Friday, July 31, 2015

Barack Obama, Bob Dold and the Iran Deal in one night

I don't often get a chance to call in to hear President Obama make a pitch about foreign policy. so I joined a few thousand of my closest friends last night and called in to the White House to hear from Obama why the Iran deal should not be blocked by the United States Congress. It reminded me a bit of campaign conference calls where Obama was rather direct with thousands of supporters telling us what he was up against "I mean, these guys can write a hundred million dollar check!" and asked for help. This time, instead of asking us to donate more money and get more votes, he asked us to raise our voices with Congress. "I need your citizenship."

Before the call, I had thought of this agreement with Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, Russia and just about every other major power to be an absolute triumph of diplomacy. Iranians deserve much of the credit, in my view, for electing a moderate President a few years ago, the first time since in 50 years that the Iranian people voted for a leader who would seek to build ties with the West. President Hassan Rouhani (you can and should follow him on Twitter) seems to have met the rest of the world halfway, especially since it was President Dwight Eisenhower who gave the CIA approval (after Truman rejected them) in 1953 to overthrow a democratic socialist leader of Iran who was planning to nationalize their oil fields (kicking out British Petroleum) and install a ruthless despotic leader in his place. That led to decade of resentment (understandably so) against the US and the UK, culminating in the 1979 Iranian Revolution where the first Islamic Republic was established which persists to this day. So the idea that Iran -- which the US had helped turn from a peaceful, prosperous, modern nation into a relatively poor country with a religious fundamentalist in charge -- would elect a moderate leader and then come to an agreement over ending their nuclear program with the rest of the world struck me as amazing.

Charged up by President Obama's pitch, I imagined setting up campaign websites ( or where regular people who didn't want another war in the Middle East could email their Members of Congress and ask them to vote for the Iran Deal. Imagine my surprise a few hours later when I saw Congressman Bob Dold (R-IL) and his family eating outside at a suburban restaurant. Here's my chance! I knew Dold had published an op-ed in the Trib a few weeks ago denouncing the deal, but maybe he was open to changing his mind. He's a thoughtful person and since he is part of the Republican majority representing a swing district full of educated voters, he's a good proxy for the national debate. At least, hearing from someone back home is always a good thing.

(One of the art forms of lobbying is finding the few moments when it is socially acceptable to approach an elected official, particularly outside of work environments. Like a predator, we must lie in wait for the right moment to pounce. Walking away from the table after a meal -- that's the time to pitch the politician for a few moments).

He was very kind to engage with me for a good minute or two on the intricacies of the deal from his perspective. and in the spirit of getting to the right foreign policy decision in a non-partisan, substantive way, I'd like to list his objections to the agreement.

Little did I know his office had released earlier that day a video of him explaining why he vigorously opposed the deal.

The thrust of his argument (read it yourself to make sure I'm getting it correctly) seems to have changed in the last two weeks. In the Trib, Dold argues that the deal itself makes the world more dangerous because we trade permanent sanctions relief (so Iran can grow its economy) for 15 years of inspections. He'd prefer another path towards permanently blocking Iran's path to a nuclear weapon. Something....tougher, somehow? And still something the Iranians would agree to....somehow?

In the video, Dold argues that rejecting the deal isn't the cataclysmic disaster President Obama envisions where the rest of the world, after reluctantly following the US lead for the last 19 months and keeping up their sanctions against Iran in the hopes of finally striking a global deal, then shakes their collective head at the absurd US Congress that destroyed a golden chance at peaceful progress, then cut their own deals with Iran to end their sanctions without US leadership and without Iranian commitments to end production of nuclear weapons.

He doesn't see that.

Instead, Dold sees a better deal with Iran after the Congress blocks this one where the terms of the agreement are somehow stronger. He thinks the US should impose additional sanctions to really cripple the Iranian economy and force the Iranians from a position of weakness to accept whatever terms the US imposes on them (and the rest of the world). He thinks it was a tactical error to lift some sanctions as a gesture of good faith when the Iranians agreed to negotiate, as that made our position weaker.

The good news is that Dold is calling for diplomacy and framing the rejection of a diplomatic agreement as just another step in the diplomatic process.

The bad news is, respectfully, it seems like a fantasy.

Let's just say that the US is the most hard-line of any country with Iran. If it took 19 months of negotiations to finally come to an agreement with all parties, including Iran, does it make any sense to imagine that if the most hard-line participant reneges and calls for starting again, that any other country would go along with that?

Think about that moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He is proving to the Iranian people -- who, remember, have lots of extremely legitimate reasons to resent the US for ruining their country (they don't hate us because of our freedom; they hate us for imposing a despot) -- that through engagement and diplomacy, not war and terror, genuine progress can be made. And yes, that means progress for the Iranians, not just progress for the rest of the world.

Everyone needs to be better off for an agreement to work. Otherwise, it's not an agreement. It's a surrender. We're not going to surrender to anyone. But we can't reasonably expect the Iranians to surrender to us -- especially given our very unclean hands.

That's what Representative Dold (and other opponents of the Iran Deal) are calling for: diplomatic surrender by Iran to the United States.

It's the same arrogance that caused thoughtful people in DC to overthrow a democratically elected Iranian government 50 years ago. It's the same arrogance that launched an invasion in the Middle East 15 years ago that left everyone worse off. It's arrogance to reject a reasonable settlement because it isn't a crushing victory.

Maybe a reasonable settlement with Iran will backfire and they will use this opportunity to nefariously build a nuclear weapon and expand their power, forcing their way into the global first tier and promote the Islamic State. But that means every country in the world that negotiated this agreement didn't see that possibility and only the US Congress in their wisdom is able to accurately perceive that risk and reject the deal.

That's the final arrogance of opponent of the Iran deal: only they are smart enough to see what the rest of the world that has signed off on this deal does not -- that Iran is lying, that there are secret side deals, that Iran will trick every other country and create nuclear weapons despite pledges, inspections and scientific limitations.

I think the US has been arrogant in the Middle East for too long. I think we should welcome this global agreement for a more peaceful Middle East that includes a more moderate Iran. And I sincerely hope a more moderate US Congress does not stand in the way.