Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

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:

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.

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 07/15/2015 - 12:02 pm.

    I am glad that Mr. Black has a better feel for Mid East policies than Prime Minister Netanyahu. We sit in the bleachers here in America and second guess the players on the field in the Mid East. Excuse me if I believe Netanyahu over the Monday morning QB sitting in Twin Cities.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/15/2015 - 01:37 pm.


      is a fear monger who has consistently cried wolf throughout the years. He was wrong on opposing the interim deal with Iran in 2013 and worse, seems to have no historical perspective. As Kennedy showed us in 1962, always leave your adversary a face-saving way to back down.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/15/2015 - 01:40 pm.

      Netahyahu is closer

      which may just make him more biased, and more easily misled by that bias.
      As a result he’s pursuing a goal (total nuclear dominance of the Middle East) which is neither attainable or to Israel’s long term advantage.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/15/2015 - 01:57 pm.


      There are a lot players in the Middle East who disagree with Netanyahu. And if you look at Netanyahu’s history regarding Iran, he is about the least credible person for you to believe.

    • Submitted by Howard Miller on 07/17/2015 - 09:34 pm.

      Mr. Netanyahu is Israel’s Richard Cheney.

      They share the same dark world view, do not hesitate to put their neighbors’ sons and daughters into war.

      If that approach could work, it would have already. Long ago.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/15/2015 - 12:24 pm.

    Patience and humility

    I would settle for people just actually reading it. Or even just being familiar with the general terms of the agreement.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/15/2015 - 03:44 pm.

    Deal or No Deal?

    Of course this agreement is not ideal. No agreement ever is. It is, I think, a gross error to say “no deal” would have been a better option.

    Consider what would have happened without a deal. Would the regime in Iran have had any incentive to give up its nuclear ambitions? That’s doubtful–whatever domestic pressure there might have been for reaching an agreement would go away, because any efforts at accommodation would have been shown to be futile. Would continuing the rigid embargo of Iran work? Again, doubtful. Russia and China would have stepped up their trade with Iran. It is also a fantasy to think the European Union would have the patience to continue sanctions. What could the US have done about it–would the US have been willing to, say, bomb a cargo ship bound for Iran from Germany? The embargo was bound to fall apart sooner or later, and the US would have been left standing alone (the idea that a “strong” President could stop such a thing goes beyond irrational).

    What happens with an agreement? Iran may become empowered, but there is a legal mechanism in place to limit its development of nuclear weapons. Relations with a rogue regime are restarted, albeit on a halting level. Over the years, it is plausible that the political climate in Tehran would change to a more reasonable level (it wasn’t happening so far. What was that line about doing the same thing twice and expecting different results?). The people of Iran probably are more interested in rapprochement with the rest of the world than they are in building a bomb.

    Letting Iran save face with a flawed, but workable, deal may not be the best outcome, but it was a feasible one. It’s also better than the alternatives.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/15/2015 - 04:34 pm.

    This agreement is the direct result of Israel’s pressuring the US with respect to Iran.

    This issue has been pushed by Israel, because Israel wants to maintain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East–first strike, tactical, and last strike (doomsday).

    Well there were only two options to prevent Iran from obtaining weapons. Pre-emptive strike (whatever could go wrong–it’d be a cakewalk!!), or negotiations.

    The fundamental basis of negotiation is to engage in a “give and take” on issues. If there is no “give”-there can be no take.

    So unless we are the “poodle” of Israel, it was always going to come down to negotiation. And any negotiation would come down somewhere into the range of this agreement.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/15/2015 - 07:35 pm.

    “Historic mistake” – – prophet not time travel….

    “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.”


    One of the best ways in attempting to judge the events of today and the future is by looking at the past.

    A deliberate attempt to divert attention from Iran’s past is naïve. Iran has a history. Mr. Black’s failure to even mention Iran’s past in judging the events of today is failure to acknowledge “context.” Mr. Netanyahu is not claiming to look back from the future, but understanding the past only allows him to attempt to forecast the future.

    I believe Mr. Netanyahu is functioning as a prophet – based on Iran’s past, not as a time traveler.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/15/2015 - 08:21 pm.

      Looking Back From the Future

      Does that include looking back at Netanyahu’s own past “predictions” and utterances.

      And if we are talking about Iran’s past, what about Netenyahu’s past. present and future (predictable) conduct.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/15/2015 - 11:56 pm.

      So would that past include

      Constant meddling by the west to prop up an autocratic regime directly leading to the revolution installing the present theocracy?

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/15/2015 - 10:17 pm.

