During the White House press conference this week, ABC News’ Jon Karl reminded President Obama that the international nuclear agreement with Iran has some unsavory, if not malicious, proponents.
“Does it give you any pause,” Karl asked, “to see this deal praised by Syrian dictator Assad as a ‘great victory for Iran,’ or praised by those in Tehran who still shout ‘death to America,’ and yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it ‘a mistake of historic proportions’?”
This is, of course, a standard Republican argument: if our Middle Eastern foes are on board with the deal, and Israel isn’t, almost by definition, the policy must lack merit. As this line of thought goes, there’s a debate by proxy underway – any agreement backed by our enemies and condemned by our friends must be killed.
But approaching the debate in such a narrow way cuts both ways – and doesn’t do the right any favors. For example, to say that our friends oppose the deal is absurd – the U.S. position enjoys the enthusiastic support of our European allies, as well as some in Israel. What about closer to home? The agreement has also received bipartisan praise from American diplomats.
More than 100 former American ambassadors wrote to President Obama on Thursday praising the nuclear deal reached with Iran this week as a “landmark agreement” that could be effective in halting Tehran’s development of a nuclear weapon, and urging Congress to support it.“If properly implemented, this comprehensive and rigorously negotiated agreement can be an effective instrument in arresting Iran’s nuclear program and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the volatile and vitally important region of the Middle East,” said the letter, whose signers include diplomats named by presidents of both parties.
Experts in nuclear policy are even more enthusiastic in their endorsements of the diplomatic agreement. Vox collected reactions from arms-control analysts and “it was really hard to find arms control analysts who seem to be critical of the deal on the non-proliferation merits.”
Republicans are obviously aligned with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in opposition to the deal, but ironically, they’re joined by Iranian hard-liners who were also bitterly disappointed by this week’s diplomatic breakthrough. The New York Times reported today:
In a hastily assembled news conference in Tehran on Thursday, hard-line analysts triumphantly announced they would do [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s] bidding by examining the agreement for any devious legal tricks or loopholes the “arrogant” nations might be trying to slip into the text.“We are here to help the government,” said Foad Izadi, a professor of public diplomacy at the University of Tehran. “But it is clear there are serious problems with this agreement.”
We’re breaking new ground in the game of “strange bedfellows” here. Congressional Republicans and Iranian hard-liners – the ones, to use Jonathan Karl’s phrasing, who “still shout ‘death to America’ ” – are speaking out publicly against the deal, and both GOP lawmakers and these Iranian hard-liners are saying simultaneously they have “serious problems with this agreement.”
In the meantime, President Obama’s detractors are arguing that it’s the White House that’s allied with a motley crew of villainous partners.
As for what these critics have to offer, Matt Yglesias sought out conservative arguments against the agreement and concluded that “it’s clearer than ever: The most prominent arguments against the deal aren’t really arguments at all.”
Obama has said more than once this week that Republicans and their allies aren’t offering an alternative policy, which is true, but the president is arguably understating the case. It’s not just that conservatives have nothing constructive to offer as a rival solution, it’s also that they’ve failed to come up with compelling criticisms to bolster their own attacks.