“Obama and the haters are at it again” is quite possibly the way the President frames the current carnage between Obama and his supporters on one end, with Republicans and a few key Democratic players in another.
This latest carnage is centered on how President Obama is conducting his negotiations with Iran. One side proclaims that the President is not wisely negotiating, and that this failure is all the more dangerous as he wishes to bypass the Senate which usually votes on such matters of importance that happen to smell like a treaty, and sound like one too. The other side is proclaiming that this criticism undermines the President and his constitutionally granted right to determine foreign policy.
Yet all the while, the Ayatollah of Iran has seemed to wrap his head around a tenant of negotiation that has scarcely been uttered here at home.
Tonight I was reminded that the Iranians plan on having a referendum on any deal struck with the West. Even though it is hard to even pretend that such a vote would not be guided by the Revolutionary Guard, that’s beside the point. Such a referendum gives the Ayatollah an “out.” By way of this referendum, the leadership of Iran can decide to turn down any deal they wish to, and for any reason, and still be able to save face with most of the West by blaming the referendum, and then hide behind this single manifestation of theatric democracy. And it is no real worry to the Ayatollah that any deal will pass a referendum if the leadership does not wish it to.
Likewise, we should utilize the same technique with regard to our stance in the negotiations. “Petty” Constitutional arguments regarding Congress’ role on such matters aside, it gives us an even greater edge in the negotiations than it could possibly ever do for the Iranians.
President Obama has spent much time since his speech in Cairo garnering the favor of the Muslim world. He likely believes he is rectifying a large-scale injustice by doing so. Further, not only does he seem to believe that he has acquired some meaningful goodwill even from those that consider us enemies, but perhaps his being the only POTUS ever to be accused of being a secret Muslim lands him in a unique situation whereby he can heal the rift and mistrust between the Muslim world and the West.
If the above scenario is anywhere near reality, logic would dictate that he insist on congressional approval for any Iran deal. After all, here he can have a scenario where the he gets to appear sympathetic to the narrative of Iran in the hope of garnering good faith from the Iranians, and if he decides the deal is bad, still save face by blaming congress for slamming down the treaty.
This leads us to a poignant question.
Why does this last episode, and other behavior by Obama lead many, many people to believe that he wants this accord more than Iran?
Netanyahu correctly stated that Iran needs this agreement more than the United States does. Yet, it seems that the President of this nation does in fact want it even more.
The fact of the matter is, that when the people of this nation elected Obama twice in the wake of Bush’s foreign policy failures, they also added an oral tradition to the constitution that stated “THOU SHALT START NO WAR” with an addendum “well if you really have to, limit it, and above all else: CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE.”
And so it seems that President cannot allow himself to leave this office having started a war…. And if our children are jeopardized as a result, well that’s for the next President to sort out.
There was one other notable time in History when a group of people were inspired by the creed “NO WAR, no matter what the costs” and the notion that war itself, not any entity or ideology, is the ultimate evil of this Earth. The most notable and eloquent adherents to this creed were found in France following the First World War. Many of these philosophers served in the War and that experience drove all they did following that war.
Unfortunately, despite this distaste for violence, many of these pacifists found themselves aiding the Vichy Regime and Nazi forces in the Second World War; which included participation in the Nazi’s policy towards the Jews. For these men, even capitulating to a brutal regime was worth it as a sacrifice to avoid bloodshed resisting the Germans. It must be said that a few members of this school of philosophy aided the resistance movement (in mostly nonviolent ways).
With further irony, many of those that collaborated with the Vichy government were later found at the helm of the Holocaust denial movement. They helped establish a legacy, with the aid of some from the far-Right, that was in a matter of decades able to overcome basic understandings regarding what is acceptable treatment of Jews in academia (these understandings were establishes following the shock the world felt as details regarding the Shoah emerged).
And so here again, we seem to have men of ideals that are good and decent, possibly leading us down a path towards bloodshed in the name of those very ideals.
And while I at first wanted to end this blogpost with the above sentiment, it seems there are a few more things worth considering regarding Obama’s approach to Iran. Recently, Professor Herf of the University of Maryland wrote an eloquent piece on his take of Netanyahu’s speech to congress (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/nothing-new-in-netanyahus-speech/). In this blog there was a particle point that stood out for me:
“Too many American foreign policy experts have a very difficult time taking ideological motivations of adversaries with the seriousness they merit. Too many are tone deaf regarding the causal importance of the ideas of others. The lure of the deal, the belief that everyone has their price and that “interests” always trump ideology, are ingrained in the training of many lawyers who are subsequently become involved in making foreign policy.”
It seems clear to me that our President falls into this category. Obama believes he is being pragmatic with Iran in two ways. First, he is being pragmatic about his presidential legacy and how Iran plays into it. Both Iran and ISIS are distractions from what he really wishes to accomplish with the remainder of his term. Much of these goals are about social and economic change here at home, and certainly not about confronting Muslim regimes, especially if such a confrontation leads to further conflict (as unavoidable as it may be down the road). In light of this, it does make sense for him to do just enough, while avoiding letting these items completely occupy his agenda. Let the next president worry about such things.
Second, he believes that positive incentives are the key to reaching an understanding with Iran in what Professor Herf rightly describes as a lawyerly approach. But this “pragmatism” fails to grasp what a nuclear status means for Iran, even without taking its radical ideology into account. For the Iranian leadership, having the bomb is an insurance policy. Maybe not so much insulating it from pressures from within, but definitely providing insulation from those without that wish to bring about a regime change. One must remember that the Iranian leadership is insecure, and all too aware of how close it came in 2009-2011 to a revolution that could have led to a movement with the ability to overthrown them. They know they cannot simply really on another Unites States President that will allow themselves to not capitalize on such opportunities in the future. Thus, even if you ignore their ideology, one would have to promise their leadership quit a lot for the Iranians to truly give up their drive to nuclear weapons. In essence, we would be promising a degree of legitimacy and security for the Iranian regime that would allow it to remain in power for decades longer than need be, with all the ensuing consequences.
Thus we arrive at the role of sanctions. While they have played a positive role and I have been a supporter of them, they are not enough. As of now, they have only accomplished the fact that Iranians are negotiating with the West. Yet no one should be under the allusion that these negotiations are anything but a smokescreen that in the current form stands no chance of yielding positive results. In essence, these sanctions are only punishing the masses in Iran at this juncture. Yet they can do so much more. Sanctions should only be considered a success if they are so strict as to make the leadership of Iran seriously believe that they are on the brink of losing power. If you believe otherwise, you are not even close to accurately evaluating what a nuclear arsenal truly means for the regime.