Home/Daniel Larison/Reagan and the Nuclear Deal

Reagan and the Nuclear Deal

Jackson Diehl inadvertently shows how misleading comparisons between diplomacy with Iran and negotiations with the USSR can be:

In the end, Obama’s policy could produce a very different legacy than that of Reagan. A generation later, the Gipper’s arms negotiations with Moscow look like a modest success — but his contribution to the collapse of Soviet communism was an epochal achievement. Obama may be able to point, 15 years from now, to an Iran that remains non-nuclear [bold mine-DL]. But the most likely effect of his engagement policy is not the implosion of the Islamic republic, but its perpetuation.

In other words, the non-proliferation agreement that Obama has pursued could be a complete success on its own terms, but because Diehl wants to judge it by an entirely different standard it should be seen as inadequate because it will not usher in the collapse of the regime. A deal that was supposed to limit Iran’s nuclear program might very well do exactly what it is supposed to do, but Iran hawks will still find extraneous reasons to object to it because it doesn’t and can’t achieve results it was never intended to achieve. Engagement with Iran has never been aimed at causing the “implosion” of the regime, but has been focused squarely on advancing U.S. goals through negotiations with their government. That is, the “legacy” of the deal will probably be just what it is expected to be–the prevention of Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon–but for hawks it will be a failure because it failed to do something it was never trying to do. That may be a failing for people obsessed with toppling foreign governments, but for everyone else it is a very sensible arrangement.

Diehl ignores this in his column, but the problem that he identifies with engaging Iran was the same one that hard-liners complained about when Reagan pursued arms control agreements in his second term. Like hard-liners in the ’80s, he objects to the perceived accommodation of Iran and the failure to pursue the regime’s destruction. Within just a few years of indicting Reagan as the next Chamberlain because of the INF Treaty, hard-liners were opportunistically crediting him with having helped bring about the end of the Soviet Union. This not only greatly exaggerates the U.S. role in causing this outcome (while ignoring the far more important role of the peoples of eastern Europe and the USSR), but it ignores that many of the loudest detractors of Reagan’s negotiations with Moscow were accusing him of empowering the USSR and prolonging its survival just a few years before the USSR collapsed. This is what hard-liners always claim will follow from engagement with a hostile regime, and so we should discount their warnings accordingly. We know that they were wrong in the ’80s, and they are could well be wrong again now. Regardless, the nuclear deal should be judged based on what it achieves or doesn’t achieve on the nuclear issue alone.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles