Today, Secretary of State John Kerry went to a Senate hearing room on Thursday to put forward talking points about the Iran nuclear deal that are by now as familiar as the condescending sneer he employs against anyone who questions his positions. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also recited their scripted defense of the agreement. The other participants in the ritual were just as predictable as Senate Republicans tore into the trio of secretaries over the terms of the pact while Democrats did their best to lob softball questions in order to provide cover to the administration. But, according to the New York Times, only one side in this standoff is doing any serious thinking about the implications of approving the deal. The headline of the Times article (labeled “news analysis,” but which belonged on the paper’s op-ed page rather than in the news section) on the hearing was “Republicans Have Minds Made Up as Debate Begins on Iran Nuclear Deal.” There is some truth to that assertion but the same could be said of most of the Democrats in attendance. But by attempting to portray the Republicans as mindless partisans obsessed with block the administration, the Times missed the point of the entire debate. It’s not just that everyone already understands the Iran deal details and their weakness. Rather, it’s that the implications of this push for what amounts to a new détente with the Islamist regime is just as important as anything that will be revealed in classified committee sessions.
The Times portrayed the Republicans as not listening to the secretaries and not even willing to hear more about the security implications of their efforts in private:
While Mr. Corker, who promised a considered assessment of the agreement, may have seemed close to an endgame during a hearing on Capitol Hill, the vast majority of Republicans appear to have made up their minds before a single classified briefing, hearing or visit with administration officials.
Their view seems born of genuine distaste for the deal’s details, inherent distrust of President Obama, intense loyalty to Israel and an expansive view of the role that sanctions have played beyond preventing Iran’s nuclear abilities.
Accusing the critics of the deal of lack interest in its details is disingenuous. The basic framework of the agreement is no secret and its provisions have been a matter of vigorous public debate for months. The problem for the administration and its apologists is not that opponents aren’t listening but that they are rightly dismissing the spin about them coming from both the president and his team that span the spectrum from mere distortions to outright lies. The misrepresentation of the provisions about inspections that the president promised would be intrusive and comprehensive now requires Kerry and Moniz to claim that a process that gives Iran more than three weeks notice of an inspection is sufficient. They similarly ignore the implications of allowing Iran to continue its nuclear research with advanced equipment (while, as Corker rightly pointed out, discarding outdated centrifuges allowing the administration to portray the discards as concessions).
But in one sense the Times is right to assert that Republican support for the deal did not hinge on the fine print of the agreement. The devil is not in its details but in the nature of a pact whose core is a desire on the part of the administration to embrace Iran and bring it back into the community of nations from its current state of isolation.
The administration defends the deal as the only alternative to war. That is a false choice that attempts to obfuscate the fact that it was President Obama who discarded the political and economic leverage the West held over Iran prior to the start of the string of concessions he made to the ayatollahs over the course of the last two years of negotiations. But even if we leave this deceptive argument aside, the real problem with their approach is that by solely focusing on the details of a nuclear agreement, the administration chose to ignore the real reason why Iran should not be allowed such capabilities.
If, as President Obama seems to believe, Iran’s government is capable not only of rational analysis but of transforming itself into a reasonable and responsible international actor, its possession of a nuclear program would not be so troubling. True, the U.S. wishes to limit the spread of nuclear weapons but the club of countries with a bomb is already not so small. One more in and of itself would not be a threat to world peace.
But allowing an Islamist theocratic tyranny that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with hopes of achieving regional hegemony and pledged to the destruction of Israel to have a nuclear program is a threat. Giving its nuclear infrastructure western approval and a path to an eventual bomb is a danger to the entire region as well as the West. Handing it a massive cash bonus in the form of relaxed sanctions will enhance its ability to foment terrorism and spread violence through its auxiliaries and allies.
Opponents of the deal rightly decry this embrace of Iran not just because the inspections are insufficiently rigorous, the nuclear provisions weak and will eventually expire giving the Islamist regime a clear path to a bomb. They also oppose it because despite their occasional attempts to pose as tough-minded in their approach to Iran, the basic premise of the deal is President Obama’s quest for the regime to “get right with the world.”
In order to believe that is possible, we must forget everything we know about the nature of a regime that is inherently aggressive and motivated by an extreme religious ideology that sees moderate Arabs, the West, the United States and Israel as enemies to be destroyed, not partners for peace and cooperation.
Iran won the lenient terms of the deal by being tough in the negotiations and convincing weak-willed interlocutors such as Obama and Kerry that they would never be moved by Western pressure or threats. Critics of the deal view it with disdain because they correctly perceive its premise to be the hope of an entente with Iran, not a treaty aimed at limiting its power. Seen from that perspective the details of the deal are not only unpersuasive, they are beside the point despite the effort of the Times and other pro-Obama media cheerleaders to depict the GOP as knee-jerk naysayers. That is why sensible Republicans and Democrats will reject Kerry’s arrogant lobbying efforts and vote a deal rooted in appeasement down.