B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

What divide? Handel and Ossoff largely converge on Middle East strategy

The 6th District race continues to intensify.  A recent poll shows Jon Ossoff in the lead.  Some Handel supporters have gone off the rails, committing the crimes of stealing and destroying Ossoff signs on private property.  (No doubt bad stuff is happening on both sides to some extent, but the reported sign stealing seems targeted toward Ossoff.)  Some 6th district residents feel harassed by canvassing and phone calls from Ossoff and Ossoff-leaning groups.

Handel supporters found a hot button to push after Ossoff’s and Handel’s recent (and rare!) joint appearance at a Jewish War Veterans gathering.  No surprise – it’s the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

While the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and others debriefed the Jewish War Veterans event, AJT’s coverage of it was unique in that it positioned the Iran issue as meriting a separate headline, “Iran Deal Divides Ossoff, Handel.”  The singling out of this issue illustrates what we all know–that this deal is an important and sensitive subject in our community.

In response to this resurrected talking point, I urge all Iran deal opponents to check their understandable knee-jerk emotional reaction.  I’ve already argued that Israel doesn’t justify party-line Republican voting (though you may have other reasons for party-line voting, which I do not quibble with).  But for those who aren’t entirely attached to your party lines, you can oppose the Iran deal strongly and support Jon Ossoff without compromising any of your principles.

The headline “Iran Deal Divides Ossoff, Handel,” while accurate on a surface level (Ossoff “supports” and Handel “opposes”), fails to paint the full picture. Symbolic “support for” or “opposition to” the Iran deal at this moment in time is just that–symbolism.  As we cannot change the past, we should look first and foremost to any “divide” in the candidates’ proposed approach to Iran if they are elected.  There’s no material difference there.  Ossoff addressed this quite directly, saying that he wants to monitor Iran very closely and hammer it with sanctions at any failure to comply with the deal’s terms, a position with which Karen Handel surely agrees. Handel’s additional criticism was simply “this was a bad deal,” without expressly articulating a path forward.  The GOP handled Obamacare repeal the same way, and the current status of healthcare is completely uncertain–a result that benefits no one.

Nor can we conclude that future “intent to withdraw from Iran deal” presents an impasse. Ossoff has said he would oppose efforts to withdraw from the deal.  Any oblique implication that Handel would make such efforts, though, is as Mary Poppins says, a “pie crust promise” on her part. Withdrawal from the Iran deal is low on the GOP’s list of initiatives, and Handel has never suggested in any manner that she would even so much as tiptoe outside the GOP agenda and priorities.  And unlike a “repeal” of Obamacare, the GOP Congress she’s walking into cannot take effective unilateral action beyond a resolution of disapproval.  Trump, who presumably could take such action, has quietly delayed a decision on it, with many experts on both sides suggesting that regardless of whether they supported it at the time, withdrawal would make the situation more dangerous now.

It’s easy to get up on a soapbox and say “this thing that already happened is bad.”  But Obamacare repeal has taught us a lesson about the destructiveness and chaos that comes from pummeling the shortcomings of enacted policy absent a clear forward-thinking strategy.  And in answer to the real question “what do we do about Iran now?” nothing suggests that Handel and Ossoff would do much differently from one another.

The truth is that for all their “divides,” Handel and Ossoff aren’t that far apart on Middle East policy, Iran or otherwise.  The above-cited AJT Iran article includes tidbits on Ossoff’s positions regarding other issues affecting the region, but omits a side-by-side comparison with Handel’s.  Instead, AJT elaborates on Handel’s Middle East positions in a separate article entitled “Ossoff Warns of N. Korea; Handel Pushes Tax Cuts.” (Digression: in my view, tax cuts and North Korea are a relatively minor portion of this piece.)

Let’s break down some additional knowledge we’ve gained from the recent event:

  • Handel supports legislation to end U.S. funding of the Palestinian government if they do not stop providing stipends to families of convicted murderers and terrorists.  Ossoff said he supported the concept behind this legislation but wanted to study the legislation itself before committing.
  • Ossoff stated that Trump’s spontaneous leak of sensitive Israeli intelligence put intelligence-sharing relationships at risk and supports a closed Congressional session to investigate it.  Handel was less specific, but did not really contradict Ossoff.  She chastised the media tentatively, saying she wanted to “let the process play out,” of the special counsel investigation and “House and Senate.”  But other than the gratuitous-but-conditional dig on the media, these positions are fundamentally aligned.
  • Ossoff supports strong military action in the Middle East, including in particular if Iran ever violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, but opposes sending ground troops, citing the widely-denounced Iraq and Afghanistan initiatives.  He instead supports airstrikes and limited special operations deployment.  Handel never articulated a strategy that diverged from this one, though her apparent silence on ground troops could be interpreted to mean she may be less likely than Ossoff to foreclose that option.

I was not at the event, so of course I’m doing a bit of extrapolating here–but my attempts to dig through the spin to what the candidates have promised to do in Congress reveals virtually identical positions on the Middle East.  It may be the only thing on which they concur…but that’s a different topic.

6th voters, take heart!  When it comes to the Middle East, anyone willing to take a sometimes-difficult leap of faith to move beyond reflexive partisanship can be happy with either of these candidates (or equally unhappy with both).

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.