A Plea for Intellectual Honesty

The Iran Deal is inked and the rhetorical guns are blazing.  Sides are being taken, fingers pointed, and names called.  Once again, meaningful debate and analysis is falling victim to ideological and partisan advocacy.

Rather than add fuel to this fire, I issue this plea for intellectual honesty.  The truth is that there is both merit and distortion in elements of the arguments of both sides of this debate. Let’s honestly consider both points of view.

From those who advocate rejection of the Deal, we hear heartfelt anguish that the lifting of sanctions will embolden Iran to take more aggressive steps to terrorize its enemies and expand its destabilizing influence in the region.  A strengthened and expansionist Iran may serve as a useful counterweight to dangerous Sunni factions and movements such as ISIS.  But left unchecked, the extremist elements within the Shiite theocracy governing Iran pose as much of a risk to peace and stability in the Middle East as do the murderous Sunni gangs which are on the rampage in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Gaza, and elsewhere.

From those advocating approval of the Deal, we hear a genuine plea that this deal, while not perfect, or even really a “good deal,” is the best deal we can ever get from Iran, and is preferable to no deal.  It is very hard to judge the strength of this claim. Only those with access to live intelligence about Iran’s capacities, goals and ambitions know whether the alternative to this deal is, in actuality, war, or whether further pressure on Iran can produce a better deal.  Apparently, based on statements emanating from knowledgeable sources within the governments of the U.S., Israel and the Sunni Arab countries, such intelligence is conflicting or ambiguous.  Neither I, nor any of the many civilian critics of the Deal, has better access to information about Iran than do the professionals in these governments.

In debating these vital issues, let’s avoid false dichotomies.

Partisan advocates for the deal, including President Obama, insist on characterizing the Deal as a “good” deal, one that will “guarantee” that Iran does not have a path to a nuclear weapon.  This view holds that there is no alternative to the Deal other than war.

Partisan opponents characterize the Deal as “Chamberlain-esque” appeasement, grounded in naïveté rather than cold-eyed realism.  Partisans of this view assert that support for the Deal means capitulation to Iran and its hegemonic ambitions, and abandonment of America’s Arab and Israeli allies.

These are false choices.

While the Deal apparently delays Iran’s progress toward nuclear weaponization, it certainly cannot be said to “prevent” or “stop” such progress as the President asserts.  The restrictions are time-limited, and Iran can delay and place roadblocks in front of inspectors.  The Clinton administration made similar claims about its agreement with North Korea, but we now know that this agreement did not prevent North Korea from continuing its progress toward nuclear weapon development, nor did it restrain its continued aggression toward its neighbors and the West.

It is simply disingenuous to represent this agreement with Iran as a great victory. It isn’t.  It delays and puts a few roadblocks in Iran’s way, and allows greater access to the IAEA than before. These are real achievements. But these measures are certainly no guaranty that Iran won’t cheat and go the way of North Korea.

On the other hand, those who oppose the Deal overstate their case as well. The current sanctions are no panacea. Iran has proven that it is capable of advancing its nuclear agenda, while effectively arming and funding its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Sinai and Yemen and using them to sow conflict, notwithstanding the current sanctions regime.  In fact Iran’s efforts to antagonize the U.S. and its allies are probably, in part, intended to serve as a club to extract sanctions relief.  The goal of providing Iran with an incentive to engage constructively with the West rather than continue its destabilizing activities has merit, even if the strategy is not guaranteed to succeed. Based on its current statements and actions, no honest analyst of the situation can expect that Iran will now pursue a peaceful policy of engagement with Israel and the Sunni world. But it makes sense to create incentives for it to do so.

In the final analysis, while it might in fact be preferable to no deal at all, the Deal clearly has many flaws and is far from President Obama’s lofty vision.

The fact that it is opposed by 90% of the Israeli voting public, from across that country’s very robust political spectrum, should give us all pause.  If and when Iranian missiles start to fly, it will be the Israelis’ and America’s other allies in the region whose children will be cowering in bomb shelters and whose young men and women will be on the front lines.

This truth, perhaps more than any other, drives the passion on both sides of the issue.  How best to avoid that nightmare scenario is what this debate is ultimately about. Let’s debate this difficult issue robustly, but let’s also try to leave the partisan politics and ideological blinders out of it.

About the Author
Jon Parritz is a partner in the Minneapolis law firm, Maslon LLP, and is a past President of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul. He attended Brandeis University where he studied Politics and Near Eastern & Judaic Studies. He is also an alumnus of the Machon L'Madrichei Chutz L'Aretz, the Institute for International Leadership in Jerusalem. Jon grew up in Newton, Massachusetts,and now lives in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, with his wife Robin, where they raised three wonderful sons, Ari, Adam & Jesse.
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