In “One Congressman’s Iran” Mr. Cohen says a Jewish representative digs deep into the Iran deal and rightly concludes that it should be supported. Mr. Kristof, in “Why the Naysayers Are Wrong About the Iran Deal,” says sure, the agreement is flawed, but it would make us safer. First up we have Mr. Cohen:
Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress, said something important this week: “In my view, the only anchors in public life are to dig deeply into the facts and consult broadly and then to say what you believe.”
His words were important for two reasons. First, they defied a prevalent political culture of ignoring inconvenient facts, consulting narrowly if at all, and never saying what you believe when it’s not what your constituency wants to hear. Second, his statement concerned Iran, an issue where fact-based reasoning on Capitol Hill and beyond tends to take second place to preposterous posturing — as per Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s statement that the nuclear deal with Tehran would march Israelis “to the door of the oven.”
Levin’s reflection led him to the sober, accurate conclusion that the agreement is “the best way to achieve” the goal of preventing Iran from advancing toward a nuclear weapon, an outcome that will make Israel, the Middle East and the world “far more secure.” Not the ideal way, the perfect way, or a foolproof way, but, in the real world of ineradicable Iranian nuclear know-how, the best way attainable. That is also the view of other parties to the deal — the not insignificant or unserious powers of Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Why? Levin, a longtime friend of Israel, was thorough. Because the accord, if fully implemented, slashes Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium by 97 percent, prevents enrichment above 3.67 percent (a long way from bomb grade) for 15 years, intensifies international inspections exponentially, holds Iran at least a year from having enough material to produce a weapon (as opposed to the current two months), cuts off a plutonium route to a bomb, preserves all American options in combating Iranian support for Hezbollah, and is far better than an alternative scenario where international sanctions would fray and “support from even our best allies if we move to the military option would be less likely.”
Congress was given 60 days to review the deal. Sentiment is generally shoot-from-the-hip hostile. A resolution of disapproval that would be vetoed by President Obama is likely; the president probably has enough support to resist an override of his veto. But before following such an unsatisfactory path to assumption of a historic accord, members of Congress, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the normally outspoken New York Democrat who has discovered his inner reserve on this matter, should do their own version of Levin’s deep-dig questioning. They should also peruse a letter from five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel — including Thomas Pickering — and from former senior officials — including Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns — that urges both chambers not to reject a deal without which “the risks will be much higher for the United States and Israel.”
Yes, the risks will be far greater. There is huge, if uncertain, upside potential to the establishment of an American relationship with Iran through this agreement. The downside potential in its absence is as great — and includes war.
It is intriguing that, along with Israel and Republican members of Congress, the most vociferous criticism of the deal has come from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have had it with what they see as American fecklessness. They have been convinced since the Iraq invasion that the United States is pro-Shia (read pro-Iran). They are so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs that they have embarked on an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen with the purported aim of stopping the Houthis, seen as Iranian proxies.
Now the Saudis are American allies. Iran is, and will for the foreseeable future remain, a hostile power. But what have our “allies” done for the United States of late? Promoted, through madrasas and other means, the conservative Wahhabi Islam whose fierce anti-Western teachings provided the context for the emergence of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and, most recently, Islamic State. Manipulated oil prices, most recently down, in order to undermine America’s liberating energy revolution through an attempt to make shale oil uncompetitive. Shunned Obama’s attempts to reassure Sunni monarchies that the Iran deal will not mean diminished support — and all this, of course, from the country that furnished the manpower for 9/11.
The Saudis are in lockstep with Israel on hostility to the Iran deal but are no friends of Israel. Their goal, despite America’s dwindling dependence on the kingdom for oil, is to preserve a Middle Eastern status quo that limits American strategic options — including the possibility that Iran and the United States might find common cause in combating Islamic State or, years from now, re-establish diplomatic relations.
Any deep dig into the facts, of Levin’s courageous kind, cannot escape the question of whether a deal with an enemy, Iran, so fiercely opposed by this particular ally, Saudi Arabia, might not, over time, change the Middle Eastern equation in ways favorable to the American national interest.
