Jacob Heilbrunn

The Real Reason Neocons Are Scared About Obama's Iran Deal

No, it isn't only neocons who are worried about President Obama's six month deal with Iran. Senators Charles Schumer and Robert Mendendez, among others, are also expressing their apprehensions. But for sheer panic it is almost impossible to surpass the alarms being sounded by the neocons.

Former UN ambassador John Bolton is calling the agreement an "abject surrender." William Kristol is decrying it. But the most outlandish criticism appears today in the Wall Street Journal by the redoubtable Bret Stephens. It seems safe to say that neocons such as Stephens have long been guilty of trivializing the Nazi menace by deeming any contemporary agreement with an American adversary a new "Munich." But now Stephens does it explicitly. He declares that Obama's deal isn't as bad as Munich. It's worse. 

To accomplish this he has to rehabilitate a version of history that began to percolate in the 1960s in England, when scholars began arguing that Neville Chamberlain had gotten a bum rap. Instead of selling out British interests, Chamberlain defended them. He cut the best deal he could. Britain had few air defenses. The public wouldn't have supported a war. Why not hand over Czechoslovakia to Hitler? Stephens observes, "'Peace for our time' it was not, but at least appeasement bought the West a year to rearm."

Not so fast. It also ended up handing the Skoda arms works to the Fuhrer. A plot by the Germany army to depose him was also in the works. Going to war with the Czechs might well have turned into a disaster for the Nazi leadership. Nor does Stephens explain how he would reconcile his complacent view of Munich with his veneration of Winston Churchill, who forthrightly denounced the agreement.

Stephens' column doesn't really reveal much about Munich. But it is revealing about the lengths he will go to in order to scuttle the prospect of any agreement with Iran. For the neocons the Iran deal isn't Munich. It could be their own very personal Dunkirk.

Absent a war with Iran—which seemed increasingly likely absent a deal—the neocons will be deprived of their raison d'etre. Yes, they can rail about China, which is making dangerously provocative moves against Japan this week. But the Middle East is where the real action is for the neocons. Iran has been a crucial enemy, the central threat against Israel. As its rhetoric continues to indicate, Iran remains a vicious foe of Israel. But in coming months, it is Iran's actions that will be under the most minute scrutiny. The worst nightmare for the neocons will be if Iran does in fact adhere to the agreement with Obama (though they may increase their own visibility in the GOP, though for how long would be an open question). It would deprive the neocons of a valued enemy and diminish their own importance.

If he succeeds, Obama may not only neutralize Iran, but also the neocons.

Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H12478 / CC-BY-SA 3.0.