Resolved: The Iran nuclear deal undermines US security interests in the Middle East

October 12, 2015

Affirmative: David Friedman & Ross Krasner

Main points:

  • Deal only lasts for 10–15 years
  • Undermines US image to allies

Negative: Will Kirkland & Alexi Stocker

Main points:

  • Prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons
  • Integrates Iran into global economy
  • Wins Iranian cooperation
  • Boosts moderate factions in Iran
  • Reduces risk of Middle Eastern war

General points of discussion

  • Will Iran be able to get weapons after deal?
  • Which factions in Iran stand to gain the most?
  • Is it better to integrate or isolate Iran into/from the global community?

Initial vote: 5 affirmative, 13 negative, 10 abstain

Final vote: 5 affirmative, 15 negative, 6 abstain

In a debate examining one of the biggest foreign policy events of the year, it was perhaps appropriate that the Political Union brought in several outsiders to lead the debate. In an augmented format, each side featured two speakers. David Friedman rung in the debate with smooth oratory that criticized the deal’s legitimizing of Iran’s nuclear program and its lifespan of 10 to 15 years. He closed by warning that the deal would make the United States appear weak to its allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Will Kirkland laid out his case through five concise points. In a booming voice, Mr. Kirkland declared that the deal would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, would integrate Iran into the economy, used cooperation rather than hostility with the Iranians, would boost moderate factions in Iran over conservative ones, and would reduce the risk of a war in the Middle East.

Immediately, the affirmative side was under fire as several participants expressed skepticism at some of their claims. One person pointed out the extensive list of safeguards that prevented Iran from obtaining weapons, such as the threat of sweeping inspections. Another claimed that the deal had the support of the majority of Iranians.

Yet not everyone was convinced. One participant brought up the recent spates of anti-American chanting from Iran’s Supreme Leader and feared the worst for Israel. In response, Alexi Stocker turned the point on its head when he suggested that such chanting was actually a sign of weakness; in a bid to hide and halt the loss of political influence, in Mr. Stocker’s telling, conservative clerics had put on a show of strength.

Ross Krasner entered the fray with bullets of doubt; he remained unconvinced by Mr. Stocker’s argument that Iran’s ultraconservative elite were at the end of their rule; given that such religious leaders had ruled supreme since the Iranian Revolution, Mr. Krasner found little reason that they would disappear in a mere 15 years. And Mr. Krasner added that he found Iran’s sincerity wanting, bringing up the example of Fordow (an Iranian nuclear facility in a mountain). Were Iran sincere, he claimed, there would be no reason for Iran to hide a facility in a mountain.

The debate took a turn toward the financial side, as debaters argued over where Iran would spend its newfound money. Some thought that Iran would put the money to funding terrorist groups, but others believed that Iran would prioritize its economy over Hezbollah. Mr. Stocker spun this argument to build on his earlier point, as he suggested that young Iranians, who have been hurt by sanctions, are aware that it is the deal that will ease their economic suffering.

Mr. Friedman disagreed; when asked for alternatives, he claimed that the US, as world leaders, could have persuaded Europe to act together to completely freeze Iran out of the world banking system instead of giving up its sanctions. He criticized Iran for continuing to supply rockets to various military groups. One attendee pointed out that sponsoring terrorism was hardly unique to Iran; when US allies practice it, it would have been difficult for the deal to convince Iran to give up funding fundamentalists.

As the debate seemed to be heading toward a closing point, participants examined the effect globally. Several argued that reintegrating Iran into the global economic system was not an end in and of itself and that such an act would foster Iranian evildoing. And critics of the deal pointed to recent Russian activity in Syria as evidence that the US was losing influence in the region.

While the deal’s supporters continually praised it for showcasing flexibility in negotiating, such flexibility was not to be seen at the polls; the strong arguments failed to change many minds, and the resolution failed to pass by a wide margin.