Cohen and Kristof

In “Iran’s Unserious Critics” Mr. Cohen says a good nuclear deal was made in 2013; a still better one can be had now.  Mr. Kristof considers “Jimmy Carter, His Legacy and a Rabbit” and says we owe Jimmy Carter an apology. He may well have done more to improve the lives of more people than any other recent president.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The Republican chorus gets ever louder: Walk away from an Iran nuclear deal. But of course there is a deal in place, an interim one, much derided by that same chorus when it was concluded in November 2013. At the time, Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations committee lambasted the accord as requiring “no sacrifice on their part whatsoever.”

Now Corker, a Republican of Tennessee and the committee’s chairman, seems to think it’s good enough to leave in place for the moment, holding back criticism of it even as he urges President Obama to avoid a “bad deal” that would hurt “the United States, the region and the world.” The change of tune is not surprising. The interim agreement, respected to the letter by Iran, has proved a milestone.

It has curtailed the country’s nuclear program in a way not seen in many years. Instead of steadily adding centrifuges, the pattern before Obama’s diplomacy, Iran has stopped installation, eliminated or diluted its 20-percent-enriched uranium, and permitted intensified international inspection, among other measures. It has proved Corker’s prediction of “no sacrifice” dead wrong.

This is instructive. It does not mean Iran is to be trusted. It does mean that hard-nosed agreements with Iran can stick and that Tehran must be taken seriously in its declared readiness to reach a fair deal with the United States and its partners. It makes nonsense of Florida Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s statement that the Vienna talks are a “diplomatic charade.”

All the overblown doomsday criticism is easy because the prospective deal is not perfect — diplomacy does not do perfection — and because the Islamic Republic is a hostile power with a record of deception. The tough but worthy endeavor is preventing a nuclear-armed Iran through a rigorous, unambiguous and enforceable agreement that also brings a hopeful, young, highly educated nation closer to the world.

The bottom line is that none of the critics of an Iran deal, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to all the harrumphing Republican presidential hopefuls, has offered a single credible alternative that accomplishes even what has been achieved since 2013.

Absent an accord, Iran will in time resume where it left off 20 months ago. The United States, under Obama or his successor, is not about to go to war with Iran; forget about it. We’ll get the next facile metaphor along the lines of Netanyahu’s warning that an Iranian nuclear threat is coming “to a theater near you,” and another crescendo of rhetoric designed to disguise helpless navel-gazing and, perhaps, a touch of remorse for the opportunity squandered to ring-fence and cut back Iran’s nuclear program under relentless inspection.

There is a transformative opportunity. It will not last long. Iran is vulnerable, economically squeezed, in unusual and delicate equilibrium between its hard-line and reformist forces. What Iran is not, and will never be, is weak enough to be brought to its knees on a core issue of national pride and prestige. Ownership of nuclear know-how (which cannot be bombed out of existence) is as important to Iranians as ownership of its oil was in the early 1950s, before an American-instigated coup. It’s worth recalling that this July marks the 27th anniversary of the shooting down by a United States warship of an Iranian civilian plane with almost 300 people on board. It’s not just for Americans that any accord involves a big psychological hurdle.

There’s a good deal to be had. The opportunity must not be squandered. The deal is not yet in place but enormous obstacles have already been overcome since secret U.S.-Iranian talks began and a productive Washington-Tehran relationship was established for the first time since 1979.

The outstanding issues include unfettered access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to all Iranian sites, including military sites; the sequencing of sanctions lifting; the permitted scope of Iranian nuclear research; and the fate of the arms embargo on Iran. Of these, the first is the most intractable. Obama cannot settle for less than unambiguous Iranian acquiescence to full site access. On the Iranian side, only the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can grant that. He has said he won’t. Then again, he has said many things and talks have proceeded. Khamenei knows how much the vast majority of Iranians want this door-opening accord, and how critical it is to a battered economy. His absolute power does not make him politically immune.

