TPM Cafe: Opinion

No, Obama Isn't Our New Chamberlain

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AP Photo

Any good news from Iran should shock us out of political stupor long enough to offer the president an “atta boy” for keeping Iran at the negotiating table, let alone for moving the hands back on Iran’s nuclear clock. Instead, he’s being attacked by conservatives for doing the wrong thing and by hawks for not doing enough. At this point, the surprise isn’t that Obama has won verifiable concessions from Iran but that he has stopped American wannabes from screwing up the whole deal with their self-interested incompetence.

Despite Ronald Reagan making the notorious arms-for-hostages trade with Iran, his partisans hailed him as a new Churchill. Perhaps we should not be surprised that those same people are using diplomatic progress in Iran to label Obama our new Chamberlain. Michael Goodwin, a Fox News contributor and New York Post columnist, wrote that negotiating with Iran “recalls Europe’s appeasement of Hitler.”

“Substitute Iran for Germany, and the worst kind of history may be on the verge of repeating itself,” writes Goodwin, ignoring the fact that the reason we don’t have to wonder about Iran’s nuclear capabilities is precisely because of the terms of the 6-month agreement. To ease sanctions, Iran agreed to inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, and video surveillance of uranium stockpiles and other facilities. Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” Obama says, “We don’t trust you, and smile for the camera.”

So far, it’s working. In January and then again in May the IAEA reported that Iran had met the benchmarks we set out for them: diluting its cache of highly enriched uranium, agreeing to more inspections, and stopping work on its heavy water plutonium reactor at Arak. All we had to do was give them access to some of their London bank accounts we had frozen. The only way it could have gone better is if they had all started wearing cowboy hats and rooting for the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been fighting a rear-guard operation against hawks led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) who wanted to impose additional sanctions even though that would automatically end the talks and move Iran closer to having the bomb. Now that Iran has operated in good faith, Menendez is still unimpressed.

“I’m not for extending for extension’s sake,” he said. “We want an agreement but it has to be a good agreement, not an agreement for agreement’s sake.”

What Menendez means by a “good agreement” is one that drags a new issue onto the table: Israel. To be clear, Israel is our ally, and the United States has an interest in Israel’s security. But if we’re going to make concessions to Israel a precondition of any nuclear agreement with Iran, we are turning a surprising win into a guaranteed loss.

This appears to be the Republican strategy. Noting that the U.S. and Iran find themselves with a common enemy in Iraq — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL— House Speaker John Boehner has countered that “Republicans remain focused on pushing the White House to do more to counter Iran’s support for terrorists and efforts to destabilize key U.S. all[ies] in the region.” Translation: We won’t support any nuclear deal with Iran unless they make concessions on Israel, even though Israel is the most likely target of an Iranian nuke.

We’re still going to have problems with Iran even if they convert all their centrifuges into the world’s largest water park. And no one is expecting Boehner or Fox News to start supporting the President. But when it comes to Iran, it’s the bomb that should bring us together. The latest extension gives us more time to make sure Iran never becomes a nuclear power. Let’s focus on that and save our mindless political attacks for something that, when it blows up in your face, doesn’t actually blow up.

Jason Stanford is a partner with the Truman National Security Project. He is also a Democratic consultant based in Austin, Texas, and writes regular columns for the Austin-American Statesman and the Quorum Report.