For the American left, the Iran nuclear deal is becoming the peace process—that is, a landmark foreign policy project of a Democratic president reflecting the most cherished liberal beliefs about the world, that is failing at great cost to millions of people yet whose failure cannot be admitted.
The political beliefs that marched liberals down both of these diplomatic dead-ends were the same. Democratic administrations sought to turn anti-western enemies into friends, terrorists into decent citizens, through diplomatic engagement, concessions, and money. They were sympathetic to the Palestinian and Iranian Third Worldist rhetoric of resentment and accusation, and believed that by acknowledging grievances the United States could prove its good intentions, open dialogue, build trust, and transcend old misunderstandings and conflicts. Layered on all this is the rational materialist worldview; Clinton and Obama couldn’t seem to grasp that some people prefer their concept of honor or victory to a higher per-capita GDP.
President Obama articulated all this perfectly in late 2014, as he began selling the Iran deal:
[Iran has] a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it. Because if they do, there's incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of—inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody."
The peace process and the Iran deal are the two great liberal foreign policy projects of the past 30 years, neither of them has worked, the sources of their failure are identical, and in both cases the left is handling its failure the same way: by denying it exists, by relying on friends in the media and in Europe to cover it up, and by scapegoating those who point it out as warmongers.
Two examples from just this week:
The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, delivered a speech in which he questioned Israel's right to exist and said that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves. This is not the least bit surprising to anyone who has actually listened to Abbas over the years. But here was Barack Obama’s assessment of the man just a few years ago:
He has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue … I believe that President Abbas is sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, to recognize Israel’s legitimate security needs, to shun violence, to resolve these issues in a diplomatic fashion.
Then there was the Israeli prime minister’s revelation of a massive cache of Iranian nuclear files, hidden in violation of the JCPOA, that comprised a how-to manual to restart the country’s nuclear weapons program. The reaction of Iran deal proponents was to either claim the files are nothing new (this is laughably dishonest), or to insist that Iran’s cheating on the deal is exactly why the deal is so important.
Both the Iran deal and the peace process have become, as Popper would say, unfalsifiable. If the Palestinian Authority, intended as a state-building entity, is in fact a sewer of terror-glorification, corruption, and rejectionism, that just shows how important it is to achieve the two-state solution. If Iran is using its cash windfall from the nuclear deal to spread war and terror across the Middle East, that just means we should be thankful the nuclear deal prevents the regime from obtaining even worse weapons for a few more years.
Admitting failure is not permitted, which is why Democrats are playing Weekend at Bernie’s with their two greatest foreign policy achievements. Admitting failure would require questioning important liberal pieties: the feelings of shame and guilt about American power, the feelings of sympathy for radicals who challenge us, the faith in the power of humility and compromise to persuade those who view us as their enemy.
Smart liberals today must hope that the final collapse of these two great Democratic foreign policy projects happen during the Trump administration, so that he can be blamed, and the reckoning is delayed a little while longer.