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The Iran Deal and the Rut of History

Roundup
tags: Iran, Obama, nuclear deal



Leon Wieseltier is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of Kaddish. From 1983 to 2014, he was theliterary editor of The New Republic.

Related Link The Real World: Iran Nuclear Program Edition By Andrew Meyer

“The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” In this way Ben Rhodes of the White House, who over the years has broken new ground in the grandiosity of presidential apologetics, described the courage of Barack Obama in concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran, otherwise known as the Iran deal. Once again Rhodes has, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the president’s premises more clearly than the president likes to do. The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.

This is nothing other than the mentality of disruption applied to foreign policy. In the realm of technology, innovation justifies itself; but in the realm of diplomacy and security, innovation must be justified, and it cannot be justified merely by an appetite for change. Tedium does not count against a principled alliance or a grand strategy. Indeed, a continuity of policy may in some cases—the Korean peninsula, for example: a rut if ever there was one—represent a significant achievement. But for the president, it appears, the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. Certainly it did in the case of Cuba, where the feeling that it was time to move on (that great euphemism for American impatience and inconstancy) eclipsed any scruple about political liberty as a condition for movement; and it did with Iran, where, as Rhodes admits, the president was tired of things staying the same, and was enduring history as a rut. And in the 21st century, when all human affairs are to begin again!

Obama’s restlessness about American policy toward Iran was apparent long before the question of Iran’s nuclear capability focused the mind of the world. In his first inaugural address, he famously offered an extended hand in exchange for an unclenched fist. Obama seems to believe that the United States owes Iran some sort of expiation. As he explained to Thomas Friedman the day after the nuclear agreement was reached, “we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran” in 1953. Six years ago, when the streets of Iran exploded in a democratic rebellion and the White House stood by as it was put down by the government with savage force against ordinary citizens, memories of Mohammad Mosaddegh were in the air around the administration, as if to explain that the United States was morally disqualified by a prior sin of intervention from intervening in any way in support of the dissidents. The guilt of 1953 trumped the duty of 2009. The Iranian fist, in the event, stayed clenched. Or to put it in Rhodes-spin, our Iran policy remained in a rut.

But it is important to recognize that the rut—or the persistence of the adversarial relationship between Iran and the United States—was not a blind fate, or an accident of historical inertia, or a failure of diplomatic imagination. It was a choice. On the Iranian side, the choice was based upon a worldview that was founded in large measure on a fiery, theological anti-Americanism, an officially sanctioned and officially disseminated view of Americanism as satanism. On the American side, the choice was based upon an opposition to the tyranny and the terror that the Islamic Republic represented and proliferated. It is true that in the years prior to the Khomeini revolution the United States tolerated vicious abuses of human rights in Iran; but then our enmity toward the ayatollahs’ autocracy may be regarded as a moral correction. (A correction is an admirable kind of hypocrisy.) The adversarial relationship between America and the regime in Tehran has been based on the fact that we are proper adversaries. We should be adversaries. What democrat, what pluralist, what liberal, what conservative, what believer, what non-believer, would want this Iran for a friend? ...

Read entire article at The Atlantic


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