Trudy Rubin has been covering the Middle East for more than thirty years, first for the Christian Science Monitor and then for the Philadelphia Inquirer. A few years ago she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her views have to be taken seriously. Recently, she gave a basic guideline for evaluating a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.
The goal of the negotiations is to create the conditions under which it would take Iran at least a year to “break out” to having at least one nuclear weapon. A highly-intrusive inspections regime will have to replace the sanctions regime: free access for I.A.E.A. inspectors to any suspicious site, snap inspections, and a full explanation of suspected previous work on weapons design. Without the inspections regime, the deal isn’t worth making.
Neither a deal nor the failure to reach a deal will have any effect on Iranian policy in the Middle East. Iran is a strong state surrounded by weak Sunni states that are in upheaval. It will seek to expand its influence in the region. There is going to continue to be turmoil in the region, rather than some kind of “grand bargain” that calms the stormy seas.
If a deal in March 2015 is impossible, then keep sanctions in place and keep talking until the final deadline in July. Iran may blink.
What if there is no deal?
Iran will resume development of nuclear weapons, probably at an accelerated pace. It will seek to “break out” as soon as possible. Moreover, “if talks collapse, the international sanctions regime is likely to crack sooner rather than later, especially if the United States is blamed.” This seems also to be the position of the Obama administration. That is, it will become easier for Iran to reach its goal with the passage of time.
To head off this danger, Saudi Arabia and Israel will press for an American attack on the Iranian nuclear sites. Rubin believes that an attack would delay Iranian progress for “a couple of years, but it wouldn’t destroy it.”
If the Iraq war didn’t work out quite the way American leaders had anticipated, why would an Iranian war have limited and easily-predicted consequences?
If the sanctions regime inevitably will crumble if there is no deal, why would the Iranians make any significant concessions to reach a deal? Is announcing that sanctions will not long survive the failure to reach a deal equivalent to announcing a dead-line for withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan?
Why would Saudi Arabia and Israel follow the American line? Why wouldn’t they strike before Iran “breaks out,” then hope for the election of a Republican president in 2016?
If air strikes would delay, but not end, Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, why would air strikes be limited to a one-time attack? Why wouldn’t they become a continuing form of “sanctions”?
What if there is a deal and the Iranians cheat on it? All Rubin’s arguments against action still apply. Sanction will be hard to restore; war may be a disaster. That’s not too encouraging.
 Trudy Rubin, “4 rules to judge any Iran deal,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 March 2015.
 That is, Rubin isn’t taken in by the “transformational” hopes of the Obama administration. See: The Iran Dilemma.
 Here Rubin blames a combination of American invasions and the dry-rot caused by decades of corrupt, autocratic, and incompetent governments. See: The Muslim Civil War.
 Rubin doesn’t explain why this is so, although one could conjecture that Putin might engage in pay-back for the Americans sticking their fingers in his eye over Ukraine.