The Iran Deal Concretely 2

(Explicated Twitterei)

In the linked piece (“The Invisible Rider on the Deal”), Michael D Weiss quotes Mike Doran (@Doranimated) and James Glassman on the “overall aim” of “a strategic partnership with Iran” based on the Obama Administration’s perception of that country “as the only island of stability in a sea of chaos and violence.” Rather than investigate the premise, viewed as inconceivable by some, as geopolitical necessity or mere normalcy by others, Weiss declares it “the direst assessment that can be made of the White House’s intentions.” Possibly even worse than “dire,” those intentions, are, for Weiss, “cynical,” in other words amoral at best.

  • #pt “intention” to create a “strategic partnership with Iran” as morally impermissible relies on an absolutization of the supposed threat

Weiss’ main concern is the connection between the P5+1 negotiations and the abysmal situation in Syria, but he seems to have no answer to the carnage and destruction. Like other critics of the Geneva agreement and of movement towards detente with Iran, he refrains from articulating a full-fledged alternative to the proposals on offer. His argument therefore depends on its moral logic, which for all its sound and fury remains as emptily abstract as the speculative or simply fantastic military threats, from nuclearized ICBMS to apocalyptic EMP strikes, emphasized by American hawks who seem to have taken a different lesson from the Iraq War than everyone else.

In this way, whether from Weiss or from Republicans in Congress or from your average unreconstructed terror warrior with a blog, the level of “direst assessment” and the level of the morally impermissible converge in the form of a threat that manages somehow to be both “existential” and non-existent at the same time, a matter of belief or perhaps of honor rather than, say, of quantifiable losses – thus also the common insistence on historical analogies that implicitly ask us to view the Islamic Republic as a rough equivalent for the Third Reich. By now, the invocation of Munich is treated as laughable, both for its disproportionality and for its laziness, by seemingly everyone outside of the hawk or neoconservative camp, but for the hawks any concession to the new Hitler, to (“the axis of”) evil itself, puts America – or the West – or America, the West, Israel, and every other ally of the last best hope – in a fight for its moral survival, or already defeated in principle, with punishment sure to follow. As Israeli columnist Caroline Glick put the matter, in a one-sentence summary paragraph, “The worst is still very much before us.”

Next to Glick’s reaction, which culminates in a holiday-timed call for a renewed alliance of “Pilgrims and Maccabees,” Doran and Glassman’s invocation of a secular American ideal, “for freedom and against religious tyranny,” comes across as understated, though it also asks us to forget their immediately preceding sentence on the the primacy of relations with “Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Sunnis in general” – relations, in other words, with the Jewish state, the guardians of Mecca, and one of the two major branches of Islam. Though hints of equivalence between Israel and the Islamic Republic may still be rejected out of hand in mainstream American discussion (if less quickly today than the day before yesterday), sustaining a political comparison in favor of the House of Saud against late revolutionary Iran, to say nothing of certain other tendencies that fit under the heading of “Sunnis in general,” may prove difficult even on a tilted playing field. Trade-offs and other complexities will, however, remain irrelevant to those convinced they are facing “the worst,” or who claim to believe, like Yossi Klein Halevi in the New Republic, that “it may well be up to Israel to save the world from itself.”

  • #pt so @Doranimated, @michaeldweiss, Halevi, and the Munich-peddlers depict Islamic revolutionism as static & unitary, yet unlimited
  • #pt which puts them, of course, in complete agreement with the “hardliners” on the other side

If the non-Israeli hawks are superficially more reserved in their assessments and their rhetoric, sooner or later they, too, end up at the same extremes. Doran and Glassman finally quote Henry Kissinger on “appeasement,” defined as “the result of an inability to come to grips with a policy of unlimited objectives.” Kissinger, we learn, “was talking about France under Napoleon and Germany under Hitler, but he might as well have been speaking of Iran under the mullahs.”

Of course, Kissinger might also as well have been speaking of Communism, another ideology of unbounded ambition, though not one which he is recalled for quarantining away from the negotiating table, but on a more fundamental level his concept of unlimited objectives will not withstand close scrutiny. Applied solely to particular adversaries of Western liberalism-democratism or democratic capitalism or Americanism, it will stand as obviously one-sided, but so will the reciprocal condemnation of the West as “the global arrogance.” (The Iranian “hardliner,” quoted in the Wall Street Journal article linked here for a second time and well worth reading, may be right that an unresolved ideological conflict tends to foreclose far-reaching negotiations, but his faith in his own ideology suggests a form of idolatry.) Either way, ascribing unlimited objectives to Nazism, to Communism, to revolutionary Islamism, and even or especially to Americanism, tells us nothing. Every major political philosophy propounds its own worldview with its own eternal verities. Foreign policy derives from worldview, worldview derives from belief, and American neoconservatism, liberal internationalism, geopolitical realism, and loosely speaking libertarianism (an inherently unstable compound), whatever their differences with each other, all quietly aspire to illimitability, and the same can of course be said, if it does not go without saying, for the great religions and every other belief system worthy of the name. The Western or originally Western belief systems, under the extended reign of the Enlightenment, explicitly declare the universality of their precepts, as sometimes also joined to divine provenance, sometimes to the rule of reason, sometimes both.

