Blogs: Paul Pillar

The Importance of the Iran Agreement

Paul Pillar

Fourth—and by no means last in importance—this agreement is a step toward liberating U.S. foreign policy from three baleful influences that overlap considerably in terms of the people involved and the causes they espouse. One of those influences is a crude exceptionalism that believes the world is divided rigidly into allies and enemies, that the United States shares interests on everything with the former and nothing with the latter, that the only proper approach toward the latter is pressure and isolation, that what passes for diplomacy consists of the United States making demands and other nations being expected to accede to them, that throwing one's weight around is the way to get things done, and that because the United States has more weight and especially military weight than anyone else it ought to be able to get its way on just about anything. Another influence is partisanship that has become so intense and overriding that because the nuclear negotiations with Iran are an Obama project it is de rigeuer for any Republican seeking the presidency to oppose the agreement reflexively.

The last baleful influence is the extraordinary influence that the rightist government of Israel, along with the lobby in the United States that works on its behalf, has on U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the most unrelenting and implacable source of opposition to any agreement with Iran, for reasons largely other than preventing an Iranian nuke, and its supporters in the United States have been in step with its opposition. Peter Beinart was asking a pertinent question when he wondered how different debate in Washington (and Jerusalem) on the deal with Iran would be “if Sheldon Adelson had a different hobby.” The lobby's influence has manifested itself in especially blatant and ugly ways on the Iranian nuclear issue, including inviting a foreign leader to address the U.S. Congress for the express purpose of denouncing a major U.S. foreign policy effort, and a prominent Republican senator and former presidential nominee going so far as to urge the same foreign leader to treat the president of the United States with "contempt".

The influence of the lobby ultimately rests on fear—of losing access to contributions from Adelson and other billionaires favoring the Israeli Right, or of some other kind of political payback in the next election campaign. Taking a cue from what Franklin Roosevelt said about fear, we should realize that a demonstration of successfully flouting and overcoming the fear is one of the best ways to diminish the effect of the same fear in the future. Given the prominence of the Iranian nuclear issue and the intensity with which Netanyahu and the lobby have been trying to kill an agreement, implementing an agreement over that opposition would serve as such a demonstration. The demonstration, and any resulting dilution of the fear and lessening of the strength of the lobby, would pay dividends not just concerning relations with Iran but with regard to other U.S. interests to which Netanyahu's government is opposed. This may be one of the biggest lasting contributions to the U.S. national interest that Barack Obama will be making if he manages to carry through the nuclear agreement to completion. It is also another reason for Americans who have that national interest at heart to support the agreement.

But the deal is not yet done. The die-hard opponents will keep raising every objection they can about every detail they can. They may not know the difference between an IR-1 centrifuge and an IR-2 and don't really care, but we probably will hear about such things anyway. The detailed objections need to be answered, and the announced framework agreement provides a strong basis for answering them, but in doing so we should keep in mind the really big reasons this agreement should be completed and supported.                       

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Fearing Success of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement

Paul Pillar

Fourth—and by no means last in importance—this agreement is a step toward liberating U.S. foreign policy from three baleful influences that overlap considerably in terms of the people involved and the causes they espouse. One of those influences is a crude exceptionalism that believes the world is divided rigidly into allies and enemies, that the United States shares interests on everything with the former and nothing with the latter, that the only proper approach toward the latter is pressure and isolation, that what passes for diplomacy consists of the United States making demands and other nations being expected to accede to them, that throwing one's weight around is the way to get things done, and that because the United States has more weight and especially military weight than anyone else it ought to be able to get its way on just about anything. Another influence is partisanship that has become so intense and overriding that because the nuclear negotiations with Iran are an Obama project it is de rigeuer for any Republican seeking the presidency to oppose the agreement reflexively.

The last baleful influence is the extraordinary influence that the rightist government of Israel, along with the lobby in the United States that works on its behalf, has on U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the most unrelenting and implacable source of opposition to any agreement with Iran, for reasons largely other than preventing an Iranian nuke, and its supporters in the United States have been in step with its opposition. Peter Beinart was asking a pertinent question when he wondered how different debate in Washington (and Jerusalem) on the deal with Iran would be “if Sheldon Adelson had a different hobby.” The lobby's influence has manifested itself in especially blatant and ugly ways on the Iranian nuclear issue, including inviting a foreign leader to address the U.S. Congress for the express purpose of denouncing a major U.S. foreign policy effort, and a prominent Republican senator and former presidential nominee going so far as to urge the same foreign leader to treat the president of the United States with "contempt".

