Fallows Versus Wieseltier on the Iran Nuke Deal

As the debate over the nuclear deal with Iran rolls along, the fault lines are mostly along the predictable D versus R barricades, aside from a few long-standing let’s-bomb-Iran Dems like Bob Menendez. But it’s universally understood that the fate of the deal is in the hands of a minority of congressional Democrats, without whom Republicans cannot hope to override a presidential veto of their efforts to maintain sanctions.

So for any Democrats who are looking for cover for differing with Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders on this subject, it’s worth noting that one of the major voices of latter-day liberal hawkery, former longtime TNR senior editor Leon Wieseltier, has taken to the pages of the Atlantic (you may recall he was the first writer out the door in the recent “purge” at TNR) with an impassioned attack on the deal.

You can read the whole thing, but suffice it to say that Leon has really thrown the whole kitchen sink of emotionalism as well as (his own version of) logic at the deal. His always-latent hostility towards Obama reaches full bloom as he accuses the president of breaking with traditional alignments of friends and enemies just for the hell of it, and in a weird drive-by, treats the normalization of relations with Cuba as equally perfidious. There’s even a gratuitous reference to the Dreyfus Affair (ostensibly justified by the “injustice to one man” reflected in negotiating with Tehran while a U.S. journalist is imprisoned there) just to remind us of the suspicion of anti-semitism risked by anyone who dares split with the current Israeli government on this matter.

But here, you have to guess, is the core of Wieseltier’s fury at the deal:

With his talk about reintegrating Iran into the international community, about the Islamic Republic becoming “a very successful regional power” and so on, he has legitimated a regime that was more and more lacking in legitimacy. (There was something grotesque about the chumminess, the jolly camaraderie, of the American negotiators and the Iranian negotiators. Why is Mohammad Javad Zarif laughing?)

And so Leon articulates what one might call the “Iranian exceptionalism” claims of those who want nothing but war with Tehran: the Iranians are so monstrous–worse than Stalin, as bad as Hitler–that it’s inherently immoral to have any dealings with them that might make them laugh.

In any event, now comes WaMo Editorial Advisory Board member James Fallows with a response to Wieseltier and other critics of the deal that is as calm as their arguments are shrill. After noting the massive support for the deal from distinguished U.S. national security experts, and reminding Americans that we are not in a position to unilaterally maintain the sanctions status quo critics of the deal appear to prefer, he responds directly to Wieseltier in a manner that is simultaneously civil and pointed:

For decades, U.S. diplomats and scholars have talked about the inevitable end of Cuba’s unnatural exclusion. For nearly as long, they have studied the conditions in which Iran’s extremist-pariah estrangement would end. And for at least a decade, they have considered how the U.S. could undo the damage in its relations with the Muslim world wrought by the Iraq War. Obama has moved steadily on all these fronts, and slowly. You can agree or disagree with his judgment (I generally agree), but I don’t think you can call him impulsive. If you want to see impatient, impulsive zeal for newness, “the mentality of disruption applied to foreign policy,” go back and study the thinking that led us into the Iraq War.

Ouchy ouchy.

Read it all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.