Opinion

The dishonest case against the Iran deal

Don't listen to the warmongers

President Trump will announce today whether or not to he will recertify the Iran nuclear deal. He has been hinting that he will refuse to do so this time, throwing the whole carefully negotiated framework crafted by his predecessor into disarray.

A parade of warmongers, cretins, and outright liars have been pushing for Trump to do this since he started his presidency. They may well succeed — but that doesn't change the fact that the Iran deal, which halted the country's nuclear weapons program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, is working perfectly well. It should not be breached.

Iran deal critics are barely even trying to construct logical arguments for their position. National Security Adviser John Bolton is, of course, all-in on tearing it up. When he took office he leaked a five-page memo for ginning up a context for breaching the deal, then blaming the dissolution on Iran. The plan was so hamfisted that nobody would be convinced, but that's just Bolton for you. He's not a man who bothers with niceties.

No, he's a guy with close ties to the bizarre organization Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a quasi-cult and formerly Marxist Iranian group opposed to the Iran government. It presents itself as the official democratic opposition, but in reality it has virtually zero support inside Iran itself. After murdering many Americans in Iran before the 1979 revolution, MEK was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, but lobbied to be removed by bribing numerous Washington elites from both parties (through various shell organizations), which finally got them taken off in 2012. (It is incredibly illegal to take money from official terrorist groups, but that didn't stop people like Ed Rendell, Howard Dean, or Bolton.) At an MEK conference last year, Bolton boasted: "[B]efore 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran."

Then there is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau, who made an anti-deal speech recently which essentially boiled down to "Iran Is Bad" and cited as evidence only that Iran had a nuclear program way back in 2003 about which they hadn't come clean.

Or consider the preposterously-named Foundation of Defense of Democracies, whose senior fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht (previously best known for his 2002 article "An Iraq War Won't Destabilize the Mideast") has three separate op-eds in the The Atlantic attacking the deal. One article bellows that the Iran deal merely reveals Obama's pathetic "aversion to the use of American military power," a second charges that the deal somehow makes the U.S. complicit in Iranian "imperialism," while a third argues that the nuclear deal stops the U.S. from violently confronting Iran and thereby letting the world "know that we are deadly serious about maintaining American hegemony and shutting down nuclear proliferation in the Middle East."

These arguments are so ludicrously slanted they can barely be parsed on their own terms. The third one is a straightforward beg-the-question fallacy, arguing that a deal designed to stave off war is bad because it forecloses war. The actual content of the deal, and whether Iran is living up to its side, go almost totally unmentioned. Instead it's all about showing Strength by confronting the Evil Regime. Even before this latest op-ed spree Gerecht had by his own admission written tens of thousands of words advocating for war with Iran. The conclusion in this case could not be more obviously foreordained.

An important political background here is indicated by Gerecht's revealing comment on "nuclear proliferation." In reality, the only actually nuclear-armed state in the Middle East is Israel. Gerecht sees no contradiction there because the actual purpose of FDD — which got its start as an overtly pro-Israel propaganda outlet — is backing the Israeli government line to the hilt, especially if it happens to be far-right. FDD has been campaigning against the deal since well before it was agreed, insisting it wasn't tough enough, and that Iran could not be trusted to follow its terms. Iran's adherence to it since then, of course, hasn't changed their position one iota.

At any rate, all this should put the hawks' carping into context. The real core of the Iran deal has virtually nothing to do with what the country was doing 15 years ago — which as Paul Pillar points out, the general shape of which was already known well before the deal was signed. Obviously, what really matters is what Iran is doing now, and on that score the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have consistently reported that Iran is living up to its end of the bargain. They are keeping their nuclear programs and facilities within the deal's limits, and allowing inspectors the extensive access needed to confirm this fact.

Ultimately, proving a negative is very difficult, but the IAEA staff come as close as one could realistically get. Moreover, as Daniel Larison points out, the quickest way to enable Iran to restart a crash nuclear weapons program would be to unilaterally abrogate the deal, allowing them to kick out the inspectors and do whatever they want.

The IAEA is full of professional nuclear physicists, diplomats, and security experts. It is the most credible voice in the world on nuclear security questions — and at a minimum, it's surely not in the pocket of the Iranian government. The people on the other side of the debate are either bloodthirsty neocons who never saw a war of aggression they didn't like, or the Israeli government and its apologists. What they want is an end to Iran as a regional power, and to make the United States shoulder the burden. Let us decline the invitation.

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