    Netanyahu / McCain

    PM Netanyahu is not unlike Sen McCain. A former military man who seems inclined to pursue the military option before negotiations. Bomb, bomb, bomb… Bomb, bomb Iran.

  7. Submitted by Charles Thompson on 07/16/2015 - 08:16 am.

    israel and the saudis

    These are allies?

  8. Submitted by stephen silberfarb on 07/16/2015 - 09:44 am.

    Iran deal

    I have not formed an opinion on the deal. I want to watch the debate unfold. Because of the stakes, I think the onus is on President Obama to make the case.

    But I can’t say I like how the debate is forming. Be it the knee jerk reaction of Republicans to any Obama suggestion, to those who claim Netanyahu is a war monger.

    Negotiating with an adversary is not easy. We don’t trust them. They still hate us. They are still funding regimes and terror operations that seek to hurt America and Americans (and our allies). Limiting the conflict to conventional arms seems better than to have nuclear weapons involved. Of course it’s not ideal. When has the world been ideal?

    I’d like to see these questions answered with clarity and precision: What of their existing program are they allowed to keep? How will we discover cheating? What will we do when we discover cheating? If Iran abides by the agreement, at its expiration, where will Iran’s nuclear weapons program be (how close to a nuclear weapon)? What is the relationship between reducing/removing economic and arms sanctions and Iranian compliance?

    As to the nature of the debate:

    – In’t the president being just as “prophetic” in his claims regarding what the agreement will accomplish?
    – This is not only War versus Obama’s Deal. Come on. It can also be Better Deal versus Obama’s Deal.
    – I’m not as wowed by Mr. Rothkopf:
    — “it’s the deal we have”
    Of course. But it’s the deal we negotiated. Could we have negotiated a better deal? That’s a fair question and let’s hope the debate that unfolds will provide illumination on precisely what terms could have been improved on.
    –“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.”
    Huh? But does it end Iran’s nuclear weapons program for the foreseeable future? Exactly how long is this “foreseeable future”? Where is Iran’s nuclear weapons program the day after the “foreseeable future” ends? And “makes ending…a possibility”? A possibility? I’d say it’s definitely reasonable to argue!
    — A lot of “ifs.” If behavior, if discovered, if enforced. Seems our allies, among others, are rather concerned about these ifs.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/16/2015 - 04:04 pm.

      “Better deal?”Exactly what

      “Better deal?”

      Exactly what would be a “better deal”?

      You can spend a lot of time at the donut case looking for the best one. You won’t know until you decide and bite.

      But your coffee gets colder in the meantime.

      And the maximum utility of the deal drops.

      Listen what some people who know about it say:


      Max Fisher: A lot of what you wrote throughout 2014 was skeptical. Not of the idea of the Iran deal, but rather skeptical that they could make it work, that they would get there in time, that they would have all the right conditions.

      Jeffrey Lewis: That’s right. I had no faith whatsoever that they could pull this off.

      Max Fisher: Now that we’re here, what grade would you give it?

      Jeffrey Lewis: I would give it an A.

      Max Fisher: A solid A!

      Jeffrey Lewis: I mean, it’s hard. There are two pieces to this.

      Compared to the deal we could have gotten 10 years ago, if the Bush administration hadn’t had their heads up their butts? Not an A! That would have been a great deal!

      I remember when they had 164 centrifuges, in one cascade, and I said, “You know what, we should let them keep it in warm standby. No uranium, just gas.” And people were like, “You’re givin’ away the store!”

      Max Fisher: We would kill for that now! They got cut down to 5,000 centrifuges, and it’s a huge deal.

      Jeffrey Lewis: Exactly. And that’s been the fundamental experience of this for me. Every six months, the deal we could have gotten six months before looks better. Every time we tried to hold out for a better deal, and every time we got in the position of a worse deal.

      (end quote)

      • Submitted by stephen silberfarb on 07/16/2015 - 04:37 pm.

        Donuts and coffee. Cute. And silly.

        I’ll read with interest the opinions of the likes of Jeffrey Lewis. Like I said, I haven’t formed an opinion. And if my coffee gets cold, it could be a better alternative to exploding hot coffee with a mushroom cloud. I’d prefer a bagel though.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/16/2015 - 05:13 pm.

      “It can also be Better Deal versus Obama’s Deal.”

      A better deal is a theoretical possibility, Was it a realistic one? Would the mindless saber-rattling of the neocons have produced a better result? Sure, it’s worked so well with Iran in the past.

      It reminds me of the line of thought that says we could have had single payer health care, if only Obama had pushed for it.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/16/2015 - 09:54 pm.

