” in the United States. This movement caused one of the biggest rifts between Washington and Cairo since the beginning of their alliance in 1989.

Despite the government changing hands multiple times in recent years, Abou el- Naga has remained active in the political scene from the time President Hosni Mubarak appointed her as Egypt’s foreign minister in 2001 up until President Mohamed Morsi formed a new cabinet. From her position as foreign minister, she moved on to become the Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, and was one of few officials to remain in her post after Mubarak was ousted. In this role, she led the investigation against and the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and other nonprofits, which included the prosecution of 43 human rights advocates, 19 of which were American. Abou el-Naga stated that “the United States and Israel could not directly create and sustain a state of chaos, so they used direct funding, especially American, to reach those goals.” In 2012, David D. Kirkpatrick from the New York Times wrote that “with $1.5 billion in annual American aid hanging in the balance, Egypt’s top military officer and de facto chief of staff executive is asking Ms. Abul Naga to moderate her tone.” Abou el-Naga seemed to have ignored those warnings, as she even threatened to use the “Iran card” against the United States, warning that alienating Egypt would only move the country closer to Iran. This may have worked, as aid flow from the U.S. to Egypt remained stable. Abou el-Naga then saw Morsi’s election in 2012 as her cue to step down – although clearly not indefinitely.

While the choice to appoint Abou el-Naga as his national security advisor may be Sisi’s way of sending a message to the United States, it says even more about what is happening in Egypt. Journalist Abdel Latif el-Menaway approves of Sisi’s decision. He remembers Abou el-Naga’s political history in a positive light, claiming that “those who expect Naga’s presence to be bad for civil society groups are also wrong because what governs the relationship between of the organizations is the law and as long as they respect the laws of the state there will be no problem.” But how can these organizations respect laws when the laws themselves are so difficult to comply with? The individuals affiliated with these groups were charged with operating without a license, receiving unauthorized foreign funds, and engaging in political activity. In compliance with Egypt’s laws, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute both applied for registration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2005. The groups were told their registration would be approved, but even after multiple follow-ups they never were approved, without any explanation as to why. Abou el-Naga’s assistant, Ambassador Marawan Badr, was quoted saying, “they know they are working illegally and without license,” and Abou el-Naga claimed that the activity of these groups was a product of “political funding” which is not allowed under Egyptian law. In 2012, Stephen McInerney wrote an article for Foreign Affairs that explained how groups with more “innocuous goals” had a much easier time obtaining their licenses. McInerney said that “it is disingenuous for the Egyptian government to refuse to grant U.S. NGOs registration on political grounds and then claim that the investigation against them is an apolitical matter.”

Abou el-Naga not only has a history of targeting groups that raise questions about the state of human rights in Egypt, but also is willing to risk Egypt’s relationship with the United States to maintain that position. In her new role as national security advisor, there is hope that she have bigger concerns than organizations that are working to promote human rights. Yet assuming anything with Abou el-Naga would be naïve.

Economically, it is important to keep in mind that Abou el-Naga believes Egypt should reject IMF and World Bank conditional capital. Egypt is in no position to pass up economic aid. In addition, Abou el-Naga was willing to put the $1.5 billion that the United States gives to Egypt annually on the line. Abou el-Naga is well educated, having received a Masters in Political Science from the University of Geneva, and politically keen. While she may know how far she could push President Obama without devastating Egypt’s economy, that’s not to say she won’t add the straw that breaks the camel’s, or eagle’s, back.

By Joshua Shinbrot

Source: Flickr

As was recently revealed by the Wall Street Journal, last month President Obama wrote a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The November 24th deadline for reaching a comprehensive deal on the Iranian nuclear program looms closer, and this letter is the most recent in a series of attempts at outreach to the Iranian government in an effort to move a deal forward. However, this particular correspondence was sent without the knowledge of our Israeli, Saudi, and Emirati partners. The support of all three countries will prove critical in our struggle to defeat and discredit ISIL and all three of these nations also feel that any deal reached between the US and Tehran will come at their expense. While seemingly damaging to American relations with allies in the region and to the American negotiating position against the Iranian nuclear program, the exposure of this letter could provide the US with significant leverage in its negotiations with Iran.

Those who agree with the President’s decision to write this secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader argue that any decision regarding the rollback of the Iranian nuclear program would ultimately rest with Ayatollah Khamenei. As such, direct expression of the importance of an agreement to the Obama administration could provide encouragement that may result in greater leeway for Iranian negotiators. If the Obama administration views the potential for this letter to cause a breakthrough in the negotiations as significant, it may justify the potential damage a leak of the letter would cause in our relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Many disagree with the Obama administration’s decision to correspond with Ayatollah Kahmenei. Essentially, they argue that the American flexibility with Iran has been remarkable in these negotiations. Iran has made few reciprocal moves. This secret letter to the Supreme Leader continues to make it appear that the US needs a nuclear deal more than they do, and consequently provides the Iranians with further incentive to maintain their obstinate negotiating position.