The influence of the lobby ultimately rests on fear—of losing access to contributions from Adelson and other billionaires favoring the Israeli Right, or of some other kind of political payback in the next election campaign. Taking a cue from what Franklin Roosevelt said about fear, we should realize that a demonstration of successfully flouting and overcoming the fear is one of the best ways to diminish the effect of the same fear in the future. Given the prominence of the Iranian nuclear issue and the intensity with which Netanyahu and the lobby have been trying to kill an agreement, implementing an agreement over that opposition would serve as such a demonstration. The demonstration, and any resulting dilution of the fear and lessening of the strength of the lobby, would pay dividends not just concerning relations with Iran but with regard to other U.S. interests to which Netanyahu's government is opposed. This may be one of the biggest lasting contributions to the U.S. national interest that Barack Obama will be making if he manages to carry through the nuclear agreement to completion. It is also another reason for Americans who have that national interest at heart to support the agreement.

But the deal is not yet done. The die-hard opponents will keep raising every objection they can about every detail they can. They may not know the difference between an IR-1 centrifuge and an IR-2 and don't really care, but we probably will hear about such things anyway. The detailed objections need to be answered, and the announced framework agreement provides a strong basis for answering them, but in doing so we should keep in mind the really big reasons this agreement should be completed and supported.                       

Pages

Netanyahu's Latest Challenge to Obama

Paul Pillar

Fourth—and by no means last in importance—this agreement is a step toward liberating U.S. foreign policy from three baleful influences that overlap considerably in terms of the people involved and the causes they espouse. One of those influences is a crude exceptionalism that believes the world is divided rigidly into allies and enemies, that the United States shares interests on everything with the former and nothing with the latter, that the only proper approach toward the latter is pressure and isolation, that what passes for diplomacy consists of the United States making demands and other nations being expected to accede to them, that throwing one's weight around is the way to get things done, and that because the United States has more weight and especially military weight than anyone else it ought to be able to get its way on just about anything. Another influence is partisanship that has become so intense and overriding that because the nuclear negotiations with Iran are an Obama project it is de rigeuer for any Republican seeking the presidency to oppose the agreement reflexively.

The last baleful influence is the extraordinary influence that the rightist government of Israel, along with the lobby in the United States that works on its behalf, has on U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the most unrelenting and implacable source of opposition to any agreement with Iran, for reasons largely other than preventing an Iranian nuke, and its supporters in the United States have been in step with its opposition. Peter Beinart was asking a pertinent question when he wondered how different debate in Washington (and Jerusalem) on the deal with Iran would be “if Sheldon Adelson had a different hobby.” The lobby's influence has manifested itself in especially blatant and ugly ways on the Iranian nuclear issue, including inviting a foreign leader to address the U.S. Congress for the express purpose of denouncing a major U.S. foreign policy effort, and a prominent Republican senator and former presidential nominee going so far as to urge the same foreign leader to treat the president of the United States with "contempt".

The influence of the lobby ultimately rests on fear—of losing access to contributions from Adelson and other billionaires favoring the Israeli Right, or of some other kind of political payback in the next election campaign. Taking a cue from what Franklin Roosevelt said about fear, we should realize that a demonstration of successfully flouting and overcoming the fear is one of the best ways to diminish the effect of the same fear in the future. Given the prominence of the Iranian nuclear issue and the intensity with which Netanyahu and the lobby have been trying to kill an agreement, implementing an agreement over that opposition would serve as such a demonstration. The demonstration, and any resulting dilution of the fear and lessening of the strength of the lobby, would pay dividends not just concerning relations with Iran but with regard to other U.S. interests to which Netanyahu's government is opposed. This may be one of the biggest lasting contributions to the U.S. national interest that Barack Obama will be making if he manages to carry through the nuclear agreement to completion. It is also another reason for Americans who have that national interest at heart to support the agreement.

But the deal is not yet done. The die-hard opponents will keep raising every objection they can about every detail they can. They may not know the difference between an IR-1 centrifuge and an IR-2 and don't really care, but we probably will hear about such things anyway. The detailed objections need to be answered, and the announced framework agreement provides a strong basis for answering them, but in doing so we should keep in mind the really big reasons this agreement should be completed and supported.                       

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