      Sad But True

      The very people who can’t/won’t make a peace deal over fifty years, claim they could have, and would have struck a better deal with Iran.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/17/2015 - 09:57 am.

        Very True

        Those whose policies spawned the current anti-American climate in Iranian politics are also pleased to tell us how things should be done (yes, Dr. Kissinger, I mean you)..

  9. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 07/16/2015 - 11:44 am.

    Bibi …”Patience and humility” is…

    …not a quality this man portrays, in fact, with all the billions we’ve given Israel, and Bibi-established hard core position with his nervous-nuke finger-on-the-trigger mentality… with such a dangerous state of mind so exhibited, why did we give him, Israel more explosive toys to play power god with?

    Last May US Congress approved 1.9 billion arms sales to Israel. fifty bunker bombs included..”Historic Iran nuke deal resets Eurasia’s ‘Great Game'” Pepe Escobar Asia Times.

    This is another interesting perspective coming from a brilliant, too often prophetic; ever traveling, independent journalist, words man and poet whose perspective rarely shines positive on U.S. administration deeds, but sad to say, his words speak future truths more often than not?

    Read him maybe in order to see shadows in the mirror we do not care to see but may have to reluctantly acknowledge at some future date?

    How others see us is well worth the knowledge one could say…we are not the giant superpower anymore in others eyes…so be it?

    If a Nobel Peace Prize is given on this historic issue, let it be it to US Secretary of State Jon Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif. : I agree with you there Pepe, yes sir.

  10. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 07/17/2015 - 10:24 am.

    Something that no one in this thread has mentioned:

    Look at a map of Iran.

    It is bordered by Turkey (which has U.S. military bases), Iraq (conquered by the U.S.), Afghanistan (conquered by the U.S.), Pakistan (U.S. troops active), Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan, still heavily under Russian influence.

    Recall also that George W. Bush named Iran along with Iraq and North Korea as “the axis of evil,” never mind that Iran and Iraq do not get along with each other and North Korea has no involvement with either of them.

    OK, so Iraq, one of the member of the alleged “axis of evil” is invaded and conquered by the U.S.

    Iran has a much stronger military and cohesive population (overwhelmingly of the same ethnic group and religion with a 3000-year continuous history), but it doesn’t want to be next on the list of countries “liberated” into chaos by the U.S.

    Developing nukes or threatening to develop nukes is a logical step. (And I don’t even like the Iranian government or nuclear weapons.)

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/17/2015 - 02:18 pm.

      No one knows better than Iran what U.S. “liberation” means.

      It’s easy to forget the root cause of the conflict between Iran and the U.S. – and the deep-seated mistrust of our foreign policy by the Iranians.

      When a democratically elected leader of Iran (Mossadegh) stepped out of line with Western corporate interests (the current BP, British Petroleum – formerly known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company), he was overthrown due to the machinations of the CIA, amongst others. Originally, Mossadegh had merely insisted on an audit of the books of this corporation, and when refused, Iran nationalized its assets.

      We did not admit it for the next 60 years – until 2013 – but we had not merely meddled in their internal affairs, we destroyed their government and put a puppet in its place – the Shah – a puppet who would play nice with our corporations.

      Most Americans date our conflict with Iran to the late 70s, when the Shah was overthrown, the Ayatollah came home, the hostages were taken. But in reality, it dates back at least to that 1953 coup.

      This is a convenient forgetfulness. It fits right in with the chutzpah of our narrative concerning the untrustworthiness of Iran !!

  11. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 07/19/2015 - 04:38 pm.

    And what of the Palestinian, Palestine is left out too often..

    Israel continues to dominate the news while as an ‘aside game’, shooting and killing Palestinian youth…not even a slap on the hand for their killing and destruction?

    Please check out the book review of “Gaza Writes Back” “Palestine Chronicle”:
    “Telling stories is an act of life”…”is resistance gathered stories by young Palestinians and published to commemorate the “Operation Cast Lead” the name Israel gave to “Mow the lawn’ in Occupied Palestine”…

    Their son, their daughter or your son, your daughter …does it matter if they have a story to tell…not with a gun or threat of a nuke..but words hey; a powerful ‘weapon’ if one has the capacity to absorb the whole picture?

    “Gaza Writes Back” is a book review by Gary Corseri over at “Palestine Chronicle”.

    …also is a way of recalling the fact that Palestine and its youth still exist yet little is mentioned when the enormous head of Bibi N dominates the cyber scene?

  12. Submitted by Bill Willy on 07/19/2015 - 12:45 pm.

    Dog paddling in the Monkey Sea?

