Samuel Johnson once described second marriages as a triