Years from now, historians are sure to view the nuclear deal concluded last year between Iran and the P5+1 powers - the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, France and Germany - as the greatest foreign policy achievement of President Obama's second term. But it is far less clear that they will see the agreement as having advanced America's strategic interests.
The deal, after all, isn't designed to be a lasting solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Most of its provisions become defunct after just a decade, while some (such as curbs on Iran's development of ballistic missiles, a key delivery system for nuclear weapons) expire even sooner.
Moreover, even during the time that the agreement is in force, Iran will be able to continue advanced research and development on key nuclear technologies. And it will do so with international assistance, because under the terms of the deal the P5+1 powers have pledged to help Iran master key processes (like the fabrication of nuclear fuel) and strengthen its atomic infrastructure (for example, by enhancing the physical security of its nuclear sites).
All of which means that Iran will be able to continue critical work on its nuclear program, even if it is forced to do so at a slower pace. As a result, when the terms of the agreement expire, experts say that the Islamic Republic will be significantly closer to nuclear "breakout" than it is today.
But even before then, the nuclear deal will significantly expand the danger posed by the Islamic Republic.
Already, according to the Iranian government's own estimates, it has gained access to more than $100 billion in previously escrowed oil revenue - a sum roughly equivalent to a quarter of the country's total annual economy, and which can be used for a range of nefarious activities, including the support of terrorism worldwide. Just as importantly, the Iranian regime, once an international pariah, has been reintegrated into key global financial institutions, such as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT - something that is essential for the smooth functioning of its economy. Its trade with an array of foreign countries and companies, too, is expanding exponentially.
Over time, this relief will serve as a massive financial shot in the arm to Iran's once-rickety economy. But it is already helping to reinvigorate the Islamic Republic's global ambitions.
In recent months, Iran has embarked upon an ambitious national military modernization program, signing multibillion-dollar contracts for new weapons systems with Russia, a key strategic ally. It has expanded its already extensive military foothold in Syria, and laid plans for a long-term strategic presence in that country in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And it has launched a landmark expansion of strategic ties with both China and India in a series of diplomatic and trade deals that will help reconfigure the geopolitical order in Asia.
All of which might be palatable if, as the Obama administration has contended, the nuclear agreement would help create a kinder, gentler Iran. But it appears to be doing exactly the opposite. Recent elections to Iran's parliament and Assembly of Experts were resounding victories for regime conservatives, while the anti-Western rhetoric and destabilizing global activities of the Iranian regime continue unabated.
In other words, the nuclear deal's most significant contribution so far has been to strengthen and empower Iran's hard-line clerical regime. On the other hand, it provides only a temporary reprieve to the problem posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, and does so at an extremely high cost.
In the years ahead, thanks to the economic and diplomatic benefits being provided today, the United States and its allies will find it more and more difficult to effectively contain and counter the Islamic Republic. There is thus precious little reason to celebrate the agreement, and plenty of cause to fear its consequences.