By chance, did anyone else hear the interview this morning on NPR with President Obama about the deal with Iran? I had a hard time discerning any enthusiasm or energy in the President’s voice on the subject. While driving to work this morning, I started talking to the President through the radio (because I believe that he can hear me, and will be influenced by my words, when I do this) and asking him if he really believed the words he was saying, and if not, couldn’t he have come up with a better argument?
Seems to me that what’s come out of the protracted negotiations is something reasonably close to the least bad deal possible. Democracies don’t handle “least bad options” very well even in the best of circumstances. Democrats are not exactly rallying around the White House, and very few Republicans can see any political benefit to doing other than opposing it: scaring people with the prospect of an ayatollah able to launch nuclear missiles at the hated “Zionist Entity” is political gold to the GOP. With the result that in order to avoid Congressional rejection of the deal, the White House has resorted to the same sort of nuclear extortion that Iran did in order to get the rest of the world to the bargaining table in the first place.
Sometimes, you have to pick between two very unpleasant choices, and you have to figure out which one is the least bad and hold your nose and do it. This I’m used to advising clients to accept the least bad alternative, although it often takes quite a bit of cajoling to get them there. I’m not seeing the kind of arguments, pressure, and encouragement I use coming out of the White House — what I hear is, “Well, it’s this or war,” and I just don’t believe that’s true.
Nevertheless, the thing that motivates me to say that doing this deal is less bad than not doing this deal is pretty much Iran’s geography and industrialization. Invading Iran would be very difficult, expensive, and bloody. Attacking it from the air only would be destructive of its infrastructure but lead to a massive rash of terrorism, and could easily turn out ineffective with respect to stopping the Iranians from getting a functional nuke anyway.
Conversely, that same geography and inward-looking infrastructure that would make an invasion difficult also would make it difficult for Iran to project its military power very far beyond its own borders. And threatening to nuke Israel is a whole lot more effective for Iran than actually doing it, since that’s kind of a one-off thing for it to do in the first place and really, the world wouldn’t look that much different from a strategic and economic perspective to Tehran after Israel is nuked than it did before, except for a long period of time in which no one would buy Iran’s oil at all and it would have to absorb some substantial counter-strikes in reprisal.
Frankly, after hearing Obama be so wan in his advocacy of the Iran deal, I have to conclude that the best argument for the deal is the only argument for the deal: there is no better alternative available. It’s no wonder that Congress’ reaction to it seems cooler than lukewarm. I’d like it if someone could tell me why I’m wrong — let’s say, hypothetically, I were to have lunch with my Congressman. Why should I tell him, “Hey, you should totally vote for the deal,” or if you would have me urge him to vote against it, what other, better plan I should suggest my Congressman have the government pursue in its place.
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California and the managing editor of Ordinary Times. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.
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