I am Trying Really Hard to Be Open-Minded About the Iran Deal, But....

...the President and his supporters sure make it hard.  In his speech last week at American University he said:

Just because Iranian hardliners chant “Death to America” does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe. (Applause.) In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting “Death to America” who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus. (Laughter and applause.)

That last part seems to have gotten the Conservatives in an uproar, and I suppose I can see why, though I am reluctant to join in the usual Internet rush to burn someone over what may have been a ham-handed joke.

It is actually the first sentence that floors me.  Either the President is straight-out being deceptive, or he is a total foreign policy naif.  Iran is not like the US.  People in Iran are not allowed to consistently chant messages with which the rulers do not agree.  As a minimum, they are met with violence and arrest (e.g. in 2009 with the Green movement).  So if anyone is chanting "Death to America" at public events, it is with the tacit approval of the nation's rulers.  It may very well be that the mass of Iranians don't agree with that message, but in Iran, what the mass of Iranians believe is largely irrelevant.


  1. aczarnowski:

    Either the President is straight-out being deceptive, or he is a total foreign policy naif

    ...or both.

  2. NL7:

    It's like riding a tiger. It might look bad when you're on its back, but just try getting down off the tiger safely.

    It's hard for a government to push one message consistently for decades, then turn it around in short order. They can use opposition to the US as a weapon, as many countries do, to ward off political opposition. "Anybody who opposes my policy on this issue wants the US and Israel to depose our government - again - and install another puppet regime."

    But eventually the regime finds itself in a situation where it makes more sense to negotiate. The economic benefits of getting out from under sanctions look pretty good. So they can deal, but they've spent a lot of time cultivating the idea that the US is a huge threat, so it takes time to shake off. If they just came out and said "hey, stop saying this chant that for over 3 decades has been used to prove your loyalty" then they might be presented with serious opposition among internal factions.

    So sure, they benefit from guiding and prompting anti-Americanism, but they can't necessarily stop it any time soon either. The creator of a social process is not necessarily able to stop it without costs.

  3. CT_Yankee:

    If Dear Leader is for it, it HAS to be bad for America. This is the one constant in the universe. The policies change from year to year, but the lack of even a basic understanding of what is good or bad for America, or Americans never changes. Unfortunately, his eventual departure may not bring the relief we might hope for. Having seen the candidates to replace him, I desperately want the option "None of the above". We don't need another socialist to tell us how to live our lives, or someone who appears to be running for the position of priest or pastor. It would be nice to find someone who would promise to get the trash emptied on Tuesdays, and to acknowledge that that is the end of what we want government to do for us.

  4. ErikTheRed:

    The first question is, will they really try to nuke the US given the opportunity. I'm having a pretty difficult time believing it - an attack of that nature would be responded to with utter annihilation, and while tinpot dictators like to talk tough you never see them grabbing a rifle or strapping on a suicide vest. They always wind up in some hole begging for their lives at the end. They're not "true believers" - they're bullies and cowards, and it's silly to believe otherwise.

    The second question is, can they be prevented from getting nuclear weapons forever? No, it's not realistic. At some point, they will have them. So whatever problems result from that are just being deferred.

    Third, how long can the US maintain such a back-breakingly expensive military presence in the region? Not much longer. 5 years, maybe 10 at the most.

    So, OK, the GOP wants to scream and wave swords, but where's their end-game? Even if they're 100% right, their course of action isn't sustainable and in the long run it's as the same kind of wishful thinking that permeates all Keynesian economic schemes: that the money (and bloodlust) will never run out and will still be worth something.

    It looks like the Obama administration's goal (assuming they're not doing stupid random crap, which is also possible), is to get Iran as an ally and give the Saudis and Israel to Russia (there's a lot more going on behind the scenes in the petrochemical world to back up this assertion). Saudi Arabia is a mess, but they're not a danger to nuke us. Israel is often in the category of "with allies like this, who needs enemies?" - but they're not a danger to nuke us. Overall, making nice with the most problematic power in the region, even at the cost of losing two long-term (but high cost, and extremely problematic) allies, is probably a good trade.

  5. Andrew_M_Garland:

    Do I understand you correctly?

    Iran is arming itself with nuclear weapons. (They have stated their intent to wipe various people off the earth.)

