Barack Obama and John Kerry are playing with fire. They presumably want Congress and the American public to accept the nuclear agreement they and four other governments struck with Iran, but they work against their own objective by accepting the false premise of their opponents: namely, that Iran's regime is untrustworthy, dangerous, bent on becoming a nuclear power, and containable only by a U.S. readiness to wage war.
Who knows if the president and secretary of state really believe this? But they ought to know that this premise is wrong.
Their incentive to accept the false premise is obvious. Neither wants his obituary to declare that his greatest achievement was to persuade Iran not to develop a weapon it had no intention of developing.
On announcing the deal Obama said, "Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region. Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon."
Likewise in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Kerry said, "So this isn't a question of giving them [Iran] what they want. I mean it's a question of how do you hold their program back, how do you dismantle their weapons program…."
Hence, Obama and Kerry endorse the claim that Iran was seeking to build nuclear weapons. The long negotiating process was based on that premise. So they must now insist that the agreement contains leak-proof verification, because like their opponents, Obama and Kerry say the Iranians cannot be trusted. But the hawks demagogically ignore that part of the administration's case and claim the agreement does depend on trust; Iran can and will cheat, the hawks say, no matter what verification measures are in place. They can even quote Wendy Sherman, leader of the U.S. negotiating team, who once told a Senate committee, "We know that deception is part of the [Iranian] DNA."
That's some great way for Obama and Kerry to sell their agreement.
It would be better for Obama and Kerry to tell the truth for once: Iran has not been seeking a nuclear bomb. This has long been well-understood by American and Israeli intelligence and military agencies. As former CIA analyst Ray McGovern points out, George W. Bush had to give up plans to attack Iran in 2007 because a National Intelligence Estimate signed by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies found that Iran had stopped (alleged) research on nukes four years earlier. This conclusion was renewed regularly in subsequent years. In fact, as Gareth Porter notes, "US national intelligence estimates during the Bush administration concluding that Iran had run such a program, including the most famous estimate issued in November 2007, were based on inference, not on hard intelligence."
We have many other indications of Iran's non-interest in nukes, all of which are documented by Porter, the man who literally wrote the book on the case. (See Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.)
We know, for example, that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, issued a religious edit (fatwa) against nuclear weapons. We know that when Iran could have bought weapons-related equipment from an illegal Pakistani network, it did not. We know that for years Iran tried every way to avoid having to enrich uranium for its power plants but was thwarted each time by the U.S. government.
Finally, we know that when the Iranian government could have made chemical weapons to retaliate for Iraq's U.S.-backed chemical warfare against Iran in the 1980s, then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini forbade it on religious grounds.
Despite this, it is open season on Iran. Most everyone feels he can level any charge against it without providing a scintilla of evidence. Most common is the charge that Iran is the "chief state sponsor of terrorism." But does anyone bother to prove it? It requires no proof. It's the Big Lie, and it serves the war party's agenda. (For evidence to the contrary see these two pieces by Ted Snider.)
The P5+1 agreement, though unnecessary, is preferable to war. Obama and Kerry should stop thinking about their legacies and start leveling with us.
This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.