Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Wieseltier on Iran: Laughable

Avowed interventionist Leon Wieseltier has written a piece lambasting the Iran nuclear deal that critics contend is rife with hollow arguments and inconsistencies that refute themselves.

Print Friendly

LobeLog

It is everyone’s right to present themselves as The Great Moral Arbiter. And the rest of us are within our rights to laugh at them. That’s what first came to mind after I finished reading Leon Wieseltier’s 2,000-plus-word jeremiad against the Iran nuclear deal in The Atlantic.

But wait: Is it okay to laugh? Sometimes not: “There was something grotesque about the chumminess, the jolly camaraderie, of the American negotiators and the Iranian negotiators,” Wieseltier writes. “Why is Mohammad Javad Zarif laughing?”

I’m guessing something was funny; that’s why people usually laugh. And would it be so strange for enemies gathered in small rooms for hours on end to establish a rapport where, despite their enmity, they just might share a joke? Of course it isn’t: prisoner accounts from Japanese captivity during World War II and Vietnamese POW camps are long on anecdotes of detainees and guards yucking it up. Must diplomats be constantly posturing in their moral rectitude as if they were… well, as if they were Leon Wieseltier? The answer is Yes, always Yes.

That Wieseltier is apparently against laughing is but a small matter. But it stands in nicely for the larger flaws in his critique of the nuclear deal. Namely, Wieseltier has taken his normal stance of hawkishness without a thought to the context or even the greater questions. It’s the same “moral clarity” that got him into trouble a dozen years ago when he joined hands with American neoconservatives in pursuit of doing The Moral Thing in Iraq. His arguments today, however, are hollow. Rife with inconsistencies, they refute themselves. And, with a careful look, they reveal the bankruptcy of Wieseltier’s liberal interventionism.

Refuting the Rut

Wieseltier begins and ends with admonishments of the Obama administration’s rhetoric about “step(ping) out of the rut of history”—an artful phrasing whose meaning completely escapes this purported man of letters’ imagination. It is not, as Wieseltier reads it, “a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture,” but rather an acknowledgement that the old path—the one we’ve been on for three and a half decades—has led nowhere but closer to a major confrontation. When you drive in ruts, you’re not only going to have difficulty turning, but you’re liable to break wheels. Wieseltier’s evocation of Cuba is instructive: the policy of strictly isolating Cuba wasn’t set aside because Obama has “an appetite for change,” but because, after more than half a century, it wasn’t working.

From there the essay runs for some 800 words about how horrible the Iranian government is, implying throughout that we should not make a deal with These People. “Not a relationship with a new Iran, but a new relationship with this Iran, as it is presently—that is to say, theocratically, oppressively, xenophobically, aggressively, anti-Semitically, misogynistically, homophobically—constituted,” Wieseltier writes, adverbally reciting all of the Iranian regime’s very many and very real flaws.

Then he takes a curious turn: “If I could believe that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action marked the end of Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon,” Wieseltier writes, “I would support it.” Say what? You’ve just given all these reasons why it’s so bad to deal with Iran but you’re okay with dealing with them if you get what you want? I dare say this is the same posture struck by all the liberals supporting the deal that Wieseltier looks down his nose at.

And this is to say nothing of the substance of his critique of the deal. Spoiler: Wieseltier doesn’t think that the accord will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. There’s something to that—the deal, despite what many of its proponents claim, isn’t, as Wieseltier puts it, a “guarantee” that Iran will never get the bomb. Instead, it puts in place a mechanism to make it more difficult for Iran to do so, coupled with incentives for Iran not to do so. In that sense it accomplishes what the sanctions could not, what a military strike cannot, and certainly what pushing for regime change will not do. And yet this latter choice is exactly what Wieseltier seems to be intoning throughout his piece.

Wieseltier is no doubt sure about “Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon” as he was about the Iraqi WMD program, which spurred the then-literary editor of The New Republic into supporting the Iraq invasion alongside the neoconservative hawks of the Project for a New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Wieseltier quickly came to regret his support for the war based on the false assertions about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs: “I was deceived,” he wrote. “Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation.” And yet there were plenty of doubts to be heard about the war rationale for anyone who didn’t close their ears to them. That, however, won’t stop Wieseltier from failing to heed the experts this time around, where the nuclear non-proliferation and foreign policy establishments are lined up in near consensus behind a deal.

Most of those experts recognize what Wieseltier refuses to: that moral preening can be satisfying, but that one must also consider policies in terms of the alternatives. Yet Wieseltier refuses even considering alternatives. He writes: “But what is the alternative? This is the question that is supposed to silence all objections. It is, for a start, a demagogic question.” Considering the figures Wieseltier’s anti-deal stance puts him in league with, the accusation of demagoguery is hilarious. But who can blame him? For all the pompous prose, the moralizing about the evil Iranian regime, and the professed love for the Iranian people, this is the best Wieseltier can come up with for an actual plan of action:

This accord will strengthen a contemptible regime. And so I propose—futilely, I know—that now, in the aftermath of the accord, America proceed to weaken it. The conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action should be accompanied by a resumption of our hostility to the Iranian regime and its various forces.

Freedom Agenda Repackaged

This means, first and foremost, restoring George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda. It means calling for Iran to release political dissidents and the Americans it holds under house arrest or in prison. It means aiding Iran’s political opposition (which has ruled out American aid in the past). And it means proxy war: “We need to arm the enemies of Iran in Syria and Iraq, and for many reasons,” Wieseltier writes. Does he know who Iran’s enemies in Iraq are? Let me give some hints: they don’t care much about the Freedom Agenda or the Iranian people—they like beheading Shiites.

After all his pompous prose, Wieseltier ends his list of recommendations with this one: “We need to explore, with diplomatic daring, an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states, which are now experiencing an unprecedented convergence of interests.”

Nothing screams Freedom Agenda and democracy promotion like helping one country that holds millions in stateless subjugation (with US funding) and another that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for Jeffersonian democracy—or any democracy at all, really—to be better buddies because they both fear Iranian influence. Now that makes me want to laugh.

Wieseltier knows his advice will—thankfully, for the rest of us—fall on deaf ears. He concludes: “We will instead persist in letting the fire spread and letting time tell, which we call realism. Wanting not to fight wars, we refuse to join struggles. Sometimes, I guess, history really is a rut.” Yes, and so, too, does bankrupt, ideological moralizing. Thank goodness our country won’t again join Wieseltier’s struggle.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Although sometimes characterized as a Republican “maverick” for his bipartisan forays into domestic policy, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks.


Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a stalwart advocate of the Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


A right-wing Christian and governor of Kansas, Brownback previously served in the U.S. Senate, where he gained a reputation as a leading social conservative as well as an outspoken “pro-Israel” hawk on U.S. Middle East policy.


Steve Forbes, head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for aggressive U.S. foreign policies.


Stephen Hadley, an Iraq War hawk and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, now chairs the U.S. Institute for Peace.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The Trump administration appears to have been surprised by this breach among its friends in the critical Gulf strategic area. But it is difficult to envision an effective U.S. role in rebuilding this Humpty-Dumpty.


Print Friendly

A recent vote in the European Parliament shows how President Trump’s relentless hostility to Iran is likely to isolate Washington more than Tehran.


Print Friendly

The head of the Institute for Science and International Security—aka “the Good ISIS”—recently demonstrated again his penchant for using sloppy analysis as a basis for politically explosive charges about Iran, in this case using a faulty translation from Persian to misleadingly question whether Tehran is “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges.”


Print Friendly

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.


Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


RightWeb
share