One of the unintended consequences of the Tom Cotton letter fiasco is that the media focus has turned away from the actual negotiations with Iran to the various excuses Republican leaders are coming up with to explain why they signed it.

But there are a couple of exceptions. I have to give Joshua Muravchik some credit. At least he dispensed with all the right wing cover about how we need a “better deal” and got right down to it with War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option. But what he’s really recommending are surgical strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. He has to admit that won’t stop Iran from continuing to build new ones, so we’ll have to commit to a kind “whack-a-mole” ongoing war. And then he has to admit that we’ll have to do that without IAEA inspectors, so the whole argument devolves into one big mess.

Then there’s Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal that published an op-ed on the negotiations by none other than Doug Feith, who purports to have found the “fatal flaw in Obama’s dealings with Iran.”

To set the stage for a look at what Feith has to say, I’ll simply remind you that General Tommy Franks called him “the dumbest f*cking guy on the planet.” When it comes to the Bush/Cheney disasters in Iraq, Chris Suellentrop says Feith is not fully culpable, but “he’s a leading indicator, like a falling Dow—something that correlates with but does not cause disaster.”

With that in mind, Feith’s point is that President Obama is taking a “cooperative” approach to the negotiations when he should be taking a “coercive” approach. Here’s how he defines the two:

By taking a cooperative approach, Mr. Obama insists, the U.S. and others can persuade Iran’s ruling ayatollahs to play by rules that all parties voluntarily accept. In contrast, the coercive option, which Mr. Netanyahu favors, assumes that Iran will remain hostile, dishonest and dangerous…Coercion means America and its friends would use trade and financial restrictions, diplomatic isolation and other methods (short of military strikes) to pressure a resistant Iran into changing its behavior.

This is helpful because it shows how Republicans continue to insist on an either/or approach to the world when success in negotiations like this requires a both/and strategy. To get a picture of that, let’s review some of the history that led us to this point.

As part of the UN Security Council, the United States had imposed sanctions on Iran for years over their nuclear program. But they were not effective. When Obama was elected President, he sought to up the ante against Iran with tougher sanctions. But initially, two of Iran’s biggest trading partners – Russia and China – wouldn’t agree. By 2010, the Obama administration was able to convince those two countries to participate. Those sanctions had the desired effect.

Since 2010, the sanctions’ impact on Iran has been severe: its oil exports and revenues plummeted; the value of its currency eroded; trade disruptions shuttered businesses and exacerbated inflation. Quietly, a backlash emerged among Iran’s political elites against the country’s creeping isolation, and the June 2013 presidential election ushered in a moderate new president and the beginnings of a diplomatic breakthrough on the nuclear crisis — achievements that most observers attribute to the impact of sanctions.

That sounds an awful lot like the “coercion” Feith was talking about – which was finally effective because it was imposed “cooperatively.” The reason Republicans can’t see that is because ridding Iran of its nuclear weapons is not their only goal. Feith slips this one in without further comment:

In addition, Mr. Netanyahu says, sanctions should remain in place until Iran stops threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism.

This one reminds me a lot of the Republican insistence that we can’t talk about a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants until we “secure the border.” The result of that insistence is that the border is never secure enough – just as Iran never stops being enough of a threat to pursue an agreement. It is meant to leave regime change (most likely via military intervention) as the only option on the table.

I can only shake my head at the ignorance of people who don’t remember that it was regime change in Iran that got us here in the first place.

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