Congress plans a mid-September vote on the administration’s agreement with Iran about nuclear weapons. It’s an important vote for a number of reasons. We have heard several arguments related to this question: of them, the Obama-Kerry brief that the United States must choose between the nuclear deal and war with Iran appears shakiest. The peace vs. war argument assumes the following propositions, all of which are false:
The U. S. finds itself in a position where it has only two foreign policy options in its relationship with Iran.
The military establishment agrees with the president’s reasoning on this subject, or, it is so eager to go to war with Iran that if the Senate fails to approve the deal, the Department of Defense would force the president’s hand in the matter of war.
In the absence of a deal, Iran’s development and deployment of nuclear weapons will require preventive war in the near term.
The status quo as it existed before negotiation of the deal is untenable.
Israel is an unreliable, unstable ally that could draw us into war with Iran on its behalf.
Iran’s leaders are ready for peace with the United States.
Iran’s neighbors are incapable of containing its military power.
Iran badly wants nuclear weapons, but will trade away this goal in order to normalize relations with the world’s great powers.
The world’s great powers would support war with Iran should the nuclear deal fail.
War with Iran, if the nuclear deal fails, would be in the United States’ interest.
Helping Iran take its place in the region as a legitimate power would benefit both its neighbors and the United States.
The nuclear deal buys ten years to develop better responses to Iran’s weapons programs.
Concluding the nuclear deal as an executive agreement is legal, effective, and binding on the parties to the agreement.
Americans would support war with Iran if that were the only effective means to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
War with Iran would prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons.
War with Iran would prevent use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Every one of these ideas is false, or doubtful to the point no clear headed policymaker would base critical decisions on the truth of any of these statements. Yet the president appears to believe all of them. He cannot say that we stand at a choice between peace and war here, and disbelieve these propositions. If he maintains that failure to conclude a nuclear deal entails war with Iran, he has to defend or bring into play these other arguments as well. These other arguments form the intellectual groundwork for foreign policy reasoning that amounts to peace at all costs.
Note this reasoning addresses the president’s argument the United States must choose between peace and war at this point in its relationship with Iran. That formulation is plainly false. A more defensible formulation is that the nuclear deal is the best the United States can achieve at this point in its relationship with Iran. I think the reasoning behind the more modest formulation is also weak, but it is not built on scary propaganda. Propositions that underlie the modest formulation are ideas that opponents of the deal would have to address.
The alternative to an agreement in this case is war only if we choose that alternative. Nothing forces us to go to war with Iran. If Israel goes to war with Iran without our blessing, so be it. Israel’s vehement opposition to this agreement should tell us something. Israel has refrained from the persistent saber rattling we have conducted toward Iran over the last twenty years. Israel sounds a warning about Iran’s intentions, but it does not threaten war at every turn. One question the Obama-Kerry team should have to address is, why should our policy be different from Israel’s on this matter? Even if we disagree with Israel’s policy toward Gaza or other issues, our foreign policy team must still address this question: why is Israel’s policy toward Iran so mistaken that we should undermine it?
To restate the core argument: the propositions above are either false, or so questionable that no one would care to defend the proposition in public. Yet every one of them is part of the bogeyman, “If we don’t do this deal, we have to go to war.” This false choice suggests or implies all of them, so clearly that the choice itself cannot stand on so weak a foundation.
If our leaders want to scare us with flapping sheets about choices so consequential as decisions for war, let them pursue their propaganda as far as their silly minds take them. Their desire to scare us disqualifies them as leaders, as does their inability to reason clearly about their own goals. When you clothe your main decision in false colors, and embed incorrect reasoning in the fabric, you have a decision not worth the breath required to state it. In a region that is already undergoing a terrible war, where Iran is one of the main participants, and where in the eastern theater we are one of Iran’s main allies, we need to formulate decisions and policies about war and peace more accurately. We ought to talk with all of our allies about what steps appear to be best, then proceed with wise caution and sophistication.
In 2003, we went to war with Iraq against our allies’ advice, a decision that was clearly a disastrous blunder at the time policymakers made it. The decision had the same qualities this one has: built on lies, distortions, wishful thinking and propaganda, it was unwise, unsophisticated, and plainly foolish. Every consequence of that decision stands as testament about what to avoid with decisions of this type. Do we want to make another disastrous mistake, but overlook risks because in this case, the aim appears to be peace? After ill-advised, unjustified threats of war, do we want to make a deal for peace that is equally unjustified?
August 9 is the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown at least six times, four times in his right arm and twice in his head. Ferguson police left Brown’s body on the pavement where he fell for most of the afternoon of August 9, 2014.