More than 150 students gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall Sunday evening to watch two foreign policy experts spar over an issue that has drawn the praise of Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and the ire of Henry Kissinger: the Iran deal.
Mark Dubowitz and Philip Gordon parsed the intricacies of the nuclear deal — an accord struck between Iran and an American-led coalition of six powers intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — for nearly two hours. Although the deal has generated an intensely partisan divide, the event was sponsored by five ideologically diverse student groups: The Yale Friends of Israel, the Yale College Democrats, the Yale College Republicans, the Politic and the Yale International Relations Association. Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan think tank focused on nonproliferation, argued against the deal, which he called “fatally flawed.” Gordon, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who formerly worked as a special assistant to the president in the Obama administration, contended that the deal will make the world safer by closing off key pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon. He described the deal as an imperfect but necessary alternative to the current situation.
“It is a fantasy to imagine that you could have it exactly like you want it,” Gordon said. “The deal we negotiated is good for America and good for the world.”
But Dubowitz countered that American negotiators surrendered valuable bargaining chips during the early stages of the talks, leading to a set of temporary provisions whose eventual expiration will pave the way to an Iranian bomb. He added that because of the deal, future American leaders will have to confront a fiercer, more economically stable Iran.
“This deal will make war more likely, not less likely. And when that war comes, Iran will be stronger, and the consequences will be more serious,” Dubowitz said. “The Obama administration got out-negotiated.”
As a solution, Dubowitz proposed three amendments that he said would salvage the deal: physical inspections of every Iranian nuclear site, a prohibition against uranium enrichment beyond 3.5 percent and the removal of expiration dates from the agreement.
Gordon responded that an aggressive push for such concessions would have jeopardized the broader deal. If the deal had collapsed, he added, Iran would have moved forward with its nuclear program, narrowing the U.S.’s range of options.
But Dubowitz said that in fact the deal’s approval will have this precise effect: freed of economic sanctions, Iran will eventually resume its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
During the question-and-answer session, Dubowitz summed up his central disagreement with Gordon — that the Obama administration should have pushed for further concessions.
“You think a bad deal is better than no deal. I think staying at the table, ratcheting up the pressure, would have resulted in a better deal,” he said.
All five students interviewed said they held strong views about the accord before attending the debate.
Alexander Posner ’18 said he was impressed with both speakers but that the debate ultimately reinforced his long-standing support for the deal. Redha Qabazard SPH ’17 specifically praised Gordon’s ability to speak frankly about the reality of Middle East politics.
Richard Baker ’18 said that although he supports the accord, he was particularly impressed with Dubowitz’s proposals.
“Those three amendments sound very reasonable,” Baker said. “They don’t seem like they should be deal breakers.”
Gabby Deutch ’18, the Israel Chair of Yale Hillel, served as moderator. Deutch told the News she hoped the debate would promote measured, respectful discourse rather than furious name-calling — adding that she looked for speakers who would engage in a “civil conversation, without tearing each other apart.”
Last Thursday, President Obama announced that he will suspend all American nuclear sanctions on Iran on Oct. 18.