In fact, as Dennis Ross recently detailed in Foreign Affairs, flexibility of the P5+1 has been great. The UN Security Council has passed resolutions demanding that the Iranians suspend all uranium enrichment. The P5+1 has allowed them to avoid full suspension. Despite the fact that Iran has pursued a nuclear weapons program, the P5+1 has agreed that after Iran implements a comprehensive agreement (if one is reached), it will be treated in the same way as any other member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Essentially, this would involve non-acknowledgement of the fact that the Iranians have pursued a nuclear weapons program. Moreover, there have been offers to ensure that the Iranians are able to produce adequate civilian nuclear energy. Iran has seemed to disregard not only the significant flexibility on the part of the P5+1, but also their discretion. Namely, the Iranians do not seem to take into account their counterparts’ generous neglect to arouse public awareness of Iranian uncomplimentary stubbornness in negotiations.

Perhaps the P5+1 has been too flexible. It is possible that the Iranians have interpreted attempts at engagement by the West to mean that the West has greater need for a deal than they do. An opportunity for the US and the rest of the P5+1 to alter its negotiating strategy has been presented by the leak of Obama’s letter to the Ayatollah. At this point in the negotiating process, the US has offered the Iranians many carrots. Now there is a chance to combine those carrots with sticks. It should be unambiguously communicated to the Iranians that the leak of this secret letter’s existence has cost the United States with its allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Moreover, the Iranians should be told that attempts to entice Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program have gone unreciprocated for too long. At the moment, they have an opportunity to engage with the rest of the world, but failure to strike a deal will have real consequences. It is highly likely that if there is no comprehensive deal, the newly elected Republican congress will vote to impose much stricter sanctions on Iran. Furthermore, exposure of Iranian recalcitrance in the face of Western flexibility during negotiations will serve to damage Iran’s deceptive public image creating greater support for a stricter sanctions regime that will further isolate Iran from the rest of the world.

It is possible that even when informed of the bleak consequences of failing to strike a deal, the Iranians will continue to demand the maintenance of an inordinate portion of its current nuclear program. However, the current strategy that the United States is pursuing has produced little in the way of results. Presently, there is an opportunity to alter the American approach to Iran in a way that will more greatly elucidate what the P5+1 is prepared to do if Iran continues to refuse to make meaningful concessions. The US should make use of the leverage created by the leak of Obama’s not-so-secret letter.

By Dana Busgang

On August 7th, 2014, President Obama announced that the US military would be joining a broad coalition of Western and Arab nations with the specific intent to stop the advance of the Salafi Jihadi militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While the US military has been involved in Iraq off and on over the past decade, this would be the first time that US bombs would be dropped in Syria. About a year ago, the Obama administration was inches away from launching airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria, but backed off at the last minute when a diplomatic agreement was reached with the assistance of Russia to rid Syria of chemical weapons—a “red line” for the Obama administration. Despite the lack of military action against the Syrian regime, the US government has continued to support “moderate” Syrian rebels fighting the regime.

The clear target of the anti-ISIS coalition is the aforementioned Islamic State group. However, the US has begun quietly targeting other groups. In early November, reports were released that US airstrikes had targeted the al-Qaeda linked group Jabhat al-Nusra in northwestern Syria. Back in April 2013, long before the international war against ISIS began, the head of the then Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that al-Nusra had been a branch of ISI in Syria, and the two groups would now become one group—the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. However, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, the leader of al-Nusra, rejected the merger, claiming he had not been consulted and confirmed his allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. After months of tension between the two groups following the proposed merger, al-Qaeda officially broke ties with ISIS in early February 2014, claiming that ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group…does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions.” Following this announcement, open war broke out between al-Nusra and ISIS factions, culminating in an ISIS offensive in Syria’s al-Zor province that left hundreds of fighters from both groups dead.

In addition to launching strikes against al-Nusra, the US military has also conducted air strikes against the Khorasan group in Syria, another al-Qaeda affiliate that very little is known about. The strikes against Khorasan began in September 2014, and have continued into November, with US officials justifying the strikes by claiming that the group was involved in planning “imminent” attacks against the West and the US.

