Iran Deal (Skeptical Support, Alternatives, & Part-Whole Construction)


What I think about the Iran Deal comes down to my inability to sign on to petitions one way or the other. I guess that means I’m neither for nor against, not a supporter and not a critic, but a skeptic. The arguments for and against the Deal are both repulsive. But since the Deal is what’s in place and backed up by the power of the White House, the burden of proof now weighs on those in support, not on those who oppose it either completely or with serious caveats. The rebuttal from supporters “What’s the alternative” is too smug. It’s not even an “argument’ in that it doesn’t address the critics or get to the nub of the problems they cite. More problematic, it throws up a red herring as if the skeptics and critics are simply malevolent.

Is the war the only single possible alternative to this Deal, as Obama and supporters argue? That would base the argument upon a false alternative. It’s the same bad argument used to such disastrous effect by those (including the President?) who didn’t want the U.S. to intervene in Syria early on in the civil war in that country in 2011 and 2012. Are we making the same bad Deal as the one made with the Assad regime that kept him from chemical weapons but did nothing to stop him from killing his own people with conventional weapons like barrel bombs and now chlorine gas? More to the point, it would be interesting to hear from Deal supporters how much force they would support to knock back any Iranian violation to the Deal. Simply for the sake of argument, best to put aside the optimistic prognoses about the positive impact of the deal on overall Iranian regime behavior in the region, as these are not likely to persuade Deal critics and skeptics.

From my own very limited perspective as an interested citizen, all I can judge for now is that the Deal is still probably better than no Deal, even if, at best, all it does is postpone violent conflagration. Having said that, I do not see how anyone can look at the Deal about nukes and sanctions separate and in isolation from the larger regional dynamic, the violence of which is what has provoked the serious doubts, anger, and panic in Israel and in large parts of the Sunni Middle East. Those doubts and panic are about the “Deal per se” in tandem with the “Iranian regime itself.” I think for the Deal to work, it needs to be part of a comprehensive policy in the Middle East for which there seems to be no evidence at hand from this Administration. That would be the better alternative whose existence Obama and his supporters deny.

Perhaps the best possible outcome a skeptic might hope for the Deal is that if and once it gets put formally in place it will force the Administration’s hand to develop it as an integral part of a larger policy of non-acquiescence to violent Iranian hegemony (i.e. Iranian hard power, not the soft power to which they have a right). But that means the Administration is doing it pretty much backwards, starting with the part before building up even a sense of the greater whole to which they want it to contribute. With region as a whole in ruin or close up at the brink of ruin, that’s why the Deal does not inspire a lot of confidence. One can only hope that he does not declare “Mission Accomplished” or call it a “slam dunk.”

As I’ve weighed my own more largely critical sense of the Deal, I’ve depended very heavily on the wise heads of Tamara Cofman Wittes, whom you can read here, and Shadi Hamid, whom you can read here. Alert to the larger regional dynamics, they support the deal with a thousand caveats. For now, let’s wait and see what the Ayatollah says. Because this whole discussion might be moot. He is most probably the only one with the power to scuttle the Deal. And that really might lead to the war that no one wants, or it won’t. In the end, it could be that we’re looking at a complex case in which there’s no alternative to the Deal, and no alternative to conflict.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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