    Preventing them from doing this is futile, so we might as well let them do it now. In the meantime, if we withdraw support from our current allies, and "make nice" with them, maybe they will decide not to attack us.

    Q: If Iran is a tough-talking but really a cowardly bully, then why give any concessions or abandon any allies? It isn't going to attack anyway, so why not stick a finger in its eye? Call the bully's bluff.

    Nah. Iran is aggressive, having arranged to kill hundreds of US soldiers in Iraq. It is better (you say) to fall on our knees, do them favors, and and show that we are really simple folk meaning no harm. They then will certainly leave us alone, we being harmless and all.

  6. ErikTheRed:

    "They stated their intent to wipe various people off the earth."
    So what? Obama stated his intent to fix the economy and give everyone free health care. Whatever Republican out there will state his intent to shrink government and control the deficit. Do you actually think their politicians are more honest than the ones over here? Or do you believe the ones over here also? Either way... gosh, I hope you don't vote.

    They're not going to attack the US directly, period. They'll involve themselves in conflicts in their back yard (who wouldn't? If China invaded Mexico, the US would be a lot more involved than Iran was in Iraq), but that's it. Sorry, I don't think it's worth bankrupting this country to defend Israel and Saudi Arabia. You want to do it, go grab a rifle and a plane ticket. Nobody's stopping you.

    Why not stick a finger in Iran's eye? Because it's prohibitively expensive and unless you're willing to go the full genocide then it won't accomplish anything - they just keep digging in deeper. That's a fine strategy for pleasing the chickenhawks who masturbate to foreigners blowing up on CNN (the modern version of throwing Christians to the lions for public amusement, only this time it's the Christians doing it), but I want no part of it.

  7. mogden:

    The problem is that there are a lot of people that want government to do more than that, such as taking money from the out group and giving it to them. (Note, giving it to them is merely a nice property. As long as the money gets taken away from the out group, it could be burned in an incinerator, and that would still be progress.)

  8. SamWah:

    Deceptive. Of course, this does not preclude him from being an idiot.

  9. mesaeconoguy:

    Instead of explaining how bad this piece of trash “deal” is, I’ll let Richard Epstein destroy it much more eloquently than I could…

    Obama’s Disastrous Iran Deal

  10. mlhouse:

    The Iran deal negotiated by Barrack Obama's "crack" team is appeasement, pure and simple. When you negotiate with tyrants you must negotiate from a position of strength. But appeasers like Barrack Obama simply want to make a "deal". TO make the deal with tyrants they will give away issues of substance and receive back mere promises of good behaviour.

    THey will ignore repeated violations of previous agreements and treaties, pretending that THIS time the tyrants will hold true to their bargain. They will make promises of the parameters of the agreement, but in Barrack Obama, John Kerry, and others they do not even know what the verification process is, ceding those measures to a secret side deal. IF YOU CAN WATCH JOHN KERRY ANSWER "I DONT KNOW", "I HAVE NEVER SEEN A DOCUMENT OR A DRAFT" when testifying to questions posed by Senator Tom Cotton and still support this agreement then your mental capacities need to be evaluated.

    At least in 1938 we can understand the positon of Neville Chamberlain in negotiation with Adolf HItler. The British and French had suffered casualties in war that basically killed or maimed a whole generation of men. Their economies were weak and their defense establishments armed with obsolete weapons with rearmament looking like a financial hurdle that would bankrupt their nations.

    But, it was still appeasement. THey traded away issues of substance (land in Czeckslovakia) for promises that Hitler would seek no more territorial gains in Europe. They ignored how Hitler had violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Naval Agreement of 1935, and other agreements (Locarno) with the hopes that this final agreement would bring them lasting peace, or at elast enough delay to get their defenses up to the task of defending Europe.

    But, HItler's promises only lasted 6 months. By the end of 1938 he had engulfed all of teh Czech lands. By 1939 he invaded Poland causing the war the Western powers wanted to avoid.

    History repeats itself for those like Barrack Obama and John Kerry who want to pretend they are above. it.

  11. vikingvista:

    I wonder if there are places in the world where populations are not verbally and conceptually conflated with the few members of the state institutions that are imposed upon them.

