The real reason Republicans oppose the Iran deal (it has a lot to do with Israel) – Damon Linker/The Week
Here’s what I don’t understand about all the anger and agitation on the American right about the Iranian nuclear deal: Unless Iran flagrantly violates its terms by attempting to develop a nuclear device during the timeframe covered by the agreement — an event that would invite a possible military response from the United States — the deal would seem to assure that Iran will not become a nuclear power for at least the next 15 years. And that would seem to be a significant improvement over the status quo, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said leaves us “three to five years” away from Iran developing a nuclear device.
Oh, I’m sorry. That was Netanyahu’s dire assessment of the status quo…in 1992. That’s right: Way back during the waning days of the George H. W. Bush administration, when Netanyahu was a lowly member of the Israeli Knesset, he worried that Iran would go nuclear by 1997. He made the same “three to five year” prediction in a 1995 book, bringing us up to 2000. Fifteen years past that red line and there’s still no Iranian nuke — and now, thanks to the tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, it looks like we’ve been granted a pretty solid assurance that we have another fifteen years.
If your standard is a world in which the United States and its allies can magically, and without unintended regional and geopolitical consequences, press a button (or drop a bomb) to keep Iran from developing a nuclear capability, then this is a huge disappointment. But in the world in which we actually live, where we muddle through, try to make the best of an imperfect situation, and acknowledge that the U.S. has finite power, the deal sounds like a positive development overall. Not that you’d know it from listening to those Republican nay-sayers and their cheerleaders in the right-wing media. And that’s what doesn’t make sense to me. Israeli opposition, which has been expressed by all of the country’s major political players (and not just Netanyahu), I can understand. Israel is in the neighborhood and therefore much more vulnerable to any Iranian mischief-making, and it’s the focus of regular rhetorical hostility from Tehran. Given Israel’s own robust nuclear deterrent, I don’t think it is truly facing an existential threat. (Iran’s leaders aren’t going to preemptively launch nuclear weapons at Tel Aviv knowing that a retaliatory strike from Israel and/or the U.S. would bring an instantaneous end to the regime, the country, and Persian civilization.) But that’s a comparatively easy calculation for me to make, living 6,000 miles away on the far side of the Atlantic. So Israeli opposition to the deal (like Saudi Arabia’s) is understandable. But the opposition of American conservatives? That’s more mysterious.
Or rather, it’s not mysterious at all, given the range of questionable assumptions that prevail on the American right. There is, first of all, contemporary conservatism’s instinctual suspicion of diplomacy, along with an assumption that any deal made with a non-democratic adversary is invariably a replay of Munich, 1938 — meaning: an act of craven appeasement that is bound to blow up in our faces.
Then there’s a bias toward upholding the status quo. (This plays a significant role in motivating Republican intransigence on normalizing relations with Cuba.) And a free-floating bellicosity that leads many on the right to opt reflexively for threats of military force when they think about how the U.S. should respond to an often recalcitrant world.
And then, finally — and in the case of Iran, decisively — there is Israel.
The American tendency to identify with Israel is overdetermined. One needn’t buy the entire implausibly conspiratorial argument of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy to recognize that the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other organizations and donors plays an important role in shaping assumptions in Washington. As does evangelical Protestant eschatology — and the broader cultural tendency, which goes all the way back to the 17th-century colonial settlers of New England, to view in biblical terms America’s experiment with self-government. The Puritans saw themselves building a “new Israel” in the New World, and a similar theological-political conviction helped to inspire to the 19th-century ideology of Manifest Destiny no less than more recent hopes for “ending tyranny in our world.”
Israel in America and Israel in the Middle East — two nations bound together by divine providence.
All of it combines to convince many conservatives that Israel’s interests and ours are identical.
But of course they’re not. Israel is a regional military and economic power responsible only for itself. The United States is a global military and economic superpower responsible for guaranteeing order and stability across much of the planet. Israel is surrounded by hostile nations, several of them currently being convulsed by civil wars and insurrections. The United States is surrounded by friendly, peaceful nations that pose no geostrategic threat at all. Israel has engaged in a military occupation of contiguous territory for 48 years, with Israeli citizens encouraged to settle in that territory, where they enjoy full political rights while the native residents are disenfranchised and kept in a state of political limbo with no end in sight. The United States…has no such moral albatross hanging around its neck, at least at the moment.
None of this means that the United States should treat Israel as a rival or enemy. It is and should remain an ally and partner on many fronts. But that doesn’t mean the two countries can or should march in lock step at all times. There are issues on which our interests will harmonize and issues on which they will diverge.
Barack Obama has stated that he thinks his nuclear deal with Iran is in both America’s and Israel’s interest (because the alternative to such a deal would be worse for both nations). The Israeli government obviously doesn’t agree. And yet Obama pushed ahead with the deal anyway — showing that when the interests of the two countries arguably diverge, he’s prepared to put (his own assessment of) America’s national interests first.
And that might be one powerful reason why conservatives are so staunchly opposed to the agreement: It explodes the comforting myth that U.S. and Israeli interests always and everywhere coincide.
They do not. And that’s just not something leading Republicans are prepared to accept.