    Pop quiz…

    1) Name the last significant international agreement related to anything having to do with peace in the Middle East (or anywhere else)?

    2) Name the last significant international agreement on ANYthing significant?

    Point is, it’s interesting to see how fefuddled those opposed to this agreement seem to be when it comes to negotiating. Could it be a significant number of “national leaders” have forgotten, or grown up having never learned, what the word means, or how it’s done?

    Could it have to do with something as simple as what it’s like to have known how to, say, write computer code, then stepped away from it for five or ten years, and then decide to sit down at a computer and write a program that would work well in the contemporary environment?

    And when it comes to the now-ingrained and intractable conservative Republican ideology, and Pop quiz question #3, when was the last time they negotiated anything with their own political counterparts in THIS country, let alone their GLOBAL counterparts?

    Remember the word “compromise” and how its definition seems to have changed over the past 20 or 30 years?

    Could it be many or our “political leaders” are simply rusty upstairs?

    Could it be a generation or so of politicos have “come of age” in a psychological and emotional environment in which “standing on principle” (regardless of whether or not those “principles” make real world sense) is more important than whatever the optimal pragmatic solution may be?

    I mean, think about it a little (over coffee and a donut sometime?)… Anyone born after, say, 1965 or 1970 has grown up (not quite into, but on the verge of their adult lives) hearing roughly half of the “political establishment,” and half the adults they’ve encountered saying things like, “Yeah… Yaknow? The government really ISN’T the solution. The government really IS the problem,” for just one example of many winning political bumper sticker truths that have morphed into the gospel for a sadly large number of Americans.

    And anyone born around 1990 hit puberty about the time the jet airliners hit the world trade center, and really haven’t known much about the geo-political world since then but what we’ve all been seeing on the news and reading about in places like this.

    And, of course, anyone born near 2001 is just turning 14, 15, 16 now.

    And, to the broader point, what kind of “societal lessons” are the members of the younger generations (who are interested in such things) learning as they look around for examples of how to negotiate, compromise, make big important agreements that may or may not (continue to) stave off the use of nuclear materials (or any other lethal weapon of war) that would make their lives, or the lives of their contemporaries around the world, a hellish mess not much worth living in?

    Are they learning how to do that, or are they learning to just say, “No way! Being Tough, never showing weakness, never backing down, and always having the Bigger Hammer and Truest Aim is the only kind of negotiations inferior people ever understand!”

    “And you never, ever pay attention to, negotiate or agree with ANYone like Barack Obama. Never ever ever. THAT is rule number one, son. Sure, he’s the President of the United States, but some principles are just Bigger and More Important than almost any others.”

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 07/22/2015 - 09:52 am.

      There really does seem to be a difference in perspective

      between those of us who came of age before Reagan and those who came of age after Reagan.

      I remember when things were different, when eliminating poverty, making scientific advances, protecting the natural environment, and equalizing opportunity were seen as good things and as achievable. For a while, we did make progress in those areas. Contrary to Reagan’s silly statement “We declared a War on Poverty and poverty won,” poverty actually did decline during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was the era of the moon landing and major advances in medicine, physics, and geology. It was the era when being a litterbug or dumping untreated waste into lakes and rivers and atmosphere became socially unacceptable. It was the era when job ads saying “Help Wanted: Women” (secretarial and retail jobs) and “Help Wanted: Men” (all other jobs, except teaching, which was listed under “Teachers Wanted” and apartment management, which was almost the only job listed under “Help Wanted: Men and Women”). It was the era when businesses stopped labeling themselves as “White Trade Only” or “Colored Business” (I saw such signs on a trip South in the early 1960s). It was the era in which the federal government established Medicare, since insurance companies were unwilling to cover the elderly for any price most of them could afford. It was an era of proxy wars, but the U.S. and the Soviet Union negotiated treaties and managed to keep from blowing up the world.

      People who came of age during or after the Reagan administration have grown up with Republicans saying that poor people are just lazy, that science should be disregarded if it contradicts conservative religion or impedes the unbridled making of money, that market forces will take care of the environment, that racism and sexism are no longer problems, that Medicare and Social Security need to be privatized, and that war, including the preemptive use of nuclear weapons, is a great way to solve problems. Sad to say, far too many “moderate” Democrats have agreed with them.

      I’m hoping that it’s time for another swing of the pendulum.

  13. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 07/21/2015 - 05:59 pm.


    Iran has, and will continue to do exactly what it wants no matter how hard anyone outside their borders wishes or hopes or deals. That is the true reality.

Leave a Reply