Today’s Rift with Europe Echoes the Iraq War Debate
Pence repeated his tone-deaf demands to our allies to quit the nuclear deal at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend. The response from the Europeans was even frostier than it had been in Warsaw:
European officials brushed off U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s call this week for the bloc to ratchet up pressure on Iran, saying they will continue defending the 2015 nuclear deal and stay engaged with Iran’s government.
World leaders gathered at the annual Munich Security Conference on Friday to debate a range of issues from the Middle East, to trade, Europe’s future and cyberwarfare. Speaking at the conference on Saturday, Mr. Pence, who is on a diplomatic trip to Europe, said the European Union should follow the U.S. in leaving the Iran nuclear deal.
U.S.-European relations are lower than they have been at any time since the the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Just as the Bush administration berated and insulted longtime allies for refusing to fall in line behind their destructive and reckless war, the Trump administration is berating and insulting some of our closest allies over their refusal to capitulate to unreasonable American demands on Iran and the nuclear deal. Many of the elements of these two rifts are similar: an irrational American fixation on a wildly exaggerated or non-existent threat in the Middle East, an arrogant assumption that our allies are obliged to do whatever our government tells them to do, and open expressions of contempt for the allies that disagree with the course being set by the irresponsible U.S. administration. In both cases, some of our closest allies unsuccessfully try to stop the administration from making terrible, costly errors, and they are rewarded for their efforts with condemnation and threats.
The most worrying similarity between the 2002-03 breach with our European allies and today is the willingness of administration officials to promote obvious lies in the service of their destructive policy. Like other members of the administration, Pence has been pushing the dishonest claim that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. He said this in his Warsaw speech:
But beyond its hateful rhetoric, the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it. Iran seeks to recreate the ancient Persian Empire under the modern dictatorship of the ayatollahs.
Iran’s government neither advocates for this, nor does it “seek the means to achieve it.” Any work that Iran did on nuclear weapons research took place more than fifteen years ago, and it has not resumed since then. Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and the IAEA has confirmed Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal more than a dozen times in a row. The talking points of Iran hawks remain unchanged from the mid-2000s, but in the meantime the rest of the world has moved on.
If Pence really believed what he was saying, he wouldn’t be urging our allies to tear up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The nuclear deal has ensured that Iran cannot develop and build nuclear weapons, and anyone genuinely worried about Iran’s acquisition of such weapons would not try to destroy the agreement that makes that outcome practically impossible. The only reason to promote the lie that Iran seeks nuclear weapons is to create a pretext for war. Iran hawks hate the nuclear deal so passionately because it deprives them of that pretext. That is why they are determined to do whatever they can to kill the deal even if that means badly damaging relations with our most important treaty allies.