Bitter Endgame on Iran
argument in favor of the Iran nuclear deal has become so exaggerated,
so bitter, so simplified, that it risks parody.
his opponents of wanting another war — like the last one they caused in Iraq
— and “making common cause” with Iranian hard-liners who chant “Death to
America.” This goes beyond the questioning of patriotism. Critics of the
agreement are, in Obama’s depiction, the bloodthirsty allies of theocratic
butchers. Thanks so much, Mr. President, for your fair-minded words.
meantime, the Iranian regime has celebrated the nuclear agreement by defying it
— blatantly sanitizing (with bulldozers) its military research site at Parchin
and denying promised access to key scientists and military officials.
Iran tests the limits of the deal — rubbing Obama’s face in the weakness of
his enforcement position — he turns his anger on critics of the deal.
make of this strategy?
exercising the rhetorical version of the nuclear option has an obvious political
benefit. It is now evident that the Obama administration reached its agreement
in a march of ever-more humiliating concessions: on anytime, anywhere
inspections, on accounting for past nuclear activities, on lifting the
conventional arms embargo. Better to have a referendum on the Iraq war than
serious congressional scrutiny of the embarrassing manner in which the Iran
agreement was secured.
can make support for the deal a partisan, ideological cause, he can bring along
enough liberals in Congress to save it. So break out the Iraq comparisons.
Adopting the tone, language and reasoning of your average MSNBC panelist has
some cost to the institution of the presidency. But in the age of Donald Trump,
who will notice?
rhetorical strategy, by the way, is not directed just at Republicans. Obama won
the presidency by attacking Hillary Clinton from the left for her vote in favor
of the Iraq war. Now he is reminding moderate Democrats in Congress: The liberal
base will not be happy if you defy me.
are seeing dramatic evidence of the incentive structure that is now in place.
The deal must be preserved, according to the president, because the stark choice
or some form of war.” But does Obama not think that the Iranians can also
tune in to C-SPAN? He has granted them a tremendous advantage. They know that
his argument will always be: How can we blow up the Iran deal over this or that
violation if the only alternative to maintaining this agreement is war? Nearly
any concession, any humiliation, is presumably better than that. And the
Iranians seem content to cause Obama considerable humiliation, presumably
reflecting their own internal, political dynamic. If you can’t destroy the
Great Satan, make it look pathetic.
Third, I am
willing to grant that Obama’s partisan attack is also a sincere expression of
his policy views. Obama administration foreign policy in the Middle East has
always been, at least in part, a reaction against the George W. Bush years. Bush
had policies that involved coercion if certain conditions were not met. Obama
authentically believes this approach was mistaken. While occasionally making
vague statements that “everything is on the table,” Obama has effectively
removed the threat of force from U.S. nonproliferation policy in the Middle
East. He has argued, again and again, that Americans are tired of conflict,
tired of war and that he personally shares this sentiment.
has informed years of inaction in the Syrian crisis, even as 200,000 people died
and chemical weapons were employed against civilians. It informed the
precipitous U.S. retreat from Iraq, which has required a partial return. And it
informs Obama’s approach to Iran. In recent times, the United States had an
Iran policy, particularly an anti-proliferation policy, that involved economic
sanctions and the credible threat of force. Obama has an Iran policy that
involves diplomatic engagement and the threat of an (unlikely) snapback of
economic sanctions. The Iranians are taking full advantage of this shift to fill
the vacuum left by a retreating United States.
means let’s recall a little history. In 2009, in the aftermath of a disputed
presidential election, a Green Revolution raised the possibility of regime
change — by popular uprising — in Iran. Obama did nothing to encourage it,
for fear of undermining a nuclear deal. He effectively made common cause with
Iranian hard-liners because they were at the negotiation table. And they are now
rewarded with money, arms and global legitimacy. Whom would they regard as their