The absolute sentence on the Islamic Republic, like the indictment of the West from within Iran, is based on and designed to justify and reinforce mutual hostility and exclusion. In effect the enemy image is circular and self-validating, hermetically self-sealing. To accept it and at the same time to favor meaningful negotiations would be paradoxical, a seeking of common ground under the presumption of its absence. We have already examined the alternative perspective, which offers no guarantees, but points to the absurdity, or the pathology, of an approach that always ends and must end where it also always begins, at “the worst very much still before us,” re-producing itself perpetually until signifier becomes indistinguishable from signified. If neither the Islamic Republic nor America nor the West nor the alliance of Maccabees and Pilgrims is susceptible to evolution at all, if they are (if there can be) eternally static and unitary entities, perfectly and imperviously self-sufficient, then there is nothing to analyze or discuss – or negotiate – at all, and what is presented as if analytical will amount to the extended recapitulation of non-negotiable and inalterable premises, from the worst to the worst, over and over again, til Kingdom come.


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12 comments on “The Iran Deal Concretely 2

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  1. You haven’t really put forth a reason why the Iranians would abide by the deal, specially considering how Rouhani has deceived in the past, he’s more a Kruschev then a Stalin figure, ultimately Khamenei has put forth the goal, to get the bomb, however many times they deceive the West is immaterial,

    • The reasons why some but not all Iranians would abide by the deal or not be declared irrevocably in violation of their NPT obligations are rather obvious: to avoid military attack is one good one; another one would be to facilitate further integration within the global economy, which is an abstract way of saying support the material welfare of the population, as I mentioned in the previous post. Hardcore revolutionary ideologues and those with material interests tied up in the “sanctions economy” or in the Iranian version of the military-industrial complex – often the same people, of course – are presumed unmoved by the dangers and by the suffering of the people, but that generalization turns false and misleading the moment it is taken too far. To be seen as indifferent to war and misery, or in some sense in favor of them, undermines and isolates whoever is associated with such a perspective. So the Iranian leadership has been “moved” – to find out how far it has or can be moved, or even conceivably changed, is a main underlying objective of the negotiating process. On the other hand, the hardliners’ calculation is correct, as well as time-honored and hardly unique to the Iranians, that threats and simple disrespect, or actual attacks, will tend to unite, or at any rate move a sufficient portion of a populace, against outsiders.

  2. Whose at the top of the Senior leadership, the Revolutionary Guard, that fought a bloody 8 year trench war with Iraq,

  3. Not persuasive, where is the crisis that leads to the rise of a Gorbachev’ it’s not the sanctions, Rouhani is more like that career Soviet pol at the outset of the Soviet Union, sidelined by Stalin, Krasin,

    • I don’t consider myself qualified or well enough informed to judge the state of the Iranian regime or its prospects. Neither, apparently, does Kotkin. He just points to things to look for, and argues that the IR may be at a crossroads. He also asserts that the leadership or system is far from monolithic. Also worth keeping in mind that Khamenei is 74.

  4. Well Kissinger I don’t care for, but neither Doran or Weiss, are primarily concerned about morality, but practical consequences, of this deal, now the likes of Paul Pillar, who got the NIE wrong the last time, because of overreliance on one source, don’t really care about the consequences, he’s never had to face them,

    • If Weiss and Doran were really primarily concerned with “practical consequences” they would detail them, and leave opinions about “cynicism” and “religious tyranny” and Munich to the uninformed and Caroline Glick. As a philosophical matter, however, the distinction between “morality” and “practical consequences” is unsustainable. Practical consequences of no moral significance are just physical events, rocks crashing into rocks. Moral matters of no practical consequence aren’t matters at all. Eventually as well as originally the two concepts converge, and to gain the right to separate them provisionally in relation to an actual policy, you have to do what Weiss like you refuses to do: explain and defend an alternative.

      You’re in a position very much like that of the “anti-war” protestors of 2003, in short of everyone who is convinced today that he or she was completely in the right in opposing the Iraq war, but who forgets that there was no single alternative to Bush policy, but a wide range of mutually exclusive alternatives, none able to command a sufficient constituency, so all subject to being overwhelmed by the logic of conflict. The anti-war fallback abstraction is that war is harmful to children and other living things. The pro-war fallback is that the war is already ongoing and inevitable, the call of God and honor is clear to the faithful and honorable, so you have to pick a side, and had better pick ours.

  5. Is Iran, not a ‘religious tyranny’ Veliyat al Faquir, ‘reign by clerics, literally, the Kingdom is too, but we’re not trusting them with a nuke, why must their program be less scrutinized then the Syrian one, why is it not a candidate for regime change, which is structural, not a matter of switching the pawns on the board,

    • “Religious tyranny” is the term Doran and Glassman use in their moralistic argument against an American “strategic partnership” with the IR. It obviously reflects a subjective judgment, and, as the existence of our longstanding alliance with the Kingdom shows, anything but a clear set of criteria in relation to a general rule or in regard to “practical consequences.” It also doesn’t or doesn’t necessarily have anything to do specifically with nuclear proliferation.

      “Regime change” as the term is generally understood is a policy undertaken only under exceptional circumstances, and amounts to a war policy. The constituency for a war of regime change with the IR doesn’t seem to me to be very large. If it were, then critics of the agreement and the negotiation process wouldn’t deny that it’s the major implication of their stance.

  6. The Parsi link, is instructive in a way, we can guess who the official is, Power, who once argued to deploy troops in favor of Israel, Sherman who was fooled by N. Korea in almost exactly this way, Brennan, many
    choices suggest themselves.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Iran Deal Concretely 2"
  1. […] handle since the time of that post.) I addressed Weiss’s views specifically in a 2013 piece on conservative responses to Obama Administration Iran policy. I have also had collegial side-exchanges with both men, for instance by fact-checking a mistaken […]

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