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In this final installment of the new series of Strategika podcasts from the Hoover Institution, I talk with the great Walter Russell Mead — Bard College professor, Distinguished Scholar at the Hudson Institute, and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest. What ensues is a wide-ranging discussion over the Iran deal. What’s the strategic calculus for the leadership in Tehran? What’s President Obama’s theory of the case? And how likely is it that this agreement gets us closer to war rather than further away? Find out below or by subscribing to Strategika via iTunes.
In the first of three new Strategika podcasts tackling the subject of arms control (and, specifically, the nuclear deal with Iran), Angelo Codevilla, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University, goes one step further than many critics of the agreement with Tehran. He doesn’t just argue that this deal is unworkable. He argues that the entire framework of arms control that the West has embraced for the last century is unworkable. It’s a fascinating discussion and you can listen in by subscribing to Strategika through iTunes or by listening in below.
“Seven Jewish Lawmakers Could Tilt the Scales on Iran Deal,” headlines The Times of Israel. The members — Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Steven Israel, Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Nita Lowey, Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Ted Deutch – are all Democrats. They must choose between loyalty to their party’s president, and concern about what the deal portends for Israeli and American security.
There are long and short answers to the question: “Why are Jews liberal?” The long answer traces back to the Enlightenment in Europe when parties of the right were monarchist and anti-Semitic, while parties of the left favored pluralism and religious freedom. I don’t buy the long argument. Tsar Alexander III, who instigated pogroms against the Jews, is long dead. So is Napoleon, who liberated them. In the meantime, Jews have suffered under communists, who proved just as cruel as the monarchists.
Jewish liberals often explain that their views spring from Jewish tradition, which admonishes the Jewish people to engage in “tikkun olam” or “healing the world.” I’m skeptical. Tikkun Olam is traditionally understood as adhering faithfully to the commandments (keeping kosher, visiting the sick, and observing the Sabbath, for example), the better to prepare the world for the messianic age. Many of those who brandish the Hebrew phrase today have commandeered it to bolster support for same sex marriage, government-run health care, and the rest of the progressive agenda — an interpretation that would, to quote the immortal words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “cross a rabbi’s eyes.”
The announcement hammered out between Western powers and Iran last week is, in all likelihood, doomed for failure, not least because of a number of unjustifiable assumptions that undergird the deal. As I argue in my new column for Defining Ideas:
The first problem with the deal is that it gives Iran an undeserved respectability that comes simply from being allowed to sign a significant international agreement.
My view is that arguments about whether this is “a good deal” are missing the point; the point is that everyone within the time zone of sanity understands that, even in the best-case scenario, we’ve done no more than buy time. What do we plan to do with that time?
For the sake of argument, let’s take Fred Cole’s position as “the most optimistic that can be held while remaining in the time-zone of sanity.” Fred Cole asked, “And how long before they’re tired of having an Islamic republic and turn to liberal democracy?” My answer, Fred — and would you agree? — is, “We don’t know.” The assumption that everyone sooner or later wants a liberal democracy has been tested and found wanting. No one can count on this happening, no less make a confident prediction that it will happen within a given time frame.
I agree with Adam Garfinkle that this is the key point:
It seems fitting that American Pharaoh is running for the Triple Crown as in the name embodies the actions of the Commander-in-Chief. President Obama’s modern take on Yul Brynner is “So let it be uttered, so let it be done.” On the heels of his CGI performance yesterday, President Obama’s encore today is an interview on Israeli […]
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If anyone is hoping for foreign policy wisdom from me about this, you’re looking to the wrong person. Nothing about this makes sense. Adam Garfinkle’s piece in the American Interest strikes me as closest to rational. He rejects the idea that the negotiations are “a cover for shepherding that bomb into being as an ante toward bringing about an Iranian-U.S. condominium to ‘stabilize’ the Middle East,” this on the grounds that the explanation is essentially a conspiracy theory:
It behooves those who hold such views to explain why an American President would think that multinational nuclear proliferation in the Middle East suits mid- to long-term U.S. national security interests. It obviously doesn’t, and so they cannot explain their position rationally.
But he notes that it would seem the President was willing to accept any deal, however unfavorable:
Maybe I’m too sensitive, but when a foreign autocrat leads his people in chants of “Death to America” I take it personally.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry apparently don’t. The chant, which became a staple of the Islamic Republic during the 1979 revolution, is not a relic of the past. Just last weekend, at a rally in the northern part of the country, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was interrupted by the chant as he was denouncing American “lies” and “arrogance.” He smiled and responded, “Of course yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure.”
Some in Iran have urged that the “Death to America” chant, common after Friday prayers and at political rallies, be downplayed during negotiations over a nuclear deal, but the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) rejects this, insisting, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, that the United States “is still the great Satan and the number one enemy of the (Islamic) revolution, and the Islamic Republic and the Iranian nation…”
The president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have never been very close, but during the sensitive negotiations with Iran — wherein it has been proposed that Iran take a 10-year break from nuclear development — the Prime Minister will be visiting Congress, in the process upsetting the president’s apple cart by providing a different perspective on the true dangers posed by the Iran deal.
Priorities seem to be truly skewed in this discussion. One of the president’s supporters (Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia) almost went as far as invoking the Prime Directive (against interference in the history of primitive cultures — a philosophical perspective evoked in the original Star Trek series) as somehow more important than addressing what is certainly an existential threat of nuclear proliferation by terrorist-sponsoring regimes, a threat to not only Israel and America, but to the rest of the world.
I, for one, can’t accept the shallow criticism that this is all about Israeli politics. Since when do we worry or care about Israel’s election calendar? Netanyahu didn’t invite himself. He was invited by the Speaker of the House, whose party was elected by the citizens of the United States. Our Senate will be there too, and they were also elected to be a Republican majority by the people of the states. The presidency is held by a Democrat, who is close to coming to blows with the Prime Minister. All of this owes to the fact that the people want to hear something from outside the echo chamber that is the Obama Administration.