Monday is when everyone gets back to work, so it was a bit unfair that the new breakthrough agreement on pausing Iran’s nuclear weapon program, if that’s what they’re up to, was announced in the early hours on a Sunday morning – but that’s just too bad. And to be clear, this wasn’t really an agreement to halt anything. This is just agreeing to a pause for now – some sort of a more comprehensive agreement is supposed to come in six months. This does, however, stop and even reverse progress at all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and it halts the installation of any new centrifuges used to enrich uranium – but they can keep the centrifuges they have now. On the other hand, this agreement to pause things caps the amount and type of enriched uranium Iran is allowed to produce, and includes full inspections and monitoring – daily. That’s a good-faith gesture. Iran is willing to prove they’re not cheating, and they also agreed to halt work on a heavy-water reactor that could be used to provide them with a source of plutonium – the really bad stuff. Iran is actually willing to pause now, so the real talks about how to work out this nuclear weapons thing can get underway. For the moment, they can’t build a nuclear weapon without being detected, and they know it, and they’re fine with that. In return, the western nations that negotiated this, led by the United States, will lift some trade sanctions against Iran, but not all of them, and let Iran access some of its frozen currency accounts overseas, but not all of them – so Iran might net a bit less than seven billion dollars for agreeing to a six-month pause. For a nation the size of Iran that’s chump-change, but that was our good-faith gesture. It was only a gesture, and all of this is conditional. Full sanctions would be reinstated if Iran violates this initial agreement’s terms in any even minor way.
Both sides are wary, and rightly so – Iran has been saber-rattling for years now, and as much as Obama has tried to keep a lid on the few remaining neoconservatives and those who think Israel is the fifty-first state, we’ve been saber-rattling right back. This agreement, then, could be seen as an agreement to stop all that posturing, at least for six months, to see if it’s even possible to talk about Iran’s place in the world order. That’s not much, but it’s something, and for six months the world will be a bit safer – unless Congress doesn’t approve of this at all. They can vote to ratchet-up the sanctions, rendering Obama’s agreement null and void, no matter what the five other western nations do, and they’ve half a mind to do that. After all, this agreement allows Iran to keep all their nuclear gizmos in place, and hands them seven billion dollars too, for essentially giving up nothing. Obama is a fool. He got played.
By Monday, many had decided that, and it’s not only grumpy Republicans who were saying this. That liberal Democratic stalwart Chuck Schumer was saying that – he’s “disappointed” and thinks it’s time to really stick it to the Iranians, with new sanctions so severe Iran will have to dismantle everything, right now, even the stuff that could be used for no more than generating a bit more electricity in Tehran. Better safe than sorry, when the existence of Israel is at stake. Every single Democrat with a large Jewish constituency is saying the same thing too. We can, easily and singlehandedly, force Iran into total economic collapse, and we should do so. The threat of that will force their total capitulation. Obama’s approach is too nuanced, and too slow, and probably won’t work. Any incremental approach is foolish.
That’s Israel’s position too, and the Saudis agree, but they just want us to crush rising Shiite power in the region – Iran and Syria specifically. The Saudis think that Sunnis, like them, should be in charge over there, even if al-Qaeda is a Sunni movement, and the United States should chose the right side now, which is the Sunni side. Needless to say, we’ve been ignoring them. We have enough trouble here at home convincing Bill O’Reilly that American Christians aren’t an oppressed minority and that there’s no War on Christmas. Muslims in the Middle East will have to work out their own problems.
Israel is another matter. Israel is our ally, perhaps our only one in the region, and the Christian right also thinks of Israel as Jesus Land, where the End Times will soon begin, with the Conversion of the Jews of course. Chuck Schumer is not alone in thinking this agreement with Iran, to show good faith, in the hope that an actual agreement might follow one day, is foolish, and maybe even evil. Iran still has their nuclear gizmos. They can fire them up at any moment, and then, soon enough, wipe out Israel in a flash, a very big flash. Israel is no safer, and Iran is seven billion dollars richer, and, presumably, laughing all the way to the bank. This is outrageous.
