Neocon nightmare: Diplomacy with Iran

     Iran's president Hassan Rouhani arrives for an address to the nation after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday. A Monmouth University poll finds a majority of Americans surveyed are skeptical of the deal. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

    Iran's president Hassan Rouhani arrives for an address to the nation after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday. A Monmouth University poll finds a majority of Americans surveyed are skeptical of the deal. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

    When the news broke Saturday night that we had forged a six-month deal with archenemy Iran — we agreed to ease a few sanctions, they agreed to freeze key facets of their nuke program — I knew it was only a matter of milliseconds before the neoconservative warriors started banging their keyboards.

    And sure enough, the cascade poured forth: “Tonight, Americans saw how much damage a president with naive, misguided ideas can do to our nation’s security,” and “This is the face of retreat,” and, from Ari Fleischer, “The Iran deal and our allies — you can’t spell abandonment without OBAMA,” and from William Kristol, the predictable invocation of “Munich” (any time a western leader favors diplomacy over war, Kristol brings up Neville Chamberlain in 1938).

    It’s fun to watch the neocons weigh in at times like this — especially people like Fleischer and Kristol, who did high-profile PR for the disastrous Iraq war that has cost $2 trillion and climbing; that has killed more than 100,000 people; and (perhaps most importantly) has wound up strengthening Iran in the Middle East, because the post-Saddam Shiite regime is sympatico with Shiite Iran. Bottom line is, the warmongers who sucked us into Iraq have forfeited any and all claims to superior foreign policy wisdom. Even if they’re too shameless to admit it.

    But the Saturday night prize went to Texas GOP senator John Cornyn, who tweeted: “Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care.” Yes, folks, an historic attempt to lower the odds of war is really just a “distraction.” Kudos to Cornyn for pandering so deftly to the nutcase caucus back home; perhaps that will satisfy the tea partyers who are jonesing to primary him.

    God forbid we should crack the door ever so slightly and talk with our adversaries for the first time in 34 years. Apparently, the only thing the rabid right hates more than health care for all Americans is the notion of giving diplomacy a chance.

    Granted, this initial deal with Iran fails to usher in nirvana. Iran doesn’t have to destroy its 19,000 centrifuges or its uranium enrichment equipment — and in exchange for agreeing to freeze its nuke work for six months, it’ll get some relief from the sanctions that have long been crippling the economy. Plus, it’s not obligated to ink a more permanent pact down the road — and that might be difficult anyway. We don’t trust Iran, and its’ not even clear that Hassan Rouhani, the reformist Iranian president, or his foreign minister, have gotten the OK from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to unbuild the nuke program.

    But there’s a flip side. Engagement with Iran (which Obama endorsed during the ’08 campaign, prompting ridicule from Republicans and Hillary Clinton) has at least yielded some tangible progress, a tentative first step toward peace. For six months, at minimum, Iran’s nuke work can’t go forward. It won’t be making or installing new centrifuges, it won’t be enriching its uranium, it’s halting construction on a new plutonium reactor, and it has agreed to allow international inspectors to check things out on a daily basis at all facilities.

    And even though we’ve agreed to ease sanctions, the amount is relartively tiny – less than six percent of what we could do. According to western dealmakers, the relief is “limited, temporary, and reversible.” If Iran cheats on this initial deal, we turn off the spigot. (There’s currently some bipartisan noise in Congress for new sanctions, particularly from Democrats with sizable conservative Jewish constituencies, but lawmakers are likely to stand down for six months, to see whether Iran behaves.)

    Let’s see if this stuff can work. After all, we already know that an unilateral military strike (long contemplated by Israel, with noisome neocon cheerleading), is not likely to work. In fact, it would probably backfire. Middle East expert Jeffrey Goldberg says it better than I can: “It could very well destroy many of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it also could kill innocent people and legitimize the program. The sanctions regime would collapse following a strike, which still would not wipe out Iran’s nuclear knowledge base and could rally the country around the cause of full nuclearization.”

    Maybe the diplomatic route will utimately fail, who knows. But given the dearth of good alternatives, why not try engagement – which at least gives us access to the Iranians? The neocons who routinely jerk the knee for war should park the armchair machismo and give peace a chance.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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