Nobody was surprised by Benjamin Netanyahu’s immediate denunciation of the Iran nuclear agreement as “a historic mistake for the world.” Echoing the Israeli prime minister’s opposition throughout the negotiations were all the usual suspects in this country — a panoply of pundits and politicians from Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Fox News Channel analyst Charles Krauthammer to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Now this same crew will urge its rejection by the United States Senate.
Focusing on the alleged pitfalls of the deal between Iran and the world powers, these critics downplay provisions that would allow economic sanctions to “snap back” quickly if Iran violates its promises, and greatly increase the Islamic Republic’s difficulty in building an undetected bomb. They don’t explain that if the United States had walked away, the result would have been the disintegration of international sanctions, the rapid buildup of Iran’s nuclear capability, and the likelihood of war — not just bombs, but “boots on the ground.”
What everyone should remember about the agreement’s most prominent foes is something they will never mention: their own shameful record in promoting our very worst foreign policy mistake since Vietnam.
Like his admirers here, Netanyahu was a fervent proselytizer for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He appeared before the United States Congress in 2002 to frighten Americans and whip up belligerence. “There is no question whatsoever” — mark those words — “that Saddam is seeking, is working, is advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons,” he intoned, restating the “mushroom cloud” rhetoric of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and vice president Dick Cheney, among others.
Around the same time, Krauthammer declared: “Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons. And he has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us.” As the vote on Bush’s war resolution approached that fall, he warned that “we must remove from power an irrational dictator who … is developing weapons of mass destruction that could kill millions of Americans in a day.”
And we heard the same endless, hysterical exhortations from Kristol, Scarborough, and the entire cohort that had been pushing for war in Iraq ever since 9/11. No doubt they wish we would forget they ever uttered such nonsense. But at the time they argued that not only would Saddam’s overthrow mean “the end of his weapons of mass destruction,” as Scarborough once gloated, but the democratic ouster of all our enemies in the Mideast.
On that claim, Netanyahu was unwavering and absolute. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime,” he told Congress, “I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region. And I think that people sitting right next door in Iran, young people, and many others, will say the time of such regimes, of such despots is gone.”
Of course, Bibi’s “guarantee” was worth less than the pitch of any used-car salesman. So was Kristol’s blithering reassurance that Iraq’s Shiite and the Sunni communities felt no enmity that would disrupt the bright future post-Saddam.
As Netanyahu noted not long ago — while arguing, ironically, against negotiations with Iran — the mullahs in Tehran now have far greater influence than we do over the Iraqi government in Baghdad, because both are dominated by Shiite parties. (He failed to recall his own wrong predictions.) So we wasted blood and treasure to throw out Saddam and empower the Iranian mullahs in his place. And now the same figures responsible for that policy disaster demand that the United States turn away from the prospect of a peaceful resolution with Iran, and toward still another armed conflict.
The fundamental truth, recognized by Republican idol Ronald Reagan, is that negotiations are always preferable to war. Yet many on the American right have often preferred war, including the utterly insane risk of nuclear war, to dealing with our enemies. Earlier this year, Scarborough suggested that even if the Iran deal looked better than expected, he disdains peace talks on principle — as do the neoconservatives, who rose to prominence lobbying against strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union.
“I never trusted the Soviets,” said Scarborough. “I never wanted Reagan to make deals with the Soviets in the late ’80s. It turned out well, but I was always against detente and against dealing with communists. And right now, I’m against dealing with a country whose Supreme Leader calls us the devil, who says death to America at the same time he’s negotiating this deal.”
“It turned out well” is to put it very mildly. Not only was President Reagan’s reputation enhanced, but owing to decades of negotiation, we avoided a nuclear conflict that would have ended life on this planet. Yet Scarborough and his ilk reject the idea of talking with our enemies — although any negotiation over matters of war and peace will always require that distasteful necessity.
Twelve years ago, we made the historic mistake of listening to all these false and foolish prophets. There is no excuse to repeat that tragic error.
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