Make no mistake: The Iran war echo-chamber’s latest accusations against the Iranian nuclear deal are simply wrong. In a poorly sourced (non)-story, Politico falsely claims that the Obama administration went soft on the Lebanese Hezbollah and shut down an effort by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to target the organization for fear that it could jeopardize the nuclear negotiations with Iran. But while there are countless rather embarrassing holes with this headline-grabbing story, there is a larger problem with its line of criticism against the Iran nuclear deal that has passed largely unnoticed.
Knowledgeable observers have already pointed out the obvious flaws with the Politico article: It relies primarily on the testimony of two sources - one of whom is employed by the neoconservative policy shop Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a prominent opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and a close ally of the Trump administration (which Politico failed to reveal). The other is employed by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank started by the anti-deal AIPAC. The article presents no actual evidence and even acknowledges mid-way through that it is speculative. It is not a piece of original investigative journalism but rather a rehashing of a hit job by the right-wing wanna-be Breitbart outlet, the Free Beacon. Other U.S. officials involved in these matters have described the article as a “disgusting hit piece” and pointed out that it is essentially based on a conspiracy theory rather than solid intelligence about Hezbollah’s activities. Having lost the debate inside the government against “seasoned analysts who knew much more than they did,” these disgruntled government workers decided to go public and tell their non-story to a reporter at Politico with a history of animosity against Obama’s negotiations with Iran.
But there is a bigger problem with the story, beyond being false. The more revealing issue is that the pro-war lobby actually thinks that, if they can convince the public these claims are true, the accusations are a valid line of attack. As if the U.S. should have given up on preventing Iran from having a path to the doomsday weapon and instead prioritized clamping down on Hezbollah’s alleged drug smuggling through tactical enforcement actions.
Indeed, had it been true, it would not have been President Barack Obama that the pro-war echo-chamber should be directing their anger against, but rather Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since the mid-1990s, Netanyahu had been hammering the point that Iran’s nuclear program constituted an existential threat to Israel. The West, and the United States in particular, had an obligation to address this threat and precisely because it was deemed existential, Washington had to give it priority over all other issues and concerns with Iran. In particular, the Israelis were worried that the Iranians would create linkages between the nuclear issue and other regional concerns of the US, and by that manage to retain aspects of the nuclear program in return for compromises on regional matters.
Later, of course, the Netanyahu government and other opponents deceitfully criticized the nuclear deal on the grounds that it didn’t address Iran’s regional policies ― which the Israelis specifically had pressed the U.S. not to address.
At a panel discussion hosted by Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in New York City in October, the former head of Israeli Mossad Efraim Halevy made no secret of Israel’s role in limiting the negotiations to the nuclear issue only: “The Iran deal was not an ideal deal,” he said. “But this was because Israel did not wish the negotiations to include all the items on the agenda.”
The Trump administration has adopted the Netanyahu line and ― in the face of nine reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency certifying Iran’s compliance with the functioning deal ― shifted its focus to complaining that the deal did not address “the totality of the Iranian threat,” that is “Iran’s malign behavior” in the region, its “support for terrorist organizations” and “active ballistic missile development program.”
If the pro-war echo-chamber genuinely believes their own spin that Obama betrayed other less pressing issues in order to secure a nuclear deal, then that reveals an even more dangerous problem: Their complete inability to see the bigger picture and differentiate between larger and smaller threats, prioritize between primary and secondary objectives. Apparently, Iran gaining the capacity to build nuclear weapons is equally threatening as Hezbollah’s laundering money through car dealerships ― even after this same echo-chamber had hysterically called Iran’s nuclear program an existential threat for two decades.
What emerges is an approach to foreign policy that is completely transactional and myopic, not necessarily by design, but as a result of the inability to understand America’s global geopolitical challenges and incapacity to ordering its various challenges in accordance to their importance and degree of threat.
For the pro-war echo-chamber, Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal is at the center of the universe. All other challenges America faces are overshadowed by the desire to kill the Iran deal and strike Iran militarily. While that may be a fitting point of departure if you look at the region from the perspective of Iran-obsessed governments in Tel Aviv or Riyadh, it does not make sense from the perspective of any government in Washington that takes America’s global responsibilities and national interest seriously.
Indeed, rather than tarnishing the Obama administration’s foreign policy record, the Politico story only reveals the pro-war echo-chamber’s utter unfitness to advise on foreign policy matters. Not surprisingly, an obsession with Iran combined with no ability to recognize America’s global priorities paves a straight path to war with Iran, which is exactly what the echo-chamber and its supporters in Netanyahu’s office and the Saudi Crown Prince’s palace are gunning for.
Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy - Obama, Iran and the Triump of Diplomacy and president of the National Iranian American Council.