Yesterday morning 47 Republican senators opposed to a bad deal with Iran released an open letter to the Iranian regime. In the letter, they point out that any deal negotiated by President Obama without consultation with the Congress will face major resistance in the United States, and will be unlikely to outlast his presidency.
Later in the day, the president responded by accusing the signatories of the letter of "wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran." Moreover, he suggested that the 47 American senators and Iranian hardliners together constituted an "unusual coalition." CNN reported on his remarks:
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President Barack Obama slammed Republican senators who penned a letter attempting to warn Iran that any pending nuclear agreement will face their scrutiny, claiming they were aligning themselves with Iranian "hard-liners."
"I think it's somewhat ironic to see some members for Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It's an unusual coalition," Obama said Monday ahead of a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk.
"I think what we're going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we're going to get a deal or not. Once we do, if we do, we'll be able to make the case to the American people, and I'm confident we'll be able to implement it," Obama said.
Perhaps Obama stills feels the sting of the ex-mayor of New York City suggesting a few weeks ago that he doesn’t love America, or perhaps he considered the letter to the Iranians a grave enough insult to presidential dignity to justify such a remarkable slur on the intentions of his domestic political opponents.
Obama’s claim is obviously absurd. The senators, led by Tom Cotton, are not making "common cause" or in a "coalition" with Iranian hardliners. It is obvious that on the only issue that really matters—whether or not Iran gets nuclear weapons—they disagree. The Republicans don’t want the Iranians to get nuclear weapons. The Iranian hardliners want nuclear weapons. This is the whole crux of the dispute.
So what does Obama mean? Is he just speaking in anger, or on some level does he really see some sort of ironic conspiracy opposing his efforts?
Let’s credit the man’s honest intentions: He means what he says. For Obama, the most important issue isn’t the question of whether Iran gets nuclear weapons or not. The most important issue is the deal itself. The deal is not primarily a means to the specific end of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The deal is a means to a deal. This is because, in Obama’s view, a deal will move Iran and the United States closer together and forestall the short-term threat of violence between the two nations. These, to Obama, are the only important goals. Other consequences of the sort of deal being discussed in the press—for example, the likelihood that Iran will get the bomb one day soon—are secondary.
The president's claims that a deal is the only way to prevent Iran from getting a bomb are plainly unserious. Any deal that leaves the Iranians with technology and materials in place that could build a nuclear bomb, will almost certainly lead to an Iranian nuclear bomb. Thus, the only acceptable deal would be one that prevents the Iranians from retaining such a capacity. Every indication suggests that the Obama administration gave up on such a deal some time ago.
Obama’s remarks about his domestic political opponents have the same sharp edge that he reserves for Israeli conservatives but, generally, refrains from employing towards the Iranians or other global adversaries of the United States. They are also entirely consistent with his worldview, which rejects the premise that there are any dedicated "global adversaries" of the U.S. and the liberal world order. As I wrote about this issue a few weeks ago:
For Obama, the world is not divided, as it was for Bush, between nations that support a democratic and liberal world order and nations that oppose such a world, preferring jihad or dictatorship or exploitative hegemony. This president believes that the world is divided between those that support peace and those who, motivated by their irrational fears, will not give peace a chance. All nations are basically the same, and most people want basically the same thing. The United States is not morally better or worse than a regional hegemon like Iran. Most Americans, like most Iranians, just want to live in peace.
The true enemies are the hawks in both countries. If reasonable men like Obama and Rouhani and Putin could simply shut out the distractions, peace could be achieved.
As a consequence of such thinking, we get the bizarro-world breakdown of friends and enemies for the Obama administration. Enemies include Israel, eastern European nations, Gulf Arabs, conservatives in Taiwan and Japan, and of course the American right. All of these parties provoke countries like Russia and Iran and China into belligerent action. If instead of provoking these countries we offered them a hand, peace could be achieved. Sure, this peace wouldn’t be very ‘democratic,’—but an American-led democratic order is a bit of a sham, isn’t it? After all, how can we criticize Iran when a Ferguson can happen right here in the USA?
It was also reported yesterday afternoon that the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, responded to the senators’ letter with a lengthy statement lecturing them on the requirements of international law.
Obama, no doubt, feels grateful that he has Iranian negotiating partners like Zarif and President Rouhani who see the world the same way he does, and who can help him forestall the bellicose, irrational impulses of the hawks in both countries. For men like Zarif and Rouhani, there must be a constant struggle to keep a straight face.