    Obviously, e.g., if you are negotiating with the NY mafia to affect what the NY mafia does, it really doesn't matter to either the NY mafia, or you, what the larger population of NY thinks.

  12. John O.:

    I'm not sure that being nice with Iran at the expense of Israel and Saudi Arabia is a wise trade off. For one, I can't see Russia being an ally that Israel would particularly trust. And two, Russia is not in a position to offer long term internal and external stability in its region, you have to consider they're busy conquering their neighbors to reunite the Russian people scattered across numerous political boundaries (pretty much the same playbook that an Austrian in the German Reich Chancellery did over 70 years ago).

    I do see is Obama trying to cement a positive personal image in history. His accomplishments have all been controversial, but there will be a point in time where his legacy will bear some sort of fruit. However it won't be anything he might wish for, as history rewards such persons with much less than they view themselves as being.

    The Iranians in the short term are not likely to be anything we want them to be no matter what we do, they're still bitter about their history since 1953 and blame primarily us for how things have turned out. And justifiably so, however our chance to have righted that wrong were deliberately squandered. I can't imagine why anybody thinks that Iran's regional interests would ever align with ours in the Middle East now or long term. The Iranian government still has various desires in its region since the 1979 revolution, whether or not they will go through them really depends on them. And no matter how nice you can be to them to change, a change of public behavior is by no means an honest change in private behavior (an Austrian in a Neo-Holy Roman Emperor's clothes demonstrated that fact from his rise to power until he partitioned Poland with the Soviet Union where it could no longer be masked in diplomacy).

    Once positive change internal to Iran takes hold (as much as the Iranian government institutions are flexible, its design with the Ayatollahs and clerics at the very top, makes liberalizing the country very difficult politically as the clerics gets to chose who gets to run for office) we can look forward to real positive change in Iranian international relations. Iran is run more by its clerics than by the people who are elected to its government and until this important factor is changed then its useless to expect them to ever really come to our side no matter what we give them.

  13. Another_Brian:

    People in Iran are not allowed to consistently chant messages with which the rulers do not agree.

    What he is saying is that the people who are chanting "Death to America" are a minority supported by the leadership. But the leadership is limited by what the majority of Iranians will actually allow it to get away with. It doesn't matter if it's a democracy or a dictatorship, if the leadership pushes too hard, eventually the majority will no longer support them.

    Remember Firdos Square in Iraq, all those thousands of happy Iraqis gathered around to topple the statue of Saddam Hussein, aired every couple minutes by US news sources to show how we were greeted as liberators, not occupiers? Have you seen what it looked like when the camera zoomed out a little bit? I think we've got the same sort of thing here. You position the cameras just right, and it looks like you've got thousands of supporters. Draw back the zoom a little bit and it's a hundred people or so, in a field that's mostly empty.

  14. Andrew_M_Garland:

    Thanks for the colorful analogies and ad hominems. I think it improved your argument.

  15. Nimrod:

    Some of you obviously do not understand the religious ideology of the region, or how it affects their theory of legitimacy of government. The government is ruled by an extreme imperialist ideology (more extreme than British colonial imperialism) that is absolutely medieval.

    There are also many parallels here with Nazi Germy and Imperial Japan. Listen to someone who's actually from the culture of the region:


    The government in Iran is completely unaccountable to the population. It does not matter what most Iranians think. Only a small percentage of the population holding all the weapons is needed to completely control the actions of the country. The usual economic theories of how trade promotes human rights and public accountability and all that stuff do not apply in this situation.

    There WILL be a war. It's just a matter of how much the U.S. and everyone else is willing to help them build up their capability before that happens. And no, it is not possible to unilaterally declare peace despite what naive anti-war protesters seem to think. Diplomacy is not an alternative to war. War is just an extension of diplomacy.

  16. Nimrod:

    "It doesn't matter if it's a democracy or a dictatorship, if the leadership pushes too hard, eventually the majority will no longer support them."

    This is nonsense because it doesn't matter if the majority supports the government or not. They have all the weapons and nothing is holding them back from cracking down on their own population. You underestimate the significance of "the majority".

    I suppose you don't realize that it only took 31% of the population of the Weimar Republic to put the Nazis "permanently" in power. After that, it took an even smaller percentage of support to keep them in power.