Gershom Gorenberg, writing at American Prospect, from Israel, questions that. Noting that the Israeli Defense Ministry recommended ending production of gas masks for civilians, because they reviewed the intelligence assessments of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and Syria’s poison-gas arsenal was being destroyed. The US-Russian agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons was working. There was no need to waste money on gas-masks-for-everyone now, and that’s the first hint that someone had miscalculated:
To put it mildly, this isn’t what Prime Minister Netanyahu expected in September when President Barack Obama opted for a diplomatic solution rather than a punitive attack on the Assad regime for using chemical arms. Back then, Netanyahu barely concealed his view that American weakness was both a catastrophe and a betrayal that would encourage Iran to develop nuclear arms. At a military ceremony, he proclaimed that Israel could depend only on itself. “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” Netanyahu said that, quoting the first half of an ancient Jewish maxim, without the second part, which says that someone who is only for himself is nothing. “We are for ourselves!” he declared. A nameless senior official, making the prime minister’s warning more explicit, said that “a diplomatic failure in Syria without an American military response” might force Israel to attack Iran. The failure of diplomacy was virtually a given; the only question was what would come after.
What came after was a safer Israel, and now the problem is much the same, as Israel is appalled at what Obama has done this time:
Instead of toasting Obama’s success, Netanyahu has responded with public fury perhaps unprecedented in the Washington-Jerusalem relationship. “What was achieved last night in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake,” he said, in a public statement before television cameras. He concluded with a renewed threat, “Israel is not bound by this agreement… Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. As prime minister of Israel, I would like to make it clear: Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”
Gorenberg then suggests a diagnosis:
The link between Netanyahu’s reactions in September and now is what could be called Agreement Anxiety Disorder (AAD): a reflexive certainty that any time an antagonist is willing to make an agreement to end or manage a conflict, the deal is a deception. The only safe agreement would be one in which you make no compromises or concessions, so that you are ready to fight the inevitable next round. Since agreements sans compromises are rare, the very thought of making a deal ignites something between panic and fury, and any friend who advises you to accept the agreement is betraying you.
To be fair, some agreements are tricks, and some well-intentioned agreements just come undone. AAD is a political expression of post-traumatic stress: Past experience is so terrible that you have to be ready for every new event to repeat it. Trauma can build a filter in the mind: Anything that confirms you are under attack registers. The experience of safety doesn’t. If you’re an Israeli, you might have a hard time noticing that the peace treaty with Egypt has held up for over 30 years. The suicide bombings of the Second Intifada are entirely, horribly visible, and either prove that the Oslo Accord of 1993 was a Palestinian trick – or, at best, that the best intentions fail. My point here is not a political analysis of how Oslo broke down, which would include Israel’s role in the collapse. I’m talking about gut feelings. If you are an older Israeli of an older generation, you remember that the United Nations pulled its peacekeeping troops out of the Sinai in 1967 just because Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser asked it to. Expect perfidy.
Israelis come by post-traumatic stress honestly. But not everyone is equally affected; far from it. Some people learn from war that you should make peace. For Netanyahu, the Munich Pact reveals where all peace agreements will lead, and the British shutting the doors of Palestine to Jews in 1939 shows great powers must never be trusted. His AAD is so intense it should disqualify him from public office, and at the same time resonates with a significant portion of voters.
That’s the problem, and it should be recognized as a problem:
With an effort at empathy, one can understand Netanyahu’s anxiety. But Agreement Anxiety Disorder does not lead to good analysis. It doesn’t produce advice that American senators or representatives should accept when choosing their own response to the Iran deal.
Within hours of the Obama administration’s interim nuclear deal with Iran, Bill Kristol was already invoking Munich. Benjamin Netanyahu’s minions have been doing so for months.
