Yesterday I published an article asserting that opponents of the nuclear deal reached between Iran and the six major world powers negotiating with it had no argument. Of course, before reaching that conclusion I was not able to literally read every single hostile article that has been published. I was, however, able to engage last night in a little Twitter dialogue with Noah Pollak, a well-networked neoconservative who leads the Emergency Committee for Israel and writes for Commentary, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Free Beacon.
He offered to recommend some choice articles that might change my mind around.
@mattyglesias Elliott Abrams today NRO. Dermer yesterday WashPost. Kissinger/Schultz WSJ.— Noah Pollak (@NoahPollak) July 16, 2015
So I read them. And having read them, it's clearer than ever: The most prominent arguments against the deal aren't really arguments at all. The people making them don't like the deal, because they don't like Iran and because the deal has some upside for Iran. That is, of course, the nature of diplomacy. You make deals with adversaries (that's why you are negotiating), and the adversaries secure an upside through the deal (that's why you reach agreement).
But hawks don't want to come out and say they oppose diplomacy in all forms and just want a war. So what you get are irritable mental gestures instead.
Elliott Abrams really dislikes Obama, but has no argument
Elliott Abrams, ex-convict and former George W. Bush administration official, offers what is in many ways a perfect example of what I mean when I say the deal opponents have no argument. He recounts, at great length and in great detail, that as a result of this deal Iran will receive valuable relief from international sanctions. That is, of course, the point of a deal with Iran. If Iran did not receive valuable relief from international sanctions, Iran would not sign the deal.
He then offers a lot of broad-brush attacks on President Obama's character:
Of course Obama has a theory: The main problems in world politics come from American militarism, aggression, bullying, and the like, and if we open our "clenched fists" to embrace Iran, it will respond in kind. We’ve seen the results of such policies in Russia and North Korea, and most recently in Cuba. In fact Obama’s Iran deal is based on his "Cuba model": Hand a lifeline to a regime in deep economic trouble and ignore the population of the country and their quest for human rights and decent government. Call it a historic achievement, and above all don’t bargain hard for recompense. For, you see, in these openings to Iran and Cuba we are only righting the historical wrongs America has committed and for which we need to apologize.
Note that Abrams has nothing to say about David Cameron or François Hollande or Angela Merkel or their theories of how the world works, much less anything to say about Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping and their theories. But this paragraph of aspersions on Obama's character is where an argument belongs.
The argument that is needed is that a tougher US president who refused to grant sanctions relief unless Iran went further would, in fact, have gotten Iran to make more concessions. What John Kerry and his team think is that if they had held out even more than they did, the international coalition to maintain the sanctions would have unraveled as foreign leaders concluded that the US, rather than Iran, was being unreasonable. This is the key point on which the whole thing turns, and yet Abrams has literally nothing to say about it — he has no argument.
Ron Dermer is calm, and also has no argument
In terms of affect, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer's Washington Post op-ed is the opposite of Abrams's work. There are no racist dog whistles, and no efforts to pump up the base. If you are a House Democrat who wants to break with the Obama administration in order to stay on the good side of pro-Israel groups in the United States while minimizing the extent to which you alienate partisan Democrats, then Dermer's talking points are very strong. He is demonstrating real skill in his job as Israel's ambassador to the United States and deserves congratulations.
What he does not have is an argument that rejecting the deal will lead to a better outcome.
Again, it is not that his argument is unpersuasive. He literally does not attempt to argue that rejecting the deal will lead to a better outcome. If the US walks away from the table and refuses to sign this agreement, will the global sanctions regime stay in place or will it collapse, thus leaving Iran in a stronger position? Dermer has nothing to say on this subject.
I'm not even sure Kissinger and Shultz oppose the agreement
I found the inclusion of the Kissinger/Shultz piece on Pollack's list puzzling. First, the article was published in April, before the full details of the agreement were available or, indeed, agreed to. Second, the article does not seem to me to even say that the agreement is bad or that the United States should not sign it. Whereas the previous two lack any real argument that the agreement is bad, this last piece doesn't even assert that it is categorically bad.
In another sense, I find Kissinger/Shultz to be the most natural for inclusion on the list. The reason is that the piece's actual conclusion is that, deal or no deal, the United States needs to maintain a high and growing level of military engagement in the Middle East.
The big issue at stake in the Iran nuclear debate is whether the United States should do what the hawks want and start a war with Iran. Kissinger/Shultz argue for the next best thing, namely that there should still be lots of US involvement in Middle Eastern wars even if we do implement the deal:
Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms. History will not do our work for us; it helps only those who seek to help themselves.
This is, I guess, a fun thing to argue about, whether in April or now in July or six months from now. But it's pretty clear that not reaching an agreement with Iran, while also trying to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb would definitely "necessitate deepening involvement" (i.e., a war), so even if you grant that reaching a deal would still "necessitate deepening involvement," this is not really a case against the deal. They seem to be saying that the United States should keep supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel regardless of the particulars of the situation with Iran — something the Obama administration also thinks.