Lately, US President Barack Obama has been hard at work defending the nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as the deal that resulted from them – hitting back at critics at home and abroad who have accused him of historical blindness and naiveté.
Obama spoke in “historic terms”. As he pointed out in his speech this week on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, previous US presidents, such as John F. Kennedy, pursued risky diplomatic moves that ended up making history – and, in the case of the Cuban missile crisis, even averting war.
Is it Iran’s turn now? Can Tehran really be swayed by “hard, painstaking diplomacy, not saber rattling, not tough talk,” to cite Obama? Will the agreement signed in Vienna endure and be remembered as a breakthrough. Or is it, perhaps, a little too early to conclude that “the critics were wrong” and dismiss those opposed to the deal as mere “armchair nuclear scientists”? (Time Magazine, incidentally, compared the possibility of a failed nuclear deal not to the START treaty, but to Versailles.)
Others, like Reuel Gerecht, former Iranian Targets Officer in the CIA, in the Wall Street Journal, claimed that “History” contradicts the dream of Iranian moderation.
In his speech, Obama downplayed Iran’s regional ambitions, predicting that Iran simply “will remain a regional power” (and terror sponsor) rather than gain more control over the Middle East, and that the deal will also “help us effectively confront the immediate and lethal threat posed by ISIL.” But it would seem that as soon as Obama said the words, the critics were at his doorstep again, ready to point out the weaknesses of his argument – Walter Russel Mead, for instance, in his written testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, as reported in the American Interest predicted negative strategic impacts of the Iran deal. Or Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, for example, suggested that if given a say, Iran would eagerly thwart any agreement to remove Bashar Assad from power in Syria, its “land bridge” to Hezbollah. And just this week, on Capitol Hill itself, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce pointed out that Iran’s continued “aggression” in the Middle East would likely impact how congressmen vote on the deal, and therefore could not be so easily dismissed.
The supporters’ rebuttal? A recent piece by Robin Wright on The New Yorker may hold some clues as to its weaknesses: while Wright devoted an entire article to deconstructing and demystifying the “Death to America” chants so synonymous with Iran’s Islamic revolution, she was forced to admit that the “gap in perception” between Iran and the West “may be the deal’s greatest vulnerability.” So is the deal based on “hard, painstaking diplomacy” – or rather, on the vulnerability of misunderstandings?