And now here’s Mr. Kristof:
Mike Huckabee says President Obama is using his nuclear deal to “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Mitt Romney describes it as a “generational calamity.” And while polls diverge, one recently taken by CNN suggests the public wants Congress to reject the agreement by a 52 percent to 44 percent majority.
This is one of the pivotal foreign policy decisions of the decade, so let’s examine the arguments:
Obama didn’t deliver what he promised. For example, we wanted “anywhere, anytime” inspections, but we caved and got a complex system that allows Iran to delay inspections. And in the later years of the agreement, Iran won a significant easing of controls. As Jeb Bush put it: “These negotiations began, by President Obama’s own admission, as an effort to deny Iran nuclear capabilities, but instead will only legitimize those activities.”
The U.S. didn’t get all it wanted (and neither did Iran) in an imperfect compromise. True, we didn’t achieve anywhere, anytime inspections, yet the required inspections program is still among the most intrusive ever. Remember too that this deal isn’t just about centrifuges but also about the possibility that Iran will come out of the cold and emerge from its failed 36-year experiment with extremism. That’s why Iran’s hard-liners are so opposed to the deal; they have been sustained by the narrative of the Great Satan as the endless enemy, and conciliation endangers them.
You doves think that a nuclear deal will empower reformers in Iran and turn it once more into the pro-American and pro-Israeli power it was under the shah. But sanctions relief may just give this regime a new lease on life.
Iran’s people are perhaps the most pro-American and secular of those of any country I’ve been to in the Middle East. (On my last trip to Iran, I took two of my kids along, and Iranians bought them meals and ice cream, and served them illegal mojitos.) The public weariness with the regime’s corruption, oppression and economic failings is manifest. I would guess that after the supreme leader dies, Iran will begin a process of change like that in China after Mao died.
That’s speculative. The real impact of the deal is that it will unlock tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets and new oil revenues, giving Iranian hard-liners more resources to invest in nuclear skulduggery and in extremist groups.
True, but that will happen anyway. Remember that this agreement includes Europe, Russia and China as parties. Even if Congress rejects the agreement, sanctions will erode and Iran will get an infusion of cash.
This agreement is a betrayal of Israel. Once Iran gets its hands on W.M.D.s, it will commit genocide.
Iran is widely believed to have developed biological and chemical weaponsback in the 1980s, and it hasn’t used those weapons of mass destruction against Israel. And what American officials find awkward to point out is that Israel is already a significant nuclear power with a huge military edge, which is why it has deterred Iran so far. If I lived in Tel Aviv, would I be nervous? Sure. But I’d be even more nervous without this deal, which reduces the chance that Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon in the next decade. That’s why five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel endorsed the accord. (It’s also notable that American Jews are more in favor of the agreement than the American public as a whole.)
Obama pretends that the alternative to this deal is war. No, the alternative is increased economic pressure until Iran yelps for surrender.As Marco Rubio puts it, “Give Iran a very clear choice: You can have an economy or you can have a weapons program.”
So we apply the same economic pressure that caused the collapse of the Castro regime in Cuba in 1964? The same isolation that overthrew the North Korean regime in 1993? The same sanctions that led Saddam Hussein to give up power peacefully in Iraq in 2000? Oh, wait.…
Look, even you admit that this is a flawed deal. So why risk it? As Rick Perry says, “No deal is better and safer than a bad deal.”
If the U.S. rejects this landmark deal, then we get the worst of both worlds: an erosion of sanctions and also an immediate revival of the Iran nuclear program.
We have a glimpse of what might happen. In 2003, Iran seemingly offered a comprehensive “grand bargain” to resolve relations with the United States, but George W. Bush’s administration dismissed it. Since then, Iran has gone from a tiny number of centrifuges to 19,000, getting within two months of “breakout” to a nuclear weapon. The point: Fulmination is not a substitute for policy, and a multilateral international agreement achieves far more protection than finger-wagging.
Diplomacy is rarely about optimal outcomes; it is about muddling along in the dark, dodging bullets, struggling to defer war and catastrophe for the time being, nurturing opportunities for a better tomorrow. By that standard, the Iran deal succeeds. Sure, it is flawed, and yes, it makes us safer.