The alternative to negotiation

Most Americans don't trust Iran, but no longer believe the Middle East can be bombed into submission

Benjamin Netanyahu
(Image credit: (Abir Sultan - Pool/Getty Images))

Here's some consolation for Bibi Netanyahu and the Iran hawks in the U.S.: Most Americans do not trust the Islamic Republic. In fact, 61 percent doubt that Iran will keep its pledge not to develop nuclear weapons, says a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. But Americans support the new, tentative agreement anyway — by a lopsided margin of 64 to 30 percent. Are they stupid? Feckless appeasers? No — just weary and wary of war. In 2003, Americans were persuaded to support pre-emptive war with Iraq; despite staggering human and financial costs, the results have been, let us say, disappointing. Twelve years of trying to pacify Afghanistan have been no more satisfying. So Americans have become skeptical that the Islamic world can be bombed into submission and democracy. The hawks cannot say how and when a war with Iran would end; the only certainties are retaliatory terrorism and a blow to the U.S. economy. Hence the widespread willingness to try diplomacy first.

To unapologetic neocons like John Bolton and Bill Kristol, this is tragic weakness. They plead in The Weekly Standard this week for Netanyahu to dispatch Israel's fighter jets to attack Iran immediately. Ayatollah Khamenei is another Hitler, they say, and President Obama and John Kerry are a two-headed Neville Chamberlain, cravenly seeking a peace that’s not possible. To the "serious people" (as Kristol calls those who share his Manichaean worldview), peace is never possible. All negotiation is appeasement. War is always the best option, whether the enemy is Iran, Syria, China or Russia. It is forever 1938. In advocating endless war with multiple enemies, "serious people" have a tough sell. But you have to give them credit for consistency.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.