A Reader Condemns the Iran Deal—and Other Readers Respond

If Iran really threatens nuclear Holocaust, one asks, why aren’t opponents of the agreement demanding all-out war to stop it?

A rally against the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square (Mike Segar / Reuters)

On Monday I mentioned again that I hope the U.S. Congress does not manage to block the Iran deal. For more on the reasons why, consider this new letter from three dozen retired U.S. flag officers arguing that the deal makes sense from a military perspective. They join the 100-plus former U.S. ambassadors, the 60-plus former senior U.S. national-security officials, the 29 physicists from America’s nuclear-weapons programs, and the five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and three former U.S. undersecretaries of state who have all recommended the agreement. [Update: plus the head of an organization set up to oppose the deal, who after studying its terms now recommends it.]

Obviously diplomatic judgments are not simple numbers games, and experts can be wrong. But think for a moment how this deal’s prospects would look if comparably experienced and bi- or non-partisan groups kept emerging to warn against it—rather than emerging to recommend it, as they have done.

In that post on Monday I also quoted a letter from a reader named Betsy that was representative of the anti-deal mail I get round the clock. I’m about to disappear from online life for a week or so to finish writing an article for the magazine. Before I go, three letters with three perspectives on Betsy’s letter.

First, from a tech-world veteran who is now a government contractor in the D.C. area. He does not at all like the fact that I quoted this letter:

So you’re back to the distasteful tactic of snidely poking fun at the great unwashed; poor deluded Betsy with her rabble rhetoric, her unpolished grammar, her ad hominem “Dumbama” (one still sees the equivalent regularly tossed at a president who left office seven years ago).

Put me down as someone with a stellar education and princely command of the King’s English who stands with Betsy on this topic, and finds her grasp of international reality superior to yours on the issue at hand—no matter your months-long drumbeat, all of which I’ve read.

Let me ask you a question on the “tone” of the argument: Why were your editors unable to find a photo of the President’s inane construction, i.e. “those hard-liners chanting ‘death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.” No, your photo (unsurprisingly) shows support from the chanting mob for the Leaders and the deal—and the President is being rhetorically dishonest to discredit those who disagree with him. It is of a piece with your sneering at lowly Betsy (“You’ll have to trust me that the note below is representative in tone...”). [JF note: This was to explain why the letter was not some outlier specimen.]

Thanks for quoting Betsy at length; she wins this round of Buckley/Vidal debate.

I told this person that I would be happy to quote him—if he would include an answer to one question. That question was: What’s your alternative?

He replied:

My real-world alternative: fall back to our own sanctions, in fact impose tougher oneseasy to pass through Congress todayand begin again strong diplomacy among EU states to reinstate their own. They only gave theirs up because the US Administration signaled its own direction; that’s the dynamic and the burden of US leadership. 

Will Russia and China go along? Certainly not at first, but within time they will, under robust pressure from the US. That coupled with aggressive US cyber activity to retard or halt Iranian research and development towards a weaponwhich we have regrettably foresworn lately.

I wrote back to thank him but to say that this scenario—Europeans and eventually Russia and China coming around to a demand for newer, tougher sanctions—was one I’d looked into. Based on everything I’ve learned, this was a hope, not a plan. He replied:

Hope = the lifeblood of diplomacy.

As always, judge for yourself.

* * *

Now a different reaction to Betsy from another government contractor, an engineer who works on Defense Department programs. He writes:

When I read your post which included Betsy’s email last night, and you asked us to judge her arguments for ourselves, my initial thought after reading it was Betsy’s email didn’t include any arguments. Her jeremiad was simply reflexive, orthogonal opposition to President Obama. ...

She makes no effort to mask her contempt for the president (“Dumbama”). At the same time, she doesn’t have the self awareness to recognize the many flaws in her thinking. Case in point:

“They are playing the west and buying time—just like Hitler. … The only peace Iran will have is when it establishes a Muslim caliphate akin to the glory days of Muslims years and years ago. They will have peace when Israel is destroyed and they attack the west—especially America.”

This reflects she has not and will not read the JCPOA, it reflects that she buys into what Daniel Larison calls the “martyr-state myth” (Iran’s need for self preservation is overcome by their desire to destroy Israel and the West at the cost of their own lives), and it disregards the fact that Iran does not have the economic or military firepower to become the region’s hegemon, even when sanctions are lifted. ...

Sadly, Betsy’s email is, as you’ve noted, representative of the sort of thinking that’s prevalent in the modern GOP base. ...

So it doesn’t matter who supports this agreement or what their qualifications are. If Freeman Dyson supports it, for example [JF note: as he does, like the other people mentioned in this paragraph], the base will blow it off with a comment like, “Obama threw research funding his way.” If Brent Scowcroft or Dick Lugar support it, the base will dismiss them as RINOs. An expert like Jessica Mathews will be dismissed by the base as a “lib/progressive/dem”. ...

It doesn’t matter that if Congress somehow scuttles the agreement Iran will have enough enriched uranium to build 10 to 12 weapons, because the base believes that’s a preferable result than Iran giving up 98% of that uranium. For the modern GOP base, it’s them—the Real Americans—versus Everyone Else in a Manichean struggle. ...

What’s most troubling to me is the constant demonization of the president. I’m still shocked after 6+ years that any sentient, self-aware adult believes it’s funny to butcher his name (“Dumbama”, “Obummer”, “0bama”, “Dingle Barry” to name just a few examples).  

This sort of epistemic closure precludes them from recognizing that Obama has essentially governed as a small c conservative. ... And the reason why Betsy and others of her tribe are reduced to name calling is because they’ve got nothing else. When you ask opponents of the JCPOA to come up with a “better, real world” alternative, they simply don’t have one.

* * *

Finally for today, a reader in California says that the deal’s opponents should take their view of Iran to its logical conclusion:

You’ll notice that these critiques tend to focus on the intractable evil which they believe the Iranian government embodies, and the soft-headedness of deal supporters who can’t see it. When the deal itself is engaged they will insist on a “tougher” deal, a more stringent inspections regime, or to do away with negotiations altogether and to continue to “cripple” the mullahs with further sanctions.    

But something doesn’t add up here. If in fact Iran’s leaders are Nazis reborn in the Middle East, if a nuclear Iran means an inevitable nuclear Holocaust, then even the slightest risk of them getting the bomb is unacceptable. Yet, there is no diplomatic or economic hardball which can be conceived of which entirely erases that risk.   

Only an obliterative war, invasion, occupation and comprehensive conquering of every square inch of Iran can entirely, absolutely, completely eliminate the possibility of Iran getting the bomb. Yet, one rarely hears even the most hawkish anti-Iran people push for such action.  

So the question must be asked, “Why not? Why not scream for, devote your every waking moment towards demanding a comprehensive war on Iran now—at any cost? We’re trying to avoid a nuclear holocaust, right?” (If in fact I believed the same, I’d chain myself to the doors of the Pentagon until we began military action.)

To state that “2015 Iran is 1939 Germany” without demanding war is disingenuous. It’s time to start calling out these hysterics on their rhetoric. Either these folks need to reassess the nature of Iran’s regime, or adjust themselves to the imperfections and risks of diplomacy.