According to President Trump, the nuclear deal with Iran is "disastrous...one of the worst and most one-sided...terrible." There are a couple of questions that should immediately be asked: What would be a better deal? How would you get there?
If you presume that Iran has no state interests and is not entitled to any degree of national self-interest, then a better deal is fairly simple and obvious. Iran gives up all nuclear equipment, enterprises, and research. It stops supporting Shia regimes and Shia groups in the region, stops being a theocracy in competition with Sunni theocracies and quasi-theocracies, and never says "Death to America" or "Death to Israel" again.
However, the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed by a recent revolution that believes in its revolutionary version of Islam the way that the Saudis and the Gulf States believe in the Sunni one and in the way that the US believes in being #1. I was, originally, going to write "democracy" as the thing that our country believes in—the model of the way the world should be. But we don't even seem to there on the hypocrisy level anymore. Until Trump was elected, we always invaded, aided, and subverted in the name of "democracy" and "freedom." Even when it clearly wasn't true, that's what our leaders would say, as if was the only courteous thing to do.
Iran's position, as an independent nation state, is that it is entitled to peaceful nuclear development for science, medicine, and energy. It borders Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons. Iran is about 1,000 miles from Israel, which also has nuclear weapons.
Iran has been anathema to the United States, or at least to its politicians, since the hostage crisis. After an ideologically driven revolution, the victors usually believe they have a product ready for export, just the thing the world is waiting for. Like the French, after theirs in 1799; the Communists, after Lenin's victory in 1917; and the Iranians in 1979. It should be noted, that, like those others, there were violent attempts backed by foreign powers to restore the old regimes. That created a certain legitimate paranoia in the revolutionaries, a conviction that "they" will depose us and kill us if they can.
Iran denies it, but much of the rest of the world is certain that they were on their way to developing nuclear weapons. Israel, the Sunni countries around them, and the United States, have all stated this cannot be tolerated. They're religious with the wrong religion, which means they're nuts, and nuts can't be trusted with nukes.
Could we go to war if they spun one centrifuge too many? Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in that utterly fabulous way he has, said, "Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins? We win!"
Unfortunately, it was at a Senate hearing, and Graham was in charge, so no one said the obvious: "Iraq. Afghanistan. Did we win those wars? If we did, why are still fighting them? Why are those countries in chaos? Why do you think that we'll do better in Iran, which is larger, richer, and better organized? Does it matter that America engages in a first strike, an attack on another nation, without even a plausible excuse? Especially after the fictions of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been exposed?"
There's another military idea. It can be found in places where conservatives go to share their fantasies, like this one by Benjamin Weinthal in the Weekly Standard "Can Israel Take Out Iran's Nuclear Facilities?" (February 22, 2012). Weinthal argues that yes, they could, with one of their brilliant one-night air attacks. The problem is that Iran has multiple facilities, buried and hardened, and under or near civilian populations. An attack would not get them all, and it would kill civilians and have nuclear side effects. Weinthal argues that the Israelis "would need to destroy only six of the 25 to 30 facilities." Wow, that's really cool, until you get to what that would achieve. It "could set back Iran's nuclear program by a decade or more."
Whoops, the deal sets it back for longer than that. Without committing war crimes.
That leaves sanctions. The limitation of sanctions is that American sanctions by themselves are pretty lame. If Iran can still trade with China, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and even Western Europe, they won't have much effect.
The amazing, stunning thing that the John Kerry and the Obama administration did was that they brought in the whole world. Even Russia and China put aside their innate desire to compete with the United States to be part of it. That, of course, means that the deal can't be the fervid, posturing, strutting, pouting Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz version of total victory achieved through gorilla chest-thumping. It has to be a rational, reasonably fair, diplomatic arrangement that makes sense to all the players.
The complaint from Trump and the other chest-thumpers is that Iran is "a state sponsor of terrorism," the worst one in the world, and they're doing much to destabilize the region. Al Qaeda and its successors, especially ISIL, are Sunni groups, the smirking stepchildren of the Saudis and the other Gulf Arabs. Yet when American Republican presidents go there, we expect them to croon "I want to hold your hannnnd," or in Trump's case, "I want to hold your orb." As for destabilizing the region, it's one of those things that everybody who's there is doing: the Assad regime, the Turks, the Kurds, the Saudis, the Yeminis, the Iraqis. It's done by ethnicity, religion, political association, and tribe. It's done for power, party, revenge, and money. Of course, no one has done more to destabilize the region than the United States.
What would be better? How would anyone do it?