The Iran deal’s defining pattern: the more you know, the less you trust

Click photo to download. Caption: Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna following the announcement of a nuclear deal with Iran on July 14. Credit: State Department.

 

By Ben Cohen/JNS.org

When it comes to the deal agreed to a fortnight ago in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program, there’s a pattern evolving that should be worrying the Obama administration: the more you know about it, the less you like it. 

A new opinion poll conducted by the organization I work for, The Israel Project, reveals that an increasing number of Americans are anxious about national security—after the economy, it’s the issue voters take most seriously—and that the Iran deal has exacerbated their concerns. More than 75 percent of Americans say they have learned “some” or “a lot” about the deal. That learning curve has been accompanied by a disapproval curve that is climbing steadily upwards among Democratic voters as well as independents and Republicans. 

According to the survey, when assessing the deal based on just their own knowledge, 47 percent of Americans reject it and 44 percent support it. But when presented with a number of talking points both for and against the agreement, an aggregate of 51 percent of respondents say Congress should reject it, while 35 percent favor approving the deal.

Of particular concern for President Barack Obama, on a personal level, is that disapproval of his handling of the negotiations with Iran (52 percent) is 15 percentage points greater than approval (37 percent) of his dealings with the Islamic Republic—by far his worst issue.

As encouraging as this trend is for opponents of the deal, this is no time for them to rest on their laurels. As Congress heads for summer recess, we need to keep our attention focused on preparations for what will happen after Labor Day, when federal legislators will make a historic decision on whether to accept or reject the deal. Our message needs to be that a better deal is possible, because this one is going to result in an Iranian nuclear weapon. It’s also going to help Iran achieve regional dominance, boost its terror proxies from Lebanon to Iraq, directly cause more death and suffering in Syria’s civil war, and straightforwardly assist the Tehran regime in its repression of human rights.

A briefing book I’ve just edited, titled “Surrender in Vienna: Why We Need A Better Nuclear Deal With Iran,” explores these distinct-yet-overlapping issues in greater detail. In his introduction to the collection, Allan Myer, a former senior U.S. defense official who served as president Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, digs deep into the assumptions that led the Obama administration to tear up the existing playbook that had guided Western interactions with the Tehran regime for more than a decade.

That playbook didn’t contain a fool-proof strategy: uranium enrichment continued at open and concealed sites, sanctions were circumvented, the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Qods Force were emboldened in carrying out external operations, and we had to listen to a constant stream of anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying invective from the Iranian regime. With the Vienna deal, not only will all that continue, but it will get worse. And the reason why that’s the case, Myer says, is because the current administration is driven by a worldview that defies realities on the ground.

For example, the assumption that Iran is a stabilizing power is nonsensical. Even if Tehran could claim the entire support of those 15 percent of Muslims who are Shi’a (and it cannot), it would still be at dangerous loggerheads with both the Sunni Muslim majority, the State of Israel, and non-Muslim minorities in the region—many of whom, like the followers of the gentle Baha’i faith, are viciously persecuted in Iran itself. 

So if the Iranian regime can’t win the trust of its neighbors, and in fact increases their suspicions, how are we going to avoid another war—the very war that Obama insists he wants to avoid? Obama’s messaging on Iran was echoed this week by celebrities like Jack Black and Morgan Freeman in one of the most inane videos I’ve ever seen. Do they honestly think the Iran deal is going to be like that final scene in “The Shawshank Redemption,” when Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman embrace in Pacific sunshine after being reunited?

It is unlikely that a war in the Middle East involving American troops will occur while this president remains in the White House. But when Obama’s successor takes over in January 2017, and we’ve had an even greater glimpse of how this deal has legitimized what was once regarded as Iran’s nuclear cheating, the outcome could be very different. Nobody in his right mind would definitively predict that another Middle Eastern conflict involving the U.S. is out of the question over the next 20 years. 

What needs to be considered is whether this deal makes such an outcome more likely. Increasingly, Americans are beginning to understand that it does, and that knee-jerk slogans like “No War on Iran” are no guarantee that there won’t be a war with Iran. That is precisely why we need a better deal.

Ben Cohen

To begin with, the deal needs to fix the painfully large holes in the inspection regime. It means getting Iran to accept the “anytime, anywhere” principle on inspections. It means getting absolute clarification on the existence of concealed nuclear facilities. Most importantly, it means a candid and honest account of Iran’s past nuclear activities—chiefly, the military aspects of such work.

Partisans of the current deal will say that under no circumstances would Iran sign such an alternative deal. They conveniently ignore that that regime was six months away from a severe balance of payments crisis when this negotiating round began! The mullahs, therefore, will be reminded of the leverage we have over them only if Congress rejects this deal and recommends a better one. 

That can’t happen unless, during this long, hot summer, the American people tell those whom they elect that they are no longer prepared to accept the false choice of “take this deal or risk another war.” Because while this administration may have given up on the goal of peacefully dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, the rest of us can’t afford the same luxury.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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Posted on July 30, 2015 and filed under Analysis, Opinion, U.S..