While both Jabhat al-Nusra and Khorasan are designated terrorist groups (although more moderate than ISIS) and part of the al-Qaeda network, the original strategy of defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria made no mention of combatting al-Qaeda and ISIS simultaneously. The two groups, at least for the moment, are sworn enemies and compete with each other for control of land and control of the broader Syria rebellion against the Assad regime. Trying to eliminate two major players, and two enemies, in the Syrian civil war could prove dangerous and counter productive to US led efforts. There have been reports of al-Nusra and ISIS co-operating in order to take on larger (and common) enemies, like the Syrian regime, or the US backed anti-ISIS coalition. While both groups are dangerous on their own, the two of them combined could pose an unprecedented threat to the future of the fragile region. Although the two groups still seem to be in opposition to each other, continued air strikes on both groups could lead to a reunion against a greater enemy.

The other often-ignored variable in this equation is the effect of US airstrikes on the beleaguered Syrian regime. The US has pretty much abandoned hopes of arming moderate rebels to fight Assad’s forces, as this has proven problematic and unsuccessful in the past. The US will also not engage in direct warfare against the Assad regime, in efforts to prevent US troops from being involved in another war in the Middle East. Despite the lack of action, the US still condemns the Assad regime and believes it needs to be deposed. However, it seems that while the US has been focused on defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the regime’s forces have been steadily regaining territory and strength. As the US bombs the two most powerful enemies of the Syrian regime, are they inadvertently helping Assad regain control of his country? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be affirmative. The Obama administration is currently targeting what it sees as the greater of two evils in Syria, but in order to ensure that Syria does not fall back into the hands of the authoritarian Baath regime, new policies to counteract the gains made by the regime at the expense of ISIS must be enacted.

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By Yasmin Faruki

The Obama Administration needs a victory in the Middle East right now. Without a unified strategy against the Islamic State, the U.S.-led airstrikes campaign and global coalition may very likely prove useless. Immature remarks exchanged between Israeli officials and American diplomats in recent months have led to soured relations. A nuclear deal between Iran and the United States on November 24th could potentially boost some diplomatic capital in a region where our credibility is severely lacking.

The last interim agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action, ushered positive nuclear diplomacy between Iran and the P5+1 coalition (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, and Germany). Within the new parameters of the agreement settled in January 2014, Iran agreed to halt the installment of all centrifuges and expansion of facilities. In turn, the United States and Europe allowed Iran to access $4.2 billion of its oil revenues and permitted the resumption of some trades. Still, international sanctions and steep falls in oil prices continue to cripple Iran’s economy. Currently, the status quo tips in favor of the coalition.
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As it stands, Iran wants all global sanctions lifted. Such a concession by the coalition is highly unlikely, given how integral the sanctions regime is to keeping Iran in check. In addition, Iran wants to readjust its uranium enrichment capacity in such a way that would allow the country to produce weapons-grade uranium in a matter of weeks. To achieve this capacity, Iran has offered to freeze all of its current centrifuges for the next three to seven years, after which it would start producing uranium at a much higher level. In other words, Iran has merely offered to delay its program, implying that its interests have not changed and that achieving a weapons-grade uranium production is only a matter of time.

Instead of negotiating timeframes, the United States should seek to change the substance of the agreement, while also empathizing with Iran’s energy concerns. Currently one of the regime’s largest power plants in Busheshr is supplied by Russia. Iran contends that the agreement will expire in 2021, further justifying a ten-fold increase of its enrichment capacity. The United States insists that the agreement would be extended and that Iran’s energy needs do not require such high levels of production.

Prospects for a successful agreement are complicated by domestic political factors on both sides. In Iran, moderate President Rouhani successfully ran on a platform of economic gains for the middle class, which has been hit hardest by the country’s worsening economy. Since his inauguration, he has been facing stark opposition from the Ayatollah and hard-liners who perceive President’s Rouhani’s nuclear diplomacy as catering to the West. Any drops in production levels could therefore add strain to an already divided political system. If faced with the option of lowering enrichment capacity versus halting negotiations, Iran could very well choose the latter.

With midterms fast approaching, the Democrats in the United States are eager to finalize an agreement at a low political cost. Should the status quo continue, the United States would send a very troubling message and essentially imply that a functional nuclear weapons program in Iran is inevitable. But convincing Iran to move backwards on a program they have already paused may prove impossible. Should the Republican Party achieve a majority in the Senate, new sanctions would be likely, pushing negotiations even further backwards.

Ultimately, there is really no great option. Based on Iran’s dire economic state and President Rouhani’s encouraging speech, we have reason not to prepare ourselves for the worst, but the alternative is not much better. Whether a partial formalization of some terms of the agreement, or a stagnant continuation of the status quo, a successful nuclear agreement this month is really anything that prevents both sides from walking away from the negotiating table—the least bad option. As Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his Iranian counterpart in Oman this week to prep for a final deal in Vienna, all we can really do is wait.

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