At a Tehran mosque last week, the Ayatollah Khamenei—amid chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”—explained to a crowd that his nation’s interests were “180 degrees” in opposition to the United States. “Even after this deal our policy toward the arrogant U.S. will not change,” he explained.
This vexed John Kerry, who claimed that he didn’t “know how to interpret” this kind of predictable antagonism from one of American’s longest-running adversaries.
What can it all possibly mean?
Perhaps the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic does not feel compelled to indulge in American fairytale endings? Khamenei knows there is almost no way sanctions will return, even if he cheats. He understands his nation will be poised to have nuclear weapons in a decade, at the latest. Few people, even advocates of the P5+1 deal, argue we can stop the mullahs in the long run. Best-case scenario, as Fred Kaplan contends in Slate, is that the Islamic regime will get bored of hating us and join the community of nations.
Speaking of wishful thinking, I suspect many Americans are less confused about Iran’s intentions than our gullible secretary of State, even if they support a deal for partisan reasons. Take a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that tells us a couple of things—neither of those things what fans of the deal purpose. Americans, even if they don’t know much about foreign affairs, much less grasp the intricacies of this Iranian deal, intuitively understand the Islamic Republic better than Kerry.
Here’s the first question in the poll:
Q: The U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?
When asked about the deal in this highly favorable light, 56 percent support it. Hey, I’d support that deal, as well.
But, of course, the debate is the question. And this one is lacking vital context. The debate is about international inspectors and their ability to get the job done. We know those sanctions will be almost impossible to reengage once the United Nations lifts them. Nor does the question let on what we have given up: the deal lifts an embargo on ballistic weapons in under a decade; we allow Iran to keep 6,000 centrifuges that could allow them to be on the threshold of nuclear weapons; we are reinstating $140 billion that Iran can use, as Kerry has pointed out, in aiding proxies as the largest state funder of terrorism in the world.
That’s if the regime keeps its promises. Here’s the second question in that Washington Post poll:
Q: How confident are you that this agreement will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?
Sixty-four percent are not confident that Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium. Do these people realize the entire point of this deal—as laid out by the president and his surrogates—is to stop the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons? It’s not like we brought home any hostages or put an end to Iran’s actions in Bahrain, Yemen, or Lebanon. How could they support a deal that they claim won’t work? I suspect it’s because the first question is a theoretical framework. The second question can be based on evidence.
Pew offers a more full realized view of American opinion on the matter. Among the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the agreement, only 38 percent approve, while 48 percent disapprove, and 14 percent do not offer an opinion. Only 26 percent of those who claim to have heard at least a little about the agreement contend they have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence that Iran’s leaders will abide by its terms. (To put this in some perspective, 29 percent of Americans believe the far more plausible notion that horoscopes, tarot cards, and psychic readings tell them something about their future.)
Who are these 26 percent who believe White House claims that the agreement in place offers to “verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful going forward”? I imagine some are partisans. Some believe it’s the best we can do. Some don’t understand the Middle East. Some believe that diplomacy—no matter what results it generates—is worth supporting before ever contemplating military action. Then, there are those who want to see a nuclear Iran, either because they believe the United States has meddled far too often in the Middle East, or they’re eager to see Israel thwarted. Or, probably both.
But, for the most part, liberal pundits do not argue, as Kerry does, that this pact will stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in the long run. Instead we are bombarded with a fallacy: Do you want war or do you want this deal?
Kerry argues there is no realistic alternative to the administration’s position, and that any action that doesn’t accept his deal is a call to war. Building on this false choice, the president has demanded Republican offer their own plans, saying, “If the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so. And that will be an honest debate.”
Well, there are thousands of positions a person can have between bringing an entire nation into submission or our own capitulation—like, for example, continuing sanctions, increasing sanctions, or even negotiating a better agreement.
Kerry says a veto override would mean Iran would only becomes stronger. But is an override even a possibility? Thanks to senators Bob Corker and Mitch McConnell’s ceding all power on the issue to the president, it seems improbable. Although, using a vote in the United Nations to create inevitability rather than first allowing debate in Congress not only demonstrates Obama’s contempt for process, but it might be the pretext some apprehensive Democrats need to oppose the deal. And bad polling like we’ve seen so far, will go a long way in determining if the Sen. Chuck Schumers of the world capitulate to the pressure coming from administration.
For now, though, it seems that the American public is realistic about Iran’s intentions. Or, at least, more realistic than our secretary of State pretends to be.