No American president was more determined to bury communism than Ronald Reagan. And yet no American president was more eager to negotiate and reach agreements with what he rightly called the Evil Empire than Ronald Reagan. As he noted in his autobiography, “I didn’t have much faith in communists or put much stock in their word. Still, it was dangerous to continue the East-West nuclear standoff forever, and I decided that if the Russians wouldn’t take the first step, I should.”
Claim #3: “Because Iran cannot be trusted.”
This is perhaps the opponents’ strongest claim. They rightfully point to Iran’s history of deception and obfuscation—its secret development of enrichment facilities, including one buried deep within a mountain; its possible clandestine nuclear-weapons research, about which it has never provided a full accounting; and its past attempts to deceive international inspectors about the true nature of its program. But instead of ruling out the possibility of a deal, this record of devious behavior underscores the need for specific provisions intended to reveal such deceptions.
Washington’s history with Moscow is again illustrative. The Soviet Union was not known for integrity in international relations. According to Lenin’s operational codes, it was the Soviet leader’s duty to deceive capitalists and outmaneuver them. True to character, Moscow cheated, for example, in placing radars in locations prohibited by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But in reviewing the history, it is hard to escape the conclusion that its cheating was marginal, not material. Where important, Washington discovered the cheating, called the Soviets out for it, and engaged in a process that produced compliance good enough to achieve U.S. objectives.
Claim #4: “Because Tehran is engaged in terrorism and military activities against the United States.”
Iran’s use of terrorism against Americans and their allies is well-documented. Iranian agents and proxies, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Shiite militias in Iraq, are directly responsible for killing American soldiers and those of our allies, such as Israel. It rightly pains Americans to negotiate with such an adversary. But the validity of Claim #4 as a reason not to strike a deal is undermined by the record. Where it has had overriding strategic imperatives, the U.S. government has demonstrated a capability to walk and chew gum at the same time. During the Vietnam War, for example, as Soviet-manned surface-to-air missiles were shooting down American pilots over Vietnam, and Americans were bombing Soviet air-defense units, President Richard Nixon negotiated and concluded the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), imposing quantitative limits on the U.S.-Soviet missile buildup. In Henry Kissinger's words, this created “a platform of coexistence.”