Perfect is the enemy of a good deal with Iran

The USA and five other world powers (the P5+1) have finally reached a deal with Iran regarding its use of nuclear power. Before the ink was even dry on the agreement, politicians here in the US began decrying it as a bad deal. Their complaints are consistently about the terms of the agreement not being strict enough.

For example, Iran agreed to limit enrichment of uranium to 3.5% but critics of the agreement do not want Iran to enrich uranium at all. Another example is Iran’s agreement to allow international inspectors to inspect a suspect site with 24 days’ notice. Critics want inspectors to have unfettered access with no advance notice. Essentially, critics of the agreement are saying that the terms of the agreement should be terms that would be perfect to them.

The problem with that position is that the critics of the agreement are not taking into account how negotiation works. Each side begins negotiating for their perfect terms knowing full well that the other side won’t agree to them. Then both sides begin making concessions on some terms to get concessions on other terms that are more important to the negotiating party. Eventually through this process of give and take, both parties reach an agreement with terms that are not perfect for either party but are somewhere in the middle of what both sides would consider perfect. Negotiations require compromise to be successful.

Critics of the Iran deal think that the deal should be evaluated as a choice between the terms that were agreed to and the perfect terms. But that’s unreasonable because Iran would never have agreed to the terms that would be perfect for the US. Instead, the deal should be evaluated as a choice between the terms that were agreed to and the status quo. The status quo is no deal at all.

Absent the agreement, Iran has no limits on the amount of enriched uranium it can possess and the degree to which it can enrich the uranium. Absent the agreement, Iran does not permit international inspectors to inspect any of its facilities, ever, regardless of how much notice is given. Critics of the agreement voice concerns about Iran being able to produce an atomic bomb in ten to fifteen years. Yet before the agreement was reached, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran was just about a year away from having an atomic bomb.

Evaluated from this perspective, the agreement with Iran is a good deal because the terms reached are far more restrictive on Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon than no deal at all. Considering that seven countries were involved in negotiations, the international community is lucky that any deal could be reached. To borrow an adage from Voltaire, we should not allow a perfect deal to be the enemy of a good deal with Iran.

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