Michael Hilkowitz

How Do I Know If This Deal Is Good Or Bad?

I find myself flummoxed. It’s a feeling I have had since all this debate surrounding the negotiations between the International Community and Iran over its nuclear program began. Every leader, politician, talking head and man on the street has a view on the deal. Everyone seems to believe 100% in the correctness of their view. Most of these views are polar opposites of each other. I wonder constantly about how all these people have come to their views. I find myself flummoxed.

I have always considered myself a savvy consumer of news. I try to get as many divergent arguments and view points as possible from as many different sources as I can. I am just as likely to be reading Haaretz as I am to be reading Arutz Sheva. Just as likely to be reading the New York Times as the Wall Street Journal. I search for news from all over. Dailies, Weeklies, Quarterlies, and the web, no source is off limits. I don’t agree with everything I read, in fact I don’t agree with most things I read. But this is the way I make sure I am getting the most information I can.

I have searched and looked and looked and searched. I have found opinion after opinion from world leaders and experts from the fields of diplomacy, intelligence, and defense. What I haven’t found is any actual, verifiable facts. Where are the nuclear engineers and physicists? Where are the former IAEA inspectors? Where are the scientific and technical experts? How are all these people, these people we depend on to drive the debate and set policy, coming to their opinions? I would imagine people like Obama and Netanyahu have experts whose advice they are relying on. I would hope… but what about the news media? If they are getting expert opinions, why aren’t we, the public, hearing these voices?

The Press (with a capital P) has special rights in our society for a reason. They are supposed to enable us to fulfill our responsibility as proper citizens by giving us the information we need to evaluate what our governments are doing. They are supposed to be giving us the information we need to play our proper role of deciding whether our leaders are doing the right things. I want more than just David Horowitz giving me his opinion that this is a bad deal. I want facts and figures that will allow me, as a rational, thinking citizen to come up with my own opinion, so that I don’t have to just puppet the reaction of the politicians that I most closely agree with. How can I come to a rational responsible opinion regarding the Iran Framework deal if I don’t know anything about Nuclear Science? This is where the media is supposed to come in, it is the fundamental role that the Press plays in Western Societies. The role of light-bringer and truth-teller. The Press is given protected status in the West because of this role they are supposed to be playing. This role is so sacrosanct that it is enshrined in the very first article of the Bill of Rights, in the United States Constitution, that no law shall infringe on the freedom of the Press.

But what is the Press giving us in the current the analysis of the Iran Framework deal? I have read the Framework deal and feel no closed to an opinion than I was before. Why? Because the Press has done a lousy job.

From the text of the deal as published in TOI:

“Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.”

Ok, that’s all well and good I guess, but what does it mean? What is the difference in the time it takes to enrich enough uranium to build a bomb with 19,000 centrifuges or with 6000? What is the difference in this case between a first and second or third generation Iranian centrifuge? How does this affect “break-out time?” How do we know if this is good or bad without solid scientific data to evaluate it?

Also from the text of the deal, on the Arak facility:

“The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.”

So what is the difference between this and shutting down the reactor? How does it affect the deal? Do we know? I think not unless, we are nuclear scientists. Where are the nuclear scientists the Press should be parading in front of us to explain? Nowhere to be seen.

These are just two examples from the text of the deal, but I had the same feelings reading the whole deal. I was ill-equipped, as a normal citizen, to evaluate the terms of this bill, to decide if it is a good deal or a bad deal. I think most people are. I think most people out there, shouting their opinion from the rooftops,if this is good or bad really have no idea. I think the crux of people’s opinions on this deal come from whether they like Obama or Netanyahu more and good lord, that shouldn’t be the way we decide on matters of such importance.

I guess this is the world we are in today, with true journalist ethics thrown to the side by the media. We can no longer expect the media to give us anymore than politicians parroted views any longer. We definitely can’t expect them to give us the experts we need to evaluate our leaders’ claims. I don’t want to just depend on the voice of the politician that I like the most. Everyone is wrong sometimes and even with leaders I like, I need to be able to call them out when they are wrong. This is my duty as a citizen. How can I do my duty as a citizen if the Press won’t do theirs?

But at the end of the day, I think the thing that is flummoxing me most is where all of these people who are so convinced of the rightness of their opinion are getting that confidence. How are we so sure of things when we have nothing to base it on?





Author’s note: This post came from a Facebook post of mine. In the resulting discussion a website was given to me. This site aims to “explain” the news. Look for yourself and decide, but it is not giving me the kind of statistical, data driven information I am looking for. Vox is doing something different to make news more accessible, and I urge you all to give it a look. As well, I urge everyone to read as much as you can on fact checking sites. Make sure what people say is the truth, whether you like them or not.

~A fool thinks he has the answers, a wise man knows to ask questions.

About the Author
Michael Hilkowitz holds degrees in History and Secondary Education from Temple University and is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for International Affairs. He is currently a Masters student in Security and Diplomacy Studies at Tel Aviv University. Living in Israel since 2012, he formerly served as the Chief Content Office for The Israel Innovation Fund, a 501.c.3 working to promote Israeli culture, art, and humanities innovation abroad.
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