This week President Obama secured enough Senate Democratic votes to block the Congressional resolution that would scuttle the historic nuclear deal between the United States, five allies and Iran reached in Vienna on July 14. However, whiffs of its opponents' phony mantra continue to drift across the political landscape.
"The Obama nuclear agreement with Iran is tragically reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's Munich agreement in 1938," Dick and Liz Cheney wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month. So when all else fails, invoke Munich! Last Sunday Fox News host Chris Wallace reminded the former vice-president that during his watch Iran's enrichment centrifuges grew from zero to 5,000! Dick Cheney has no credibility.
Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, said Cheney has mastered associating things that really get a number of the American people excited and fearful. "There are people you can excite with this kind of illogic," said Wilkerson. "All you have to do is associate the fearful object with something else."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called President Obama "the Neville Chamberlain of our time who believes that over the next 15 years, Iran is going to change their behavior, because this deal doesn't require them to do a damn thing in terms of changing their behavior." Graham's hyperbolic false statement is easily refuted by this New York Times summary.
In a radio interview on July 15, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called the deal "the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler!" He had previously concluded that the agreement's framework, codified at Lausanne, Switzerland in April, meant that "Neville Chamberlain got a lot of more out of Hitler than (lead American negotiator) Wendy Sherman got out of Iran."
Kirk added that "(Obama's) doing this because of his very poor understanding of the history of what happened ... when Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler." Actually, Kirk has a very poor understanding of the dissimilarities between Munich and the Vienna agreement.
So it's stimulus, response. Iran, Munich!
But the rhetorical matching of the Iran accord with the 1938 Munich conference doesn't withstand scrutiny. That Iran is not analogous to Munich is clear from the following:
First, Munich was about altering Europe's map. Vienna isn't about geographical changes; its focus is arms control, a subject not on the Munich agenda.
Second, at Munich, Hitler gave up nothing - no territory, no weapons. He successfully procured Czechoslovakia's dismemberment because the conferees agreed to force that nation to cede the Sudetenland to the Nazis. Czechoslovakia wasn't even a conference participant.
Third, the Munich conference didn't address the accelerating buildup of Germany's vast military machine whereas the Iran accord significantly reduces that country's capability to produce a nuclear weapon by requiring that it cease pursuing a plutonium bomb; that it redesign and rebuild the Arak reactor so it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium; that the original core of the reactor, which would enable the production of weapons-grade plutonium, be rendered inoperable. Furthermore, its spent fuel is to be shipped out of the country.
Finally, unlike Munich, which placed no international inspectors in Nazi-occupied territories, this agreement relies on an unprecedented level of intrusive international inspection, not on unverified trust that critics falsely assert is inherent in the deal. Iran agreed to international inspectors having access "to the entire supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program" according to a presidential statement released in April. Tehran's acceding to this degree of foreign inspectors on its territory is neither a partial nor "a total cave" by our administration, as Kirk has foolishly said. Clearly, Wendy Sherman got a lot more from Iran's negotiators than Chamberlain got from Hitler!
With its vision, its failings and its consequences, a more realistic historical reference would be the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I, complete with its provision establishing the League of Nations.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson envisioned a new world order committed to both collective security and resolving international disputes peacefully. Since his first inauguration, President Obama has been committed to seeking diplomatic solutions to international problems before jumping to military options. Wilson successfully negotiated the League; Obama successfully achieved the P5+1 agreement that blocks Iran's march to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In his quest for ratification, Wilson faced a core of thirteen Senate "irreconcilables" who opposed almost anything that he favored. Obama has faced obstruction from a large ideological core in Congress that reflexively rejects almost anything he proposes. In 1920 the president and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge personally despised each other. Since his first day in office, Obama has been excessively hindered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. Wilson went on a cross-country trip to lobby for League membership; Obama made nationwide appearances lobbying for the Iran accord.
The Senate's failure to ratify Versailles solidified U.S. isolationism during the 1920s and 1930s, limiting our influence in world affairs. Germany, soon overwhelmed by reactionary political forces that paved the way for its violating numerous Treaty provisions and which led to Hitler's accession, rearmed its military, pursued dominating Europe and precipitated history's greatest conflagration. With America isolated, Europe's dealing with its aggressive enemy proved disastrous.
It's been made clear that Washington's holding out for increased sanctions and/or requirements not tied to the nuclear weapons issue - which is what so many hardliners here were demanding -- would have cost us the support of our negotiating partners and likely doomed this diplomatic effort. Such a development would have isolated us from our partners, much as failure to join the League in 1920 isolated us from Europe, and it would have increased tensions in the Middle East much as our withdrawal 95 years ago helped direct the world toward another war. Iran would have resumed its nuclear ambitions unhindered by international law and the strong international alliance formed against it.
July's Iran nuclear deal stands as one of the most significant foreign policy achievements of this or any recent administration. It rejects a Munich replication and builds on the lessons of Versailles while eliminating many of its pitfalls.