(April 9, 2015 / JNS)
As expected, the Obama administration is having a hard time selling the American public on the feeble understanding—it’s not a “deal,” since nothing was signed—that was recently reached with Iran over its nuclear program.
Let’s start with President Barack Obama himself. Interviewed by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times after the understanding was announced, Obama was confident and buoyant, declaring that there was no formula “more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward” when it comes to preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Then National Public Radio (NPR) turned up. In that interview, an awkward-sounding Obama admitted that a little over a decade after a final deal is signed, Iran’s advanced centrifuges would have shrunk the nuclear weapon breakout time “almost down to zero.” It was a stunning and possibly unintended confession that sent both the White House and the State Department scrambling to offer a clarification. State spokeswoman Marie Harf described Obama’s words as “muddled” and “confusing,” before attempting to persuade us that the president was explaining what would happen without a deal. But look at what Obama actually said: “We’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year… that—that if they decided to break the deal, kick out all the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we’d have over a year to respond. And we have those assurances for at least well over a decade.” It’s painfully clear that the scenario he outlined is one with a deal in place.
So, either Obama doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s lying. Either way, his pledge that Iran won’t obtain a nuclear weapon is about as worthless as, well, an Iranian cleric’s signature on a deal. And when you factor in all the other disputes that have emerged since the understanding was made public—Iran ruling out the presence of security cameras in its nuclear facilities, Iran’s insistence that all sanctions will be lifted when the deal is agreed despite American assurances that these will be removed in a phased manner, the realization that Iran will continue to operate advanced centrifuges despite (again) American assurances to the contrary—it’s tempting to believe that the goal of a final deal by June 30 will collapse amid mutual recriminations and conflicting interpretations of what was agreed to in the framework.
If a deal with Iran can’t be sold on the basis of its substance, how can it pass muster? There are two factors that Obama and his flock are banking on. The first relies on scaremongering: if we don’t make this deal, we may be condemning ourselves to further military engagements in the Middle East. The second relies on a leap of faith: Iran, Obama told NPR, may well become a more open society in the aftermath of a deal, focused “on its economy, on training its people, on reentering the world community.” But even if the Iranian regime doesn’t modify its behavior, he added, it is still “much better if we have this deal in place than if we don’t.”
The only people who will be persuaded by this fatuous argument—support the deal whether or not you trust the Iranian regime—are those already predisposed to a diplomatic outcome regardless of the medium and long-term costs. Those with a more questioning nature will surely understand that a deal based on the conviction that the Iranian regime is more likely than not to cooperate is the first step on the road to hell.
This is why so much of the commentary lauding Obama’s efforts with Tehran has avoided the details of the agreement, focusing instead on sanitizing the nature of the Iranian regime while demonizing the Israelis. Take one of the more dreadful pieces of late by Obama’s cooing admirer, Peter Beinart. Writing in The Atlantic, Beinart tried to argue that Iran is not a “totalitarian” regime, just a brutal one—the difference being that not all brutal regimes are able to exercise complete control over the inner and outer lives of their subjects.
Is that a reasonable summation of the nature of Iran’s Islamist regime? Absolutely not. Glaring by its absence from Beinart’s article was the concept of velayat e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurisprudent,” a method of Islamic governance devised by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that gives the mullahs custodianship of the entire society—a totalitarian idea if ever there was one.
The implication in Beinart’s article is that it’s easier to trust bad regimes that are not totalitarian because they are comparatively more sensitive to the desires of their people as well as the imperatives of the international community. Of course, Iran’s history since 1979 demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that neither of these considerations weigh heavily on the mullahs, precisely because they run a totalitarian regime. That’s why they used extraordinary repression to crush democracy protests in 2009, another crucial detail missing from Beinart’s piece.
In tandem with this polishing of the Iranian regime’s image come the appeals to support the deal because the most “dangerous” leader in the Middle East—aka Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—is against it. That was the core message of an on-air rant by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who, in addressing U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) decision to seek the Republican presidential nomination, targeted “neocons and the piggish money behind them” as the true enemy. All the “neocons” want, according to Matthews, is a foreign policy that creates “pro-Israel democracies” in the region.
It doesn’t require a huge leap of the imagination to figure out that “neocons” here is code for a different word that starts with the letter “J.” (Matthews shrieked at one point, “Let’s just lay out who these people are!”) His words may have been uglier and cruder than the White House would have liked, but the message is the same: you are either with us or against us, and if you’re not even willing to entertain the idea that Iran’s promises can be taken at face value, then you must be as crazy as Netanyahu.
There’s a little less than three months between now and June 30. We can expect much more of the above as we head towards the deadline, which is precisely why pro-Israel voices must not feel cowed or intimidated. Obama the so-called “peacemaker” is creating a situation that will generate war and conflict for future generations inside and outside the Middle East. That is why, even though the president’s chorus will mock us for saying this, we should say it anyway: Ultimately, we oppose this deal because it condemns our children to growing up in a world where democracies are in retreat, at the same time as totalitarian regimes (like North Korea and, yes, Iran) possess weapons of mass destruction.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of The Tower, writes a weekly column for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, 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).