The Columnists who Cried “Sheep”
Last week the Washington Post featured a column by David Ignatius arguing that Israel should let the United States give negotiations a chance. Ignatius used 1973 Yom Kippur War as a lesson for Israel, but he probably would have done better to use the Oslo Accords of 1993 as a lesson.
TWS Blog—Iran and the Western media's magical thinking http://t.co/DBL4T6bGxW
— Lee Smith (@stronghorsebook) October 3, 2013
Yesterday, Thomas Friedman, argues in A Wolf, A Sheep or Something Else?:
But Iran is not North Korea. It’s a great civilization, with great human talent. It can’t keep its people isolated indefinitely. In theory, Iran’s regime does not have to keep the world out and its people down for Iran to be powerful. But do Iran’s leaders accept that theory? Some do. The decision to re-enter negotiations is a clear signal that crucial players there do not think the status quo — crushing sanctions — is viable for them anymore. Because they are not North Korea, the sanctions are now threatening them with discontent from the inside. But how much of their “nuclear insurance” are they ready to give up to be free of sanctions? Are they ready to sacrifice a single powerful weapon to become again a powerful country — to be more like a China, a half-friend, half-enemy, half-trading partner, half-geo-political rival to America, rather than a full-time opponent?
This is what we have to test. “We’ve been trying for so long to use control dynamics to contain Iran that we’ve lost sight of the fact that we actually want the Iranians — specifically the ruling elites — to change their behavior,” said Col. Mark Mykleby, a retired Marine and co-author of “A National Strategic Narrative” for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I’m all about being tough as nails on them, and I sure don’t trust them, but I also believe we need to give them the option to change their behavior.”
“This is what we have to test.”
This is Friedman being Friedman. He contrives a scenario which leads to his sole possible conclusion: We need to test the other side.
Since Netanyahu doesn't get same benefit of the doubt Rouhani gets from the media, important for him not to make mistakes. cc: @lrozen
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) October 7, 2013
Of course, by playing on Netanyahu’s zoological metaphors, Friedman failed to acknowledge his main point: that Iran’s current behavior and history give us little reason to trust them. From Netanyahu’s speech:
But the regime that he represents executes political dissidents by the hundreds and jails them by the thousands. Rouhani spoke of “the human tragedy in Syria.” Yet Iran directly participates in Assad’s murder and massacre of tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Syria, and that regime is propping up a Syrian regime that just used chemical weapons against its own people.
Rouhani condemned the “violent scourge of terrorism.” Yet in the last three years alone Iran has ordered, planned or perpetrated terrorist attacks in 25 cities on five continents.
Rouhani denounces “attempts to change the regional balance through proxies.” Yet Iran is actively destabilizing Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, and many other Middle Eastern countries.
Rouhani promises “constructive engagement with other countries.” Yet two years ago, Iranian agents tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington, DC.
And just three weeks ago, an Iranian agent was arrested trying to collect information for possible attacks against the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. Some constructive engagement! …
Last Friday, Rouhani assured us that in pursuit of its nuclear program, Iran has “never chosen deceit… and secrecy.” Never chosen deceit and secrecy?!
Well, in 2002, Iran was caught red-handed secretly building an underground centrifuge facility at Natanz. Then in 2009, Iran was again caught red-handed secretly building a huge underground nuclear facility for uranium enrichment in a mountain near Qom. Rouhani tells us not to worry; he assures us that all this is not intended for nuclear weapons. Do any of you believe that? If you believe that, here’s a few questions that you might want to ask:
Why would a country that claims to only want peaceful nuclear energy, why would such a country build hidden underground enrichment facilities?
The main thrust of Netanyahu was not “attack Iran,” but “sanctions have brought Iran to the table and prevented it from achieving a breakout capability, maintain sanctions, even while negotiating, but be prepared to intensify them if necessary.”
