The first thing one needs to know about the nuclear deal with Iran is that it is not, in fact, a deal. You might be confused about this point, given that so many news outlets refers to a "deal" that doesn't exist.
In fairness, many do so simply for expediency's sake. The various parties to the talks did come away with an agreement, but it was an agreement to haggle more about what a deal might look like. We don't have a good word for such things, so people use "deal" as a placeholder.
But in any other realm of life, if you left a negotiation where things stand in Lausanne, Switzerland, you wouldn't think you had a deal. The known disagreements are profound and the room for further disagreements vast.
When you have a deal with a car salesman, money changes hands and papers are signed. But if you left a car dealership with this kind of understanding, you might never get a car at all, or you might expect that the salesman will ultimately sell you a new Porsche while the dealer is equally confident you'll come down to the lot next weekend to pick your used Zamboni.
The other thing you need to know is that even if the White House gets what it wants, that won't stop Iran from being able to get a nuclear bomb. No matter what, Iran keeps all of its research facilities and would ultimately be limited to a one-year "breakout time." Also, nothing in the "deal" -- see, I'm even doing it -- addresses ballistic missile development. So, in theory, Iran could have everything else ready to go, once it decides to sprint for a bomb.
President Obama is OK with all this because his larger goal is more ambitious than a mere arms control agreement with the world's leading state sponsor of terror. He says he wants to bring Iran out of the cold, to "break through (their) isolation" and help them become a "very successful regional power."
In February, a former National Security Council senior director, Michael Doran, showed in an article for Mosaic magazine that much of what passes for foreign policy dithering and incompetence can better be understood as Mr. Obama's attempts to seduce Iran into a new strategic role. The purpose of the nuclear talks is less about stopping the bomb as it is launching a new era of engagement with Iran. To keep the talks going, Mr. Obama has become Iran's air force in Iraq, has let Vladimir Putin literally get away with murder in Ukraine, and has grown increasingly deaf to warnings, from the French to the Israelis to the Saudis.
To be fair, Mr. Obama's goal is a good one. A civilized Iranian regime would presumably stop supporting Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, Bashar Assad in Syria and Shiite militants in Iraq. It'd even stop routinely calling for the destruction of Israel and "Death to America!"
Who wouldn't want that?
No one denies it'd be great if the ruling mullahs changed their stripes. No one disputes that it would be wonderful if the National Institutes of Health could make chewing gum that cures cancer, either.
The question is: Is a new Iran possible? And, just as important, if it is possible, are the costs worth it?
There's little reason to believe the answer to the first question is "yes." If the Iranian regime were interested in being a constructive member of the international community, it would have been acting like one already, right?
But maybe Mr. Obama sees something no one else does. At home and abroad, Mr. Obama has an invincible confidence that he understands everyone's self-interest better than they do. Maybe, for once, he's right.
Unfortunately, the players in the region don't think so, which is why Sunni Saudi Arabia has launched a bloody proxy religious war with Shiite Iran and is even pondering its own nuclear weapons program.Israel, which would only gain from a reformed Iran, doesn't think Obama's quest for a legacy will pay off either.
Which brings us to the costs. So far, Mr. Obama has calculated that the bloodshed, chaos and frayed alliances are worth it if he can be remembered as the president who opened the door to Iran. Those benefits, if they ever arise, may come at the expense of losing a hell of a lot more.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JonahNRO.