Leo Wieseltier on The Iran Nuclear Deal


“The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” 

The administration’s apocalyptic rhetoric about the deal is absurd: The temporary diminishments of Iran’s enrichment activities are not what stand between the Islamic Republic and a bomb. The same people who assure us that Iran has admirably renounced its aspiration to a nuclear arsenal now warn direly that a failure to ratify the accord will send Iranian centrifuges spinning madly again. They ridicule the call for more stringent sanctions against Iran because the sanctions already in place are “leaky” and crumbling, and then they promise us that these same failing measures can be speedily and reliably reconstituted in a nifty mechanism called “snapback.” And how self-fulfilling was the administration’s belief that no better deal was possible? On what grounds was its limited sense of possibility determined? Surely there is nothing utopian about the demand for a larger degree of confidence in this matter: The stakes are unimaginably high. It

The period of negotiations that has just come to a close was a twisted moment in American foreign policy. We were inhibited by the talks and they were not. The United States was reluctant to offend its interlocutors by offering any decisive challenge to their many aggressions in the region and beyond; we chose instead to inhibit ourselves. This has been an activist era in Iranian foreign policy and a passivist era in American foreign policy. (Even our refusal to offer significant assistance to Ukraine in its genuinely noble struggle against Russian intimidation and invasion was owed in part to our solicitude for the Russian standpoint on Iran.) I expect that the administration will prevail, alas, over the opposition to the Iran deal. The can will be kicked down the road, which is Obama’s characteristic method of arranging his “legacy” in foreign affairs. Our dread of an Iranian bomb will not have been dispelled; we will still need to keep “all options on the table”; we will continue to ponder anxiously the question of whether a military response to an Iranian breakout will ever be required; we will again be living by our nerves. All this does not constitute a diplomatic triumph. As a consequence of the accord, moreover, the mullahs in Tehran, and the fascist Revolutionary Guards that enforce their rule and profit wildly from it, will certainly not loosen their grip on their society or open it up. This “linkage” is a tired fiction. The sanctions were not what cast Iran into its political darkness.

There are times when an injustice to only one man deserves to bring things to a halt.

This accord will strengthen a contemptible regime. And so I propose—futilely, I know—that now, in the aftermath of the accord, America proceed to weaken it. The conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action should be accompanied by a resumption of our hostility to the Iranian regime and its various forces. Diplomats like to say that you talk with your enemies. They are right. And we have talked with them. But they are still our enemies.

This is the hour not for a fresh start but for a renovation of principle. We need to restore democratization to its pride of place among the priorities of our foreign policy and oppress the theocrats in Tehran everywhere with expressions, in word and in deed, of our implacable hostility to their war on their own people. We need to support the dissidents in any way we can, not least so that they do not feel abandoned and alone, and tiresomely demand the release of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from the house arrest in which they have been sealed since the crackdown in 2009. (And how in good conscience could we have proceeded with the negotiations while the American journalist Jason Rezaian was a captive in an Iranian jail?

Many years ago, when I studied the Dreyfus affair, I learned that there are times when an injustice to only one man deserves to bring things to a halt.) We need to despise the regime loudly and regularly, and damage its international position as fiercely and imaginatively as we can, for its desire to exterminate Israel. We need to arm the enemies of Iran in Syria and Iraq, and for many reasons. (In Syria, we have so far prepared 60 fighters: America is back!) We need to explore, with diplomatic daring, an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states, which are now experiencing an unprecedented convergence of interests.

But we will do none of this. We will instead persist in letting the fire spread and letting time tell, which we call realism. Wanting not to fight wars, we refuse to join struggles. Sometimes, I guess, history really is a rut.