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A plea for patience and humility in assessing the Iran nuke deal

Time will tell if it’s a good deal — and probably not any time soon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
REUTERS/Nir Elias

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps calling the Iran nuke deal a “historic mistake.” Apparently, Netanyahu feels able to travel into the future so that he can look back at the latest events in historical context. I don’t whether one should envy him for having acquired this ability to look back from the future on the events of today or pity him for thinking he possess such an ability. In any case, I hope he turns out to be wrong.

But the best thing I’ve read so far this morning about the Iran nuke deal is this article by David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy, because it is deeply steeped in the humble understanding that we won’t really be able to conduct a reasonable cost/benefit analysis of the deal from the future, looking back on events that haven’t yet occurred.

Critics of the deal, who were criticizing it long before they knew what the final agreement would be, enjoyed the advantage of not having to be very clear about the alternatives that would be better. And the additional advantage — especially those like Netanyahu for whom the best alternative would be to have the United States start a war with Iran — of knowing that their alternative would not be tested, at least during the presidency of Barack Obama.

It will perhaps be fun or interesting but almost certainly not very illuminating to see how the Iran deal enters the next stages of the 2016 presidential contest. This much I can guarantee: The candidates will not say anything much like this, below, from the Rothkopf essay:

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Is the Iran deal a good deal? Again, while the media was, within moments of the deal’s announcement early on July 14, awash with Tuesday-morning quarterbacks explaining how they would have done it better, it is the deal we have. Further, no one can reasonably argue that it is not better to have some agreement that at least makes ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program a possibility for the foreseeable future. The key is how leaders in Iran and around the world act once the deal is in place. We have seen deals in the past that have simply not been effective. (See North Korea.) But there is a path forward with this deal that will certainly be better than the uncertainty that has hung over this issue for the past 13 years. If the deal’s terms are enforced and it translates into real inspections that are regularly and even aggressively conducted, where violations are marked without hesitation — and, of course, the Iranian government has the intent to honor its terms — this deal will be seen as successful.