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The Inexhaustible Bad Faith of Iran Hawks

Much like Romney's complaints about the "flaws" in New START, Cruz's complaints about "sunset clauses" and the like are objections made in bad faith by someone who wants to demolish the entire structure.
Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz wrote a forgettable op-ed reciting the usual false hawkish talking points about the JCPOA:

There’s no doubt that the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal, which flooded the Iranian regime with hundreds of billions of dollars in cash and sanctions relief, directly contributed to the recent attacks.

The deal didn’t just provide Iran with resources it poured into its military; it also created an incentive for the international community to ignore Iranian aggression for the sake of preserving the deal, emboldening the Iranians to launch exactly these sorts of attacks.

Like Pompeo with his upside-down worldview, Cruz seeks to blame the nuclear deal for the consequences of Trump’s decisions to renege and violate that deal. According to this bizarre argument, an agreement that successfully limited Iran’s nuclear program somehow “directly contributed” to attacks that happened years later only after the U.S. withdrew from the deal and waged economic war on Iran. It’s as if one were to accuse the owner of the building that was set on fire for the resulting blaze instead of holding the arsonist responsible. This is painfully stupid, but it is all that Iran hawks have left to fall back on as their preferred policy blows up in their face.

Among the other absurd things Cruz claimed in the op-ed, he said this:

The Iranian regime openly threatens “all-out war” and seeks weapons that could incinerate American cities with a single flash of light. The nuclear deal legalized Iran’s nuclear program and lifted international sanctions against its aggression.

Iran doesn’t seek nuclear weapons and doesn’t have the means to produce them. The nuclear deal that Cruz rails against and wants to destroy ensures that their nuclear program remains peaceful. Even if Iran possessed a handful of nuclear weapons, they aren’t going to use any of them against American cities because they would be inviting their own destruction if they did so. Iran’s civilian nuclear program has always been legal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The sanctions that were lifted in connection with the deal concerned only Iran’s nuclear program. It takes a lot of gall for Iran hawks to bemoan that the nuclear deal addressed only the nuclear issue and then pretend that sanctions relief was related to anything but that. Iran is threatening war only to deter an attack on their country. It is worth noting that the U.S. and Iran are so close to war because of the “maximum pressure” campaign that Cruz is so dishonestly defending.

Cruz’s dishonesty and ignorance wouldn’t be all that remarkable (this is Ted Cruz we’re talking about, after all), and it would be easy to ignore the op-ed, but something happened over the weekend that merits a few further comments. First, Nicholas Miller read the op-ed and ridiculed it for some of the same errors I pointed out above:

Whoever runs Cruz’s Twitter feed made the mistake of responding to this:

Cruz’s tweet provoked lots of derision from people pointing out that all of the evidence backs up Miller’s position and none of it supports Cruz. The exchange between them illustrated just how little Cruz understands. Dan Drezner piled on tonight:

Yeah, what would Miller know about all of this?! He only wrote (checks notes) a peer-reviewed article in the top international relations journal as well as a Cornell University Press book about what works and what doesn’t in U.S. nonproliferation policy! It is probably not as much of a page-turner as “Green Eggs and Ham,” but maybe Cruz could read it on one of his next trips back to his home state.

Cruz’s op-ed and the subsequent tweet attacking Miller served as reminders that the policy debate over Iran and the nuclear deal is extremely lopsided. On one side, there are the knowledgeable specialists and experts that support the nuclear deal, and on the other there are the blowhards and demagogues that reject it and support Trump’s policy instead. The latter hate the deal for purely partisan and ideological reasons, and pretty much everything they say about it is false or misleading. The best Cruz’s team can come up with to defend his position is to hide behind some non sequiturs about Iranian government rhetoric. It speaks volumes about how lacking in knowledge and abundant in bad faith the hawkish side of the debate is.

This disparity is not limited only to the debate over Iran or the nuclear deal, but has been repeated time and time again in many foreign policy debates over the years. Regional experts warned in vain against the perils of invading of Iraq only to be dismissed and derided by the ideologues who promised a “cakewalk.” Practically everyone who knew anything about Yemen said that military intervention by the Saudi coalition would be a catastrophe that would cause a massive humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, everything that opponents of the intervention warned about has come to pass, and even worse things have happened. On the pro-war side, you had clueless politicians who didn’t even know the geography of the area and even more clueless pundits who couldn’t remember which ousted president was on which side. When pressed to defend an indefensible war that has caused a famine, supporters of the intervention just start shouting “Iran!” in the hopes of distracting attention from the horror show they have helped to create. When New START was up for ratification, there was an overwhelming consensus from arms control experts that ratifying the treaty was the obvious, correct thing to do. On the anti-treaty side, you had Mitt Romney marshaling some of the dumbest, least informed arguments ever made against an arms reduction treaty. These are just some of the more prominent examples that come to mind, but it is part of a larger pattern. In general, hawks argue in bad faith and make things up all the time, and their opponents make reasoned arguments grounded in evidence. Sadly, the hawks’ bad faith is rewarded far too often.

One reason why the hawkish side resorts to falsehoods and distortions is that they actively discourage basing policy on facts. Instead, they decide what policy they want first and distort the facts as needed to support their policy. That promotes sloppiness at best and dishonesty at worst, and it also means that they will sooner fight against a successful policy simply for ideological reasons rather than acknowledge that their earlier opposition was proven wrong. Opposing the JCPOA in good faith because it was supposedly an inadequate nonproliferation agreement should eventually give way to a grudging acknowledgment that it was more than adequate and was working well. Reflexively opposing the nuclear deal no matter what because of an ideological obsession with isolating and harming Iran does not permit an opponent to admit that the deal was a success on its own terms. Iran hawks then have to try changing the subject or moving the goalposts to declare the deal a “failure” according to some absurdly unrealistic standard. “The nuclear deal didn’t address Iran’s behavior in the region” is a favorite go-to complaint for hawks that is remarkable for being completely irrelevant.

This kind of opponent hates the deal because it works and gets in the way of the obsession, but he has to conceal this by feigning concern about proliferation when he would actually be happy if the nuclear issue remains unresolved forever. Unfortunately, it is this type of opponent that we see much more often, and we see it with Cruz in this op-ed. He does not judge the JCPOA on the merits. Indeed, he cannot if he wants to maintain his hostility to the agreement. He recites the usual lines about “flaws” in the agreement, but his desire to destroy the deal and replace it with nothing give the game away. Much like Romney’s complaints about the “flaws” in New START, Cruz’s complaints about “sunset clauses” and the like are objections made in bad faith by someone who wants to demolish the entire structure. It’s as if an arsonist claimed to be very concerned with the structural integrity of a building at the same time that he was vehemently demanding that the building be set on fire. One might begin to suspect that he was up to no good.

It is no surprise that Cruz’s latest attack on the JCPOA was nonsense. The entire case against the nuclear deal from the beginning has been nonsense, and it has only gotten worse as the Iran hawks have prevailed in driving the U.S. to abandon and violate it. Now that they are faced with the dangerous consequences of getting what they want, Iran hawks are desperately trying to shift the blame to anyone else.