Obama and Iran: The upside of talking to adversaries

     President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 2, 2015, about the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear talks. The president said the Iran nuclear deal _ if completed_ will make US, allies and the world safer. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

    President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 2, 2015, about the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear talks. The president said the Iran nuclear deal _ if completed_ will make US, allies and the world safer. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

    The president was talking to America’s enemy, extending his hand in the interests of peace, and the war hawks were going nuts. One conservative leader assailed ” a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout.” Another conservative leader denounced the president as “a useful idiot for (enemy) propaganda.” A top conservative columnist lamented the president’s “moral disarmament.”

    The year was 1987, and the president under fire was Ronald Reagan.

    Point is, Reagan was savaged for negotiating arms reductions with the Soviet Union – just like another Republican, Richard Nixon, took heat from the hawks when he broke bread with the Chinese commies in ’72. And just like candidate Barack Obama got hammered in ’07 when he reiterated the American principle of engaging one’s enemies; and again in ’09, when he signaled to our enemies, in his Inaugural address, that he’d “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

    And now we’re seeing that principle in action. Granted, our “comprehensive general understanding” with Iran – an historic first step toward a deal that would curb the nation’s ability to build nukes – is still a work in progress. Many details need to be resolved. But we’ve already extracted more concessions from Iran, via diplomacy, than the warmongers could ever have gotten by rattling sabers.

    Among the terms that are far more specific than expected:  Iran agrees to cut its uranium-enriching centrifuges by nearly 75 percent for the next 10 years; to convert a giant enrichment site to peaceful purposes (including the production of medical isotopes); to provide access to foreign scientists; to submit to ongoing international inspections; and to produce so little fissile material that even if Iran seems on track to build one bomb – what our negotiators call “a breakout” – America and its allies will have a full year to initiate a crackdown.

    Foreign policy scholar Kori Schake – a Republican affiliated with the conservative Hoover Institution think tank, and a self-described “frequent critic of this White House” – says it best: “The inspection provisions would dramatically increase the United States’ ability to know what is happening in Iran’s nuclear programs….(Congress) should support this deal….An agreement based on the principles outlined today significantly slows Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, and dramatically increases the probability that the United States will be able to detect a breakout toward one.”

    Naturally, the neoconservative hawks are chewing the carpet – terminally wrong Bill Kristol is fuming again about Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler – but, lest we forget, these are the same characters who suckered us into Iraq on false premises, costing us trillions in blood and budget, and strengthening Iran in the Middle East (because the post-Saddam Shiite regime is sympatico with Shiite Iran). Bottom line is, the war lusters have forfeited all claims to foreign policy wisdom, and their knee-jerk bleating about Obama looks particularly tired today.

    Could this deal fall apart in the end? Sure. But talking with the enemy at least gives us the chance to write a new chapter in international relations. Let’s see if the Nixon-Reagan principle can work again.

    All the more reason why we should lower our voices between now and the June 30 deadline. As Harry Reid said yesterday, “we should all take a deep breath, examine the details, and give this critically important process time to play out.”

    That won’t happen – GOP aspirant Scott Walker, drawing on his natural security experience fighting unionized American workers, said this week that if he becomes president, he’ll cancel any deal with Iran – but hey, at least it doesn’t appear that Tom Cotton is writing another letter.

    So maybe we can navigate this propitious phase of negotiations with some semblance of civility. And as Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg famously urged his colleagues nearly 70 years ago, “To me, ‘bipartisan foreign policy’ means a mutual effort, under our indispensable, two-party system, to unite our official voice at the water’s edge.”

    Politics stopping at the water’s edge…what a concept.

     

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.