Heads in the Sand

Column: Obama and Kerry play let’s pretend

July 17, 2015

The last week has provided a sad but worthwhile opportunity to assess the global elite, the heads of state and government, the bankers and journalists and celebrities, as they worked overtime to preserve a veneer of progress and stability. From Athens to Beijing, D.C. to Vienna, the desire has been to avoid tough decisions, to prolong deliberation, to pretend as though dangerous emerging trends do not exist. To take action, to provoke, to choose, to commit, to fight, to admit reality would be far too disruptive, would cost too much, and would endanger the social positions our best and brightest have worked so mightily to attain. Better for them to wait things out.

The Iranian and U.S. governments, write David Sanger and Michael Gordon of the New York Times, see their nuclear deal differently: "Mr. Kerry described an Iranian capability that had been neutralized; the Iranians a capability that had been preserved." But the difference of opinion is superficial. Both Secretary Kerry and the Iranians are right. If the Iranians hew to the agreement (a big and damning if) then the best case is that the nuclear infrastructure they have spent decades building will be frozen—"neutralized"—for about 10 years. After which they can resume the activities that so concerned everyone worried at the prospect of an Islamic theocracy obtaining nuclear weapons. Because their fundamental nuclear capabilities indeed have been "preserved."

The Iran deal is a fabulous artifice, an intricately woven shawl that masks its real intent: the avoidance of military confrontation with Iran and the rise of Persian regional hegemony. "Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation," President Obama said at his press conference Thursday, "or it’s resolved through war. Those are the options." He presented his diplomatic resolution as a fait accompli, as the best America could ever hope to do. If the deal favors Iran, which it unequivocally does— without so much as closing a nuclear facility this rogue regime gets cash, legitimacy, and an end to U.N. bans on sales of conventional weapons and ballistic missile technology—it is because Obama wanted desperately to pursue the diplomatic option and prove its validity.

John Kerry, the Times notes, told his fellow diplomats that his experience in Vietnam made him committed "to using diplomacy to avoid the horrors of war." And so he has avoided war, at least for now, and at least as far as the Obama administration is concerned. The wars sown by Iran in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, however, will continue indefinitely, and probably will be expanded as the ayatollah and his Revolutionary Guards enjoy their windfall. Kerry and Obama both understand that their patchwork agreement is only temporary, that Iran could cheat, that the possibility exists of waking up one day in the near future to an underground nuclear test at an undisclosed Iranian facility, that in the out years of the agreement Iran, armed and antagonistic, may rush to nuclear breakout. Obama can’t say his deal ends the threat of a nuclear Iran because it obviously does not; what he does say is that if Iran complies (there’s that if again) then at the end of a decade we’ll be "much more knowledgeable about what their capabilities are, much more knowledgeable about what their program is, and still in a position to take whatever actions we would take today."

The Iran deal, then, is good enough for the president because it delays until after the end of his term any reckoning with what he himself describes as an anti-Semitic revisionist troublemaking power. A similar deal with North Korea delayed the Stalinist regime’s first nuke test for over a decade, at which point the negotiators of the 1994 "Agreed Framework" were busy lobbying or in a governor’s mansion or advising Democratic presidential candidates. Who can doubt that 12 or 15 years from now, when Iran detonates its first nuke, Obama will appear on the evening Oculus Rift newscast, reminding us that this never would have happened had he and not Chelsea Clinton been in office?

The Iran deal isn’t an accomplishment. It required no sacrifice. Both sides wanted a deal: Iran to receive sanctions relief and assert its national pride, Obama to forestall having to take action, to prove diplomacy can work, to entertain the possibility of true détente with a longtime adversary. And both sides got what they wanted: Iran its money, weapons, missiles, and nuclear infrastructure intact, Obama a "legacy" item that allows him to smear Republicans and Israelis as warmongers. Obama says he’s aware of the nature of the Iranian regime, but he chooses to ignore that nature if it wins him plaudits from the international left and breathing room before an Iranian bomb. The deal is a finely wrought escape pod for Obama and Kerry: get out of town in 2017 on your high horse, your sanctimony and idealism unblemished.

Willfully optimistic about Iranian intentions, knowingly blind to Iranian malfeasance, to Iran’s murder of our soldiers, its imprisonment of our citizens, the deal is a rather stunning example of the lengths to which our elites will go in order to preserve the fiction of common interests, of the "international community," of the power of engagement to liberalize autocracies. Media and cultural institutions will reward Obama and Kerry and Rouhani and Zarif for upholding the shibboleths that rule the world: give peace a chance, jaw jaw is better than war war, we’re all in this together, put yourself in the mullah’s shoes, Kennedy and Reagan negotiated with a superpower so why can’t we parody their example by kowtowing to a two-bit fundamentalist regime on the verge of bankruptcy whose shrinking population is addled by drugs and venereal disease. Meanwhile Iranian centrifuges will spin, Iran’s proxies are sowing chaos, its missile program is active, its adversarial posture toward Israel and America and the West is unbroken, and, as Jim Webb put it, "After a period of 10 years they are going to be able to say that they can move forward with a nuclear weapons policy with our acceptance."

What we have in the Iran deal is another instance of the ruling caste distorting reality to suit its ideological preferences. It is also the most dangerous instance. So much elite discourse resembles the game let’s pretend that it’s become difficult to restate what is true and what is false. Let’s act as if Iran negotiates in good faith, as if Greece can remain in the Euro, as if the Chinese have their economic situation under control, as if immigration policy had nothing to do with the murder of Kate Steinle, as if the Islamic State can be destroyed without major American involvement, as if you can promote racial antagonism and animosity toward police without an increase in crime and disorder, as if Hillary Clinton excites the Democratic Party, as if the Confederate flag was responsible for an act of racial terrorism in Charleston, as if we shouldn’t apply moral standards to Planned Parenthood’s traffic in fetal tissue, as if Caitlyn Jenner, peace be upon her, is more courageous than Lauren Hill or Noah Galloway. And let’s do all of this without considering the trade offs and missed opportunities, the externalities and sunk costs, of maintaining a culture grounded in wish fulfillment and infantilization.

There is, after all, only so much self-delusion a society can take before it loses its mind.

We are rapidly approaching that limit.

Published under: Iran Nuclear Deal