Jon Parritz

Searching for Truth In the Fog of War

One of my teachers once said that the surest sign of a lie is whether it claims to be the Absolute Truth. I am reminded of this as I read through my Facebook feed, which is starting to look like a war zone. Truly a “War of Words.” It is hard to find the Truth in the fog of war.

These mostly well-meaning posts are focused on the U.S.-Iran negotiations and the so-called “rift” between Israel and the United States. They are written by friends, valued colleagues, and noted experts. They present passionate, and often-times diametrically opposed, versions of what the writer sees as the “Truth.”

Ideas are often expressed in uncompromising and absolute terms which overlook the inherent complexity and nuance of the issues. Some views seem to be formed in a knee-jerk fashion to conform to some fixed ideological perspective. People are asked to “take sides,” and opponents are viewed as deluded or naive. Opposing views are assigned to an ideological silo and ignored or forgotten. “Political correctness” abounds. Much heat, little light. All the posturing and finger-pointing exhausts and dispirits me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not espousing a belief in moral relativism. I believe there is something called the Truth. I just don’t know for sure, especially when it comes to multi-dimensional issues like Iran, that I know exactly what the Truth is. And I am pretty sure that some of the views I hear from others are not the Truth.

My own views resist categorization. Those who like to engage in pigeon-holing might label some of my ideas as left-of-center, while other ideas might get slotted into a right-of-center box. I think most of my views fall squarely within the Center on the continuum of opinion.

I offer some of these ideas for your consideration. I don’t think any are particularly original. I offer them here simply as an example how it is possible, indeed natural, for one’s opinions on various aspects of a complex geo-political situation to escape rigid ideological boundaries. Here goes:

It Not Just About Israel: Iran is a Global Threat.A nuclear Iran would severely upset the balance of power in the Middle East and would further embolden Iran to increase its efforts to destabilize Sunni countries and moderate Arab regimes, and antagonize Israel. With its hateful rhetoric, totalitarian and intolerant political system, and its active support of extremist terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran poses a mortal danger to Israel and the West which goes well beyond its ambition to secure a nuclear weapon. Iran already has tested regional ballistic missile systems which can strike not only its Arab and regional adversaries, but European targets as well. It is also seeking to develop intercontinental missile systems which would endanger the US homeland. US diplomatic efforts need to address the wider dangers which Iran poses, not only the dangers posed by its nuclear program.

Diplomacy is Better Than War. The current US effort to negotiate with Iran is worthwhile. A military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, whether by Israel or the United States, would lead to horrific death and destruction. Countless innocent lives would be lost within Iran. Iran would aim its inevitable retaliation not only at Israel, but at other targets in the Middle East and Europe, and even in the United States. A good deal with Iran, one which offers limited sanctions relief in exchange for tangible and verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear capacity, and which maintains the ability to re-impose sanctions if necessary, even if the deal is not as robust as we would like, is better than no deal at all.

Netanyahu and Obama Are Both Sincere. Benjamin Netanyahu, as Prime Minister of Israel, says that a weak deal will leave Iran in a more powerful, secure position, and therefore diminish, not improve, the safety and security of Israel, and other moderate players in the Middle East. President Obama and his team apparently believe that a negotiated settlement with Iran, even one which only constrains but does not eliminate or unwind Iran’s nuclear program, is preferable to a military attack and continuation of the status quo. I accept the sincerity of both of these positions.

The Speech” Was a Bad Idea. It is a travesty that Netanyahu’s speech to Congress became a partisan event, rather than an opportunity to air legitimate concerns about something of great concern to Israel, moderate regimes in the Middle East, Europe and the US. Netanyahu was rightfully enthusiastic when Boehner offered him the opportunity to present his views to a joint session of the United States Congress. But Netanyahu’s government’s handling of the invitation was abysmal. The affair caused unprecedented strain in what has been a remarkably strong bi-partisan relationship between Israel and the U.S. If Netanyahu’s message was truly nonpolitical, the Speech should have included Netanyahu’s leading Israeli political opponent, Isaac Herzog, in a joint address to Congress, since Herzog shares many if not all of Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran. A joint address would have avoided the appearance of political motivation, and would have defused, even if not entirely eliminated, President Obama’s opposition.

Boycotting “The Speech” Was Even Worse. There was no reason for any Congressman or White House representative to boycott The Speech. President Obama was understandably peeved at having to deal with it in the middle of tense negotiations with Iran. As a litigator who has handled more than a few high-stakes negotiations, I can say that no one involved welcomes interference from third parties. The President and Congressional Democrats were rightfully displeased by the way in which the Speech was handled, and by Netanyahu’s decision to decline an invitation to address Congressional Democrats separately.

Even so, boycotting the Speech was the wrong message to send. At a time when Israel faces tenacious enemies seeking to isolate and delegitimize it by promoting a hateful worldwide campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (“BDS”), a decision to boycott Netanyahu’s speech was particularly hurtful.

Both Israel and the US Have A Role To Play. When one takes a bird’s eye view, it is clear that both Netanyahu and Obama are each playing critical roles in dealing with Iran. It seems to me that this is a classic “good cop, bad cop” routine. If Netanyahu’s “bad cop” advocacy efforts force Iran to accept more restrictions and lead to a better deal, then short-term tension and strife between Israel and the White House is a worthwhile price to pay.

I hope, and expect, that this piece will engender further conversation and commentary. I suspect that my views may both please and displease partisans of a variety of ideological camps. I’m OK with that. I hope you are too. Let’s just stop shouting and start listening to each other instead. Maybe that way, the Truth can start to emerge from the fog.

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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