Friedman seems to conclude the same thing:
Secretary of State John Kerry has the right attitude: No lifting of sanctions for anything less than the airtight closure to any possible weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s the only deal worth having, and the only way Iran will decide if it really is a China in Persian clothing — or something like that.
However, in an article about the divergent aims of Israel and the United States regarding Iran, the New York Times reported:
While Washington and Jerusalem have the same stated goal of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, there is a growing chasm over what might be the acceptable terms for an agreement. Mr. Netanyahu’s new mantra is “distrust, dismantle and verify,” and in an interview with NBC News he insisted on “a full dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program,” something Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has made clear is unacceptable. …
The United States, on the other hand, sees broad benefits to a rapprochement. And while its official position is also that Iran must forgo major elements of its existing programs — including its 18,000 centrifuges, which enrich uranium, and a heavy-water reactor that could create another pathway to a bomb — Mr. Obama has not recently used the word “dismantle” in his own public comments. Instead he has simply said that Iran must prove its program is peaceful in nature, as Mr. Rouhani insists it is. …
An American involved in devising the West’s negotiating strategy said, “The Israelis want to go back to where the Iranians were a decade ago.” The American continued: “No one in the U.S. disagrees with that as a goal. The question is whether it’s achievable, and whether it’s better to have a small Iranian capacity that is closely watched, or to insist on eliminating their capacity altogether.”
I know that the lead American negotiator said that “No deal is better than a bad deal.” But read the three paragraphs above. I see an administration strategy devoted to achieving some sort of deal. So if Iran won’t agree to terms that it deems “unacceptable,” how far will the United States go to get a deal that is “achievable?”
The United States wants a deal; Iran wants the lifting of sanctions.
An American negotiator wants to say, “We have an agreement.” An Iranian negotiator wants to say, “We did not bow to the imperialist Americans.”
Negotiations have a way of taking on a life of their own. Negotiators are loath to admit failure. So if no agreement is reached, there will pressure to lift some sanctions as “a confidence building measure.” Next they’ll reframe the terms of negotiations to claim that they achieved something. Netanyahu is warning against doing that. Would Friedman criticize a bad deal or would he hail any deal as being better than no deal because it would show that the “test” Iran’s new president was successful? Based on Friedman’s history, I’m sure he would choose the latter.
Despite Friedman’s sober conclusion, the bulk of his article is pseudo-historical and pseudo-sociological jargon. Yes, I believe that Friedman wants a test of Rouhani, but I also believe that he’s looking for a test that Rouhani can’t fail.
— Noah Pollak (@NoahPollak) October 6, 2013
Worse than Friedman’s column, was last week’s Bibi’s Tired Iranian Lines by Roger Cohen.
I don’t need to critique Cohen’s column, as Elder of Ziyon has already done so quite effectively in The Editorial Malpractice of Roger Cohen. (Being wrong – willfully or not – has become something of an avocation for Cohen.)
But there’s one point to keep in mind. In a series of embarrassing columns four years ago, Cohen extolled the moderation of Iran’s leadership, then with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad serving as president.
At the time, Jonathan Tobin concluded about Cohen:
In going to Iran and then producing columns that served to justify and rationalize the behavior of its government, Roger Cohen was not a foolish pilgrim manipulated by evil men who exploited his openhearted desire for understanding. Rather, he was a writer with an agenda to smash any hope for restraint of the Iranian regime and to split the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though he cannot be said to have lied on the scale of a Walter Duranty, in his determination to portray Tehran in a sympathetic light and disarm those who see its drive for nuclear weapons as an existential threat to the Jewish State as well as the West, Cohen sacrificed his credibility as a journalist. Even more, by using the helpless Jews of Iran as the linchpin of his campaign, Roger Cohen has behaved in a manner so shameful that his reputation as an apologist for those who threaten genocide may well live as long as Duranty’s infamy.
Even when Ahmadinejad was President, Cohen was painting him as a sheep. He continues to do the same. So too, does Thomas Friedman, even if not as explicitly.