It is interesting to view the debate over the Iran nuclear agreement through the lens of the American Public Square (formerly Village Square), which seeks to encourage fact-based conversations about contentious issues. This proposed agreement certainly qualifies as contentious — and a fact-based conversation is definitely in order.
Some contend that any agreement is flawed because Iran is untrustworthy. This belief, while sincere and probably correct, makes it difficult to reach any agreement that might improve the current situation. It appears to assume that the status quo can endure and that the international sanctions regime will remain intact indefinitely. In fact, however, such continued sanctions from our international partners in the absence of an agreement appear exceedingly unlikely, as does the prospect that Iran would not continue to advance its development toward a nuclear weapon.
To prevent the latter, both the United States and Israel are prepared, for good reason, to take military action. Given the recent history of military adventurism in the region, it would be prudent to avoid such an outcome.
Another critique of the agreement posits that since Iran will remain a sponsor of terrorism through its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, ending the sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets will send billions of dollars to support terror. This might happen but it is not inevitable. Given the way sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, restoring the economy for Iranian citizens will be the regime’s clear top priority.
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Finally, some argue that the Obama administration is so feckless that it must have gotten a raw deal. This is the approach of the hawks who believe that when Obama appeared to take the military option off the table, he foreshadowed a poor outcome. Yet, once again, there are few facts upon which to base these conclusions.
So what facts do exist? We know the Iranians have developed a nuclear capacity. We know the sanctions have hurt them a great deal. When President Obama pushed the sanctions through the United Nations, they were belittled by many of the same people now opposed to lifting them. We know that the administration wanted “anywhere, anytime” inspections but did not get that. We also know that the inspection regime that was agreed to has been vetted by many scientists and most agree that cheating by Iran would not go undetected for long.
Most unfortunately, we know that some of the most vocal opponents of the deal announced their opposition before the text of the agreement was even available to read. On an issue of pivotal importance for the world, that is, emotion and politics — not facts — clearly have formed too many opinions. Sadly, this approach has become all too common of late across the political spectrum, and it fundamentally undermines our political system.
A vigorous, fact-based debate on the Iran nuclear deal is needed — for the country and the world. The capacity for such debates is vitally important to the fiber of democracy, but we seem unable to achieve them today on any issue of great importance. While breathless partisans on both sides use the politics of fear, our leaders’ inability to have a sensible, serious discussion may be the scariest part of all.
Allan Katz of Kansas City served as U.S. ambassador to Portugal from 2010 to 2103 and is the founder of the American Public Square.