Monday, August 24, 2015

Why I Support the Iran Deal

Reasoned opposition to the Iran Deal tends to fall into one of three categories:

  1. Iran can't be trusted, they'll cheat, game the system, the inspections regime isn't strong enough, etc. 
  2. The deal doesn't do anything about Iran's desires for hegemony in the region; they'll use the money from sanctions relief to increase their support for "terrorists" like Hamas and Hezbollah. 
  3. In 15 years, when the agreement ends, Iran will just get the centrifuges going again and it will be "build a nuke free" time. 
Of course, I'm not an expert, but taking these backwards: 

If we're in a situation where the deal is nearing an end that would mean that it worked. Diplomacy would have succeeded in keeping Iran from a bomb for 15 years. 15 years is a long time, a lot could change, there could be a real detente between Iran and the west. Even if that doesn't happen, there's no reason to think that the international community (including Russia and China) would want Iran to have a bomb then either. (Question: Is it possible the deal could just be extended?) In other words, if everything remains the same and a government of Israel and/or the US is jumping up and down about Iran getting a weapon, I believe that international pressure (if not the previous level of sanctions) could continue the international arrangement that would have been effective thus far.  

The main problem with number 2 is that it's adding a condition that wasn't a condition of the negotiations. If the biggest threat to Israel, world peace, etc. was Iran getting a bomb, and we negotiated a deal so that Iran doesn't get a bomb, to then say, well, they're just going to fund Hamas more, is adding a condition. 

Iran thinks what it's doing with Hamas and Hezbollah is in its national security interests, and it wouldn't come to the table to give those up. It's a little like Israel adding "recognize us a Jewish state" to the negotiations with the Palestinians: it's adding a goal at late stages that essentially guarantees the failure of negotiations. 

And the other thing to keep in mind here is that this idea that Israel is the good guy and Iran is the bad guy, that Iran funding Hamas and Hezbollah is "international terrorism" without any legitimate security purpose (from the point of view of the Iranians) is not a universally accepted principle, to say the least. This is where Israel's rather cavalier attitude toward international diplomacy costs it. Not only Russian and China, but France and Germany believe that Israel is not doing all it can (again, to say the least) vis-a-vis the Palestinians, so while they're willing (for their own reasons) to go to bat for a nuclear deal with Iran, they have no intention of subordinating their own national security interests to an uncooperative and recalcitrant Israel.

As for the first bullet-point, well, that's actually Benjamin Netanyahu's position. And that's in keeping with his neo-conservative tendencies. A large part of the opposition to the agreement is the idea that diplomacy is naive, that it can't work, and that's been a constant since the Iraq War, when weapons inspections were halted prematurely in the interest of a disastrous war. A war, it should be noted, that Netanyahu supported. 

And here we get to what we might call the "faith-based" opposition to the agreement: the idea that diplomacy can't work, knee-jerk opposition to anything Obama does (as in the Republican congress, not one of whom supports this deal), the idea that Obama is a stooge whom the Iranians must have gotten over on, that Netanyahu is a just a much more worldly and competent man than Obama, or finally that Netanyahu (or in some iterations, "all of Israel") opposes the deal and therefore Obama is throwing Israel under the bus. 

Supporters of the deal also have their "reasoned" side and their "faith-based" side. On the "faith" side, to me at least, is a preference, always and forever, for diplomacy, again and again and again. Above sanctions, above air strikes, certainly above war. Mike Huckabee compared Netanyahu to Churchill, but it's Churchill who said that he preferred "jaw-jaw" to "war-war." They always forget that part. 

On the "reason" side, it appears to me that the vast majority of analysts who have looked at this agreement on its merits (again, not counting what it wasn't intended to do, number 2 above), find it an effective non-proliferation regime. To whit: 

Granted it comes from the White House, but I find it pretty convincing. Against this we have, what? John Boehner? Marco Rubio? The Boston Jewish Federation? 

No - against this, most significantly, we have Benjamin Netanyahu. And ultimately, what side you come down on on this issue is largely dependent on in whom you have more trust: Netanyahu, or Obama. For federations, for AIPAC, for the Republican congress, it's Netanyahu. For myself, and for many like me (including, thankfully, most of the Democratic members of Congress), it's Obama. 

I don't trust Netanyahu further than I could throw him. This is the man who suborned incitement against Rabin that contributed to his assassination. This is the man who did everything he could to thwart the Oslo process in the late 90s. This is the man who has done nothing to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, and in fact has taken every opportunity to disempower and humiliate the PA. This is the man who allowed his political party to be taken over by the most racist and revanchist elements in Israeli society. This is the man who was elected by, and who supports and rewards, those same elements. This is the man who has taken every opportunity to embarrass the president of his country's most important ally, and who made clear his partisan political preference in the last presidential elections. This is the man who testified in support of America's worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. So why would we think that he's such a great foreign policy maven?

I've always suspected two things: 1) that Netanyahu was using the Iran issue as a way to distract attention, both domestically and internationally, from the Palestinian issue, and 2) that he is largely motivated by partisan political considerations, and by this I mean American partisan political considerations. He's come down significantly on the side of Republicans in the US's political wars, possibly because he thinks they're "better for Israel" (that is, more willing to let the Israeli government do whatever it wants). He wants Jews to support Republicans, both with votes and with money. In so doing he's involved himself in American politics in a way that's wildly inappropriate for a foreign leader. And by so doing, he's alienating a significant portion of American Jewry from Israel, which will have to be the topic for another day.

So underneath all the "reason", we come down to "faith" - as in, which leader do I have more faith in? I voted for Obama twice, and I wouldn't vote for Netanyahu for dog catcher. I have a lot more faith in the wisdom of Barack Obama than I do in that of Netanyahu. Ultimately, that's why I support the Iran deal, and I'm happy to see that it looks like it's going to get enough Democratic support to clear Congress.