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The Deal with Iran Is a Serious Blow to Threat Inflation

The Iran hawks' case for preventive war becomes even weaker than it already was.

John Glaser and Justin Logan comment on the nuclear deal and the debate that preceded it:

For neoconservatives and interventionist Democrats, the nuclear program was but one piece of a much larger problem: a looming Persian menace that threatened to dominate the Middle East. This explains the specious nonproliferation arguments offered in opposition to the deal, as well as the increased warnings of Iranian “regional hegemony” heard in the run-up to the deal.

These sorts of arguments are tendentious in the extreme, because on their own terms they fall short. The nuclear agreement is indeed helpful from the point of view of nonproliferation, and Iran has no path to regional hegemony in the policy-relevant future [bold mine-DL]. Instead, these claims seem to be part of a larger strategy under which everything that happens tied to Iran is treated as a threat.

Iran hawks banked heavily on using threat inflation and alarmism to try to carry the day in the debate over the nuclear talks. The encouraging thing is that they have so far been almost entirely unsuccessful in their efforts. Iran hawks spent years hyping the danger of an Iranian bomb, talking up the supposed “existential” threat that it posed, exaggerating how soon Iran would be able to build a weapon, and inventing out of thin air the absurd notion that their government was a suicidal “martyr-state.” All of this was terrible analysis, but it was first-rate fear-mongering. They obviously didn’t do all this because they expected the issue to be resolved through diplomacy, but because they didn’t want it to be. Once resolving the issue diplomatically became possible and even likely, Iran hawks became more and more panicked as they realized that their ability to cite Iran as a huge threat was rapidly fading. Now that the talks have succeeded in reaching a deal, their case for preventive war becomes even weaker than it already was. Threat inflators frequently prevail in our foreign policy debates, so it is a welcome change when they suffer such a serious blow as they have with the nuclear deal.

Iran hawks have jumped from one argument to another to oppose diplomacy with Iran, and the only thing consistent in their positions was that they were absolutely against any deal that Iran would realistically endorse. At first, many hard-liners feigned support for diplomacy, but wanted to include maximalist demands that would never be accepted. Then they sought to portray an interim agreement that imposed new restrictions on Iran’s program as “appeasement” or “worse than Munich” in the hopes of making a final deal too politically radioactive, but this failed when it became clear that the interim agreement worked to our advantage. Hawks then started insisting that Iran wasn’t complying with the interim agreement and lied about their violations, but then it turned out that Iran had been complying. Since that hadn’t worked, Iran hawks tried to pretend that they were very concerned about regional proliferation of nuclear weapons in the wake of a deal. That wasn’t credible because such proliferation was not at likely, but it would be made more so if there were no deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, so their phony concerns about proliferation were exposed as just that.

When that fell flat, they turned to their own whataboutism to try to change the subject from the nuclear issue to the perils of sanctions relief and Iranian foreign policy more generally. Iran hawks started telling wild stories about Iran’s “march of conquest,” but the problem for them was that there had been no conquest and Iranian influence had not been rapidly expanding across the region in recent years. They fixated on the “windfall” that Iran would get from sanctions relief, and insisted that this would be used to support Iran’s proxies, but this was just another unfounded distraction that failed to derail the talks.

The behavior of Iran hawks in this debate wasn’t unusual for hard-line critics of diplomatic engagement, but was unfortunately very typical. If engagement doesn’t immediately change another state’s external and internal behavior in all respects, hawks denounce it as a betrayal. If negotiations yield an agreement, they will complain that it doesn’t solve problems it was never meant to address. If it doesn’t result in the total capitulation of the other side, they will deem it a “giveaway” that must be opposed. Should negotiations drag on, hawks will insist that our side abandon the process, but if there is any sign that the other side is considering the same they will cite it as proof that they were never serious about diplomacy anyway. At each stage, hawks will feign support for a diplomatic process that they think should never have begun and that they hope will fail, and they will do their utmost to undermine the talks whenever they can. This has nothing to do with the details of any particular agreement, but is rooted in their basic contempt for diplomacy and the compromises that it requires.



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