The Fact-Lite Iran Bashing at the GOP Debate

And can those who call Iran the Axis of Evil be too surprised at being called the Great Satan?


I have written that short of an all out invasion and occupation, the best way of prolonging a nuclear-free Iran is through some kind of a deal. The international sanctions regime

Iran Nuclear Negotiations
IAEA Imagebank / Foter / CC BY-SA

that the United Nations imposed on the country was not going to last forever because China and Russia weren't going to pass up on lucrative deals to build Iran's infrastructure and refining capacity forever. And once the sanctions fell apart, there would be no check on Iran's nuclear ambitions. Hence the world had a small window to get Iran to voluntarily curb its own nuclear program.

I understand that security hawks disagree with this logic and they are entitled to their opinion. What they are not entitled to are their own facts — I'm looking at you Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee lambasted the deal at last night's presidential debate because, he said, it had "given over $100 billion to, the equivalent in U.S. terms is $5 trillion." This made it sound like America — and the world — was coughing up aid money to Iran to get it to stop acquiring nuclear weapons. There might be some Coaseian wisdom in paying bad actors to stop acting badly, but that actually is not what's going on here. (Ronald Coase, the late Nobel Prize winning U-Chicago economist had developed a theorem that, in a world with zero transaction costs, it might be more cost effective to pay polluters to stop polluting rather than trying to regulate their activity away.)

But much of the $100 billion that Huckabee is alluding to is Iran's own money that it has been unable to access because its trade partners, led by America, froze its assets.

PolitiFact's fact checkers are not that factual about a lot of things. But they seem to be right when they say:

The $100 billion figure has referred to the dollar amounts of Iran's foreign assets that could be unfrozen when sanctions are lifted. An example is money Iran earned from selling oil but is held by a foreign bank.

It also includes the billions of dollars Iran has lost in revenues and opportunity costs because the country has not been able to fully participate in the global marketplace, said Michael Malloy, a law professor at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and an expert on economic sanctions, in a prior interview with PolitiFact.

Estimates of the value of Iran's foreign assets start as low as $25 billion, and they run as high as $150 billion. Most experts we've interviewed on this question peg the amount of unfrozen assets at about $100 billion, but no one is 100 percent sure of the amount.

Moreover, Marco Rubio blasted the deal because he doesn't like the Iranian government's attitude. He was outraged that Ayatollah Khamenei that continues to refer to America as the Big Satan and keeps chanting "death to America" even as John Kerry is pushing America to meet the Iranians "half way."

But is what America doing all that different from what the Iranians are doing? Setting aside all the anti-Iran bluster from a party that calls Iran the axis of evil, the administration itself has defended the deal because….it'll make it easier to bomb Iran!

Politico reported last month that Kerry & Co had been arguing in private that: "Inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities under the deal will reveal important details that can be used for better targeting should the U.S. decide to attack Iran."

In other words, the deal is not a good faith effort to avoid war as we've been pretending with Iran. It's a ruse for a military strike!

Now, I don't actually believe that's what's going on. I do think the Obama administration is serious about avoiding war. But it is saying what it needs to in order to placate the domestic hawks who have it in for Iran. Isn't it possible that that's what the Ayatollah is doing as well?