Ostensibly, that’s because the agreement doesn’t dismantle Iran’s nuclear program but stalls it in return for partial sanctions relief. That’s true. But Kristol and Netanyahu have no remotely plausible alternative for fully dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, either. In place of the interim agreement, they want more sanctions, which Iran’s reformist government has said would doom any agreement. Or they want war, which former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who oversaw Israel’s Iran file from 2002 to 2010, has said would rally Iranians behind their regime, splinter the international coalition against Tehran, and thus ultimately increase Iran’s chances of getting a bomb.
If Netanyahu and company have no better strategy for preventing an Iranian nuke, why call Obama’s deal a Munich-style-surrender?
That’s a good question, but then “that’s their name for any diplomatic agreement that requires Western compromise” of course:
For Netanyahu and his American allies, it’s always 1938, because if it’s not 1938 and your opponents aren’t Neville Chamberlain, then you’re not Winston Churchill. And if you’re not Churchill, you’ve got no compelling rationale for wielding power.
Over the past quarter-century, there’s hardly an American or Israeli leader the Kristol-Netanyahu crowd hasn’t compared to Chamberlain. In 1985, Newt Gingrich called Reagan’s first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.” When Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hawks took out newspaper ads declaring that “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”
Then, when Israel moved to thaw its own cold war with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Rabin assumed the Chamberlain role. “Earlier in this century, Neville Chamberlain thought he could buy ‘peace in our time’ by handing over the mountain defenses of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, who promised to accept a deal of ‘land for peace,” wrote Netanyahu in the New York Times in 1993. “The Rabin government is now betting the security of Israel on Yasser Arafat’s promises.”
Then it was Bill Clinton. “The word that best describes Clinton administration [foreign] policy is appeasement,” explained Robert Kagan and Kristol in 1999. Then, of course, it was the opponents of war with Iraq. “The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it’s about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade,” wrote Kristol in a 2002 editorial, “The Axis of Appeasement.”
Beinart did the homework for the rest of us. It’s always 1938 now, whatever the now, even if it isn’t, and that’s absurd at this moment too:
Iran’s leaders, to be sure, are a gruesome lot, guilty of terrible crimes against their people and of supporting some of the most odious dictators and terrorists in the Middle East. But the Nazi analogy is laughable. Hitler used Europe’s most advanced economy to build its most advanced military and for a time, conquer almost the entire continent. Iran, a middling economic power at best, couldn’t even defeat Iraq. Even if Tehran acquired a nuclear weapon, which I dearly hope does not happen, Iran would still be surrounded by a host of stronger countries, including Turkey (a NATO member), Pakistan (a Sunni country with a host of nukes), India (a nuclear-armed semi-superpower), and Israel (which reportedly has 200 nuclear weapons and a uniquely close relationship with the United States).
If Iran lacks the industrial and military might for regional dominance, it also lacks the ideological power. For a time in the 1930s, leading Western intellectuals believed fascist regimes could economically outperform democracies. No one believes that about Iran. Indeed, whatever regional prestige Tehran once enjoyed has been destroyed by its support for Bashar al-Assad.
Iran is a corrupt, nasty regime seeking to stay in power, deter attack, and extend its regional influence to the extent possible. It’s not suicidal.
That’s about it, but no one seems to believe that, which Beinart says only confuses matters:
For decades now, hawks like Kristol and groups like AIPAC have stoked American Jewish fears of a second Holocaust. But since the mild-mannered Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Arafat and the terrifying second intifada gave way to productive Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in the West Bank, Jewish hawks have found it harder to slot Palestinians into the Nazi role. Yes, Hamas still understandably frightens many American Jews. But if the Palestinian issue is a political headache for Netanyahu, it has become a headache for groups like AIPAC, too, which are in the awkward position of publicly supporting a Palestinian state and yet also publicly supporting everything the Israeli government does, even when its actions clearly undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state. Iran, by contrast, unifies the American Jewish establishment, which dislikes grappling with the dilemmas of Jewish power and feels most comfortable depicting Jews as permanently menaced by potentially genocidal anti-Semitic threats.
