President Obama’s closing argument in favor of the Iran nuclear deal has become so exaggerated, so bitter, so simplified, that it risks parody.
He accuses his opponents of wanting another war and “making common cause” with Iranian hard-liners who chant “Death to America.” This goes beyond the questioning of patriotism. Critics of the agreement are, in Obama’s depiction, the bloodthirsty allies of theocratic butchers.
In the meantime, the Iranian regime has celebrated the nuclear agreement by defying it – blatantly sanitizing (with bulldozers) its military research site at Parchin and denying promised access.
So: While Iran tests the limits of the deal he turns his anger on critics of the deal.
What to make of this strategy?
First, exercising the rhetorical version of the nuclear option has an obvious political benefit. Better to have a referendum on the Iraq War than serious congressional scrutiny of the embarrassing manner in which the Iran agreement was secured.
Second, we are seeing dramatic evidence of the incentive structure that is now in place. The deal must be preserved, according to the president, because the stark choice is “diplomacy or some form of war.”
Third, I am willing to grant that Obama’s partisan attack is also a sincere expression of his policy views. Obama administration foreign policy in the Middle East has always been, at least in part, a reaction against the George W. Bush years. Bush had policies that involved coercion if certain conditions were not met. Obama authentically believes this approach was mistaken.
Let’s recall a little history. In 2009, in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election, a Green Revolution raised the possibility of regime change – by popular uprising – in Iran. Obama did nothing to encourage it, for fear of undermining a nuclear deal. He effectively made common cause with Iranian hard-liners because they were at the negotiation table. And they are now rewarded with money, arms and global legitimacy. Who would they regard as their real benefactor?
Michael Gerson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.