Both sides probably have a few weeks to play with. But to imagine the interim deal will hold, absent a final accord, is folly. America’s coalition will fray; Russia and China will start the blame game; Iran will eventually start installing new centrifuges again; the politics of Iran and the United States will shift; Israel will take its brinkmanship an inch or two further; and the hooded, throat-slitting barbarians of Islamic State — enemies of Shiite Iran and the United States — will advance, kill and plunder, relieved of the one conceivable effective coalition to confront them.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Quiz time: Which American president was attacked by a “killer rabbit”?

It was Jimmy Carter, although the incident says more about the news media than it does about Carter. He was fishing from a boat in a pond when a rabbit swam frantically for the president’s boat.

Where’s the Secret Service when you need it? Carter fended off the rabbit with an oar.

A few months later, Carter’s press secretary happened to mention the incident to a reporter. Soon there was a flood of articles and cartoons about a hapless president cowed and outmatched by a wet bunny.

One of our worst traits in journalism is that when we have a narrative in our minds, we often plug in anecdotes that confirm it. Thus we managed to portray President Gerald Ford, a first-rate athlete, as a klutz. And we used a distraught rabbit to confirm the narrative of Carter as a lightweight cowed by anything that came along.

The press and chattering class have often been merciless to Carter. Early on, cartoons mocked him as a country rube using an outhouse or associating with pigs, writers pilloried him as a sanctimonious hick, and in recent years it has been common to hear that he’s anti-Israel or anti-Semitic (This about the man whose Camp David accord ensured Israel’s future!).

Now that Carter is 90 and has been an ex-president longer than anyone in history, it’s time to correct the record. He is anything but an empty suit.

At a time when “principled politicians” sometimes seem a null set, it’s remarkable how often Carter showed spine.

He has a new memoir, “A Full Life,” out this week, recounting that his father was a segregationist. Yet Jimmy Carter says he was the only white man in his town who refused to join the White Citizens’ Council, and he fought to integrate his church. At one point, after a racist slur was posted on his door, he considered giving up and moving away.

Carter persevered. When he was inaugurated governor of Georgia, he declared, “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.” He then erected a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in the State Capitol.

A black woman who was a convicted murderer, Mary Prince, was assigned to work at the governor’s mansion in a work-release program. Carter became convinced that she was innocent and later applied to be her parole officer, so he could take her to the White House to be his daughter’s nanny. Prince was eventually pardoned.

It’s true that Carter sometimes floundered as president. He also had great difficulty, as an outsider, managing Washington, and suffered from a measure of anti-Southern prejudice. When the Reagans took over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, their interior decorator reportedly couldn’t wait to “get the smell of catfish out of the White House.”

But Carter was also a pioneer. He was the first to elevate human rights in foreign policy. He appointed large numbers of women, Latinos and blacks. He installed solar panels on the White House (President Reagan removed them). He established diplomatic relations with China.

Carter also had a deep sense of honesty — sometimes too deep. Other politicians have affairs and deny them. Carter didn’t have affairs but nonetheless disclosed that “I’vecommitted adultery in my heart many times.” File that under “too much information.”

After leaving the presidency, Carter could have spent his time on the golf course. Instead, he roamed the globe advocating for human rights and battling diseases from malaria to blinding trachoma.

Because of Carter’s work, the world is very close to eradicating Guinea worm disease, an excruciating ailment, and has made enormous headway against elephantiasis and river blindness as well. Only five cases of Guinea worm disease have been reported worldwide in 2015: It’s a race, Carter acknowledges, between him and the Guinea worm to see which outlasts the other.

I’m betting on Carter. In 2007, I joined him on an Africa visit because his aides said it would be his last major foreign trip. So as we sat by a creek for an interview, I noted that this was his last major overseas trip and ——

“Whatever would give you that idea?” Carter interrupted. His icy tone made clear that he planned to be touring remote Ethiopian villages until at least his 200th birthday.

Carter, the one-termer who was a pariah in his own party, may well have improved the lives of more people in more places over a longer period of time than any other recent president. So we in the snooty media world owe him an apology: We were wrong about you, Mr. President. You’re not a lightweight at all, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do in your next 90 years!

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