This Munich thing, with the current Nazis-of-the-moment, isn’t remotely true, it’s only useful:
“Netanyahu doesn’t know history,” declared the great Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer earlier this year. Nor does he know much about Iran, a country whose residents he thought were banned from wearing jeans. What he and his American allies do know is how to exploit historical analogies for political and ideological gain. Obama’s interim nuclear deal threatens their ability to do that…
The Munich thing might not even be useful. In Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner warns these guys about freaking out over this new Iran deal, as “the only thing going ballistic on this deal accomplishes is demonstrating your utter unreasonableness on negotiations with Iran” in the first place:
Now the key words in that last sentence are “going ballistic.” I’m not saying you should love the deal. You distrust both Iran and the Obama administration. I get that. The thing is, you’re distrusting the wrong agreement. This is an interim deal that is easily revocable in six months if a comprehensive deal falls apart. Objecting to this deal now does nothing but erode your credibility for future moments of obstructionism if a comprehensive deal is negotiated.
Seriously, game this out. Let’s assume you implacably oppose the negotiations going forward. If the deal holds up – and before you laugh, consider that Netanyahu is now describing the much-derided-at-the-time Syria deal as a “model” to follow – then you’ve undermined your reputation before the really big negotiations start. So whatever justified opposition you might have to such a deal will be largely discredited. On the other hand, if the deal falls apart – and there’s a decent chance of that – then you’ll get blamed for obstructionism for reflexively opposing it from the get-go.
In the American Conservative, Daniel Larison says there’s no point in asking these guys to game this out:
Drezner may be right that Iran hawks would retain more credibility with everyone else if they held their fire for a later, comprehensive agreement, but among other Iran hawks they would lose credibility if they endorsed any deal with Iran. So they denounce the current deal, and they will denounce future agreements in the same terms, because they really are opposed to diplomatic engagement with Iran altogether. Besides, Iran hawks have raised the bar so high on what it means to be “tough” on Iran that they are stuck defending ludicrous positions that they were compelled to adopt to confirm their status as a hard-liner.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum generalizes from that:
The sad truth is that supporting the interim deal, even tentatively, is a lose-lose proposition for most Republican politicians these days. They don’t care about you or me or the Beltway consensus. They care about the base. And the base has no interest in seeing Satan make a deal with the devil.
We had to wait until Monday for that? Obama spent his Monday out here in California explaining things a different way:
Obama, who has long been criticized for his desire to engage with U.S. foes, took heat as a presidential candidate in 2008 for saying he would talk to Iran, which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington for more than three decades.
On Monday, however, he alluded to those foreign policy goals during remarks that were otherwise focused on immigration reform. He noted that he had ended the war in Iraq and would end the war in Afghanistan next year, two things he also pledged to do as a candidate.
“When I first ran for president I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of our engagement with the world,” he said during a visit to San Francisco.
“As president and as commander in chief, I’ve done what I said.”
Folks, you got what you voted for:
“Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict,” he said.
“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”
Sometimes it pays to say the obvious. Remember why you didn’t vote for John McCain? His singing Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran to that Beach Boys tune said it all. Others are singing that now, because if diplomacy doesn’t work, or if it’s scuttled, we will bomb Iran, if the Israelis don’t do it first, with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia. The opposition to this interim Iran deal, to see if there can be a real deal down the road, is mounting, as one would expect. People got back to work on Monday, as people do, but then the work people do on Monday mornings is usually pretty shoddy. Perhaps we should give this a few days. There must be some reason to oppose a tentative first step toward working things out with Iran, one that makes more sense later in the week – unless there’s no reason at all to oppose this. Sometimes you just want to forget Mondays entirely.