At the very highest levels, the debate over the Iran nuclear deal has veered away from consideration of the facts — as both sides promised — and entered into the realm of the personal and vindictive. In speeches and interviews, President Obama spoke self-pityingly of the powerful lobbyists and moneyed interests arrayed against the deal. The New York Times wrote of the “unseemly spectacle of lawmakers siding with a foreign leader” — a phrase that transforms advocacy into disloyalty.
On the other side, the president’s critics accuse him of sounding anti-Semitic “dog whistles” to those who want to hear such things, and of revealing an anti-Israel agenda of his own in complaining about lobbyists.
The president’s remarks were ill-considered and tin-eared — and unfair to the critics, in Congress and elsewhere, who have legitimate doubts about the deal and are seeking answers to serious and fair questions. Frustrated as he may be by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lapses in diplomacy, the president should know better than to dish up the kind of rhetoric that the crazies feed on.
But critics too need to be honest about the politics of this deal. It is news to no one that the Israeli government is working hard to block the deal, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is spending millions to do so. They and Netanyahu are on the same page. The pro-Israel community can’t wield the tools of power and then deny doing so.
Critics want to know what happens if Iran cheats, who will ensure the rigor of the inspections, and, even under the best-case scenario, what happens after 10 or 15 years when many of the terms of the deal are set to expire. Supporters want to know what, if you consider this deal inadequate, are the alternatives for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Those are the issues that need to be on the table. If both sides can’t talk substance, said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “they’re just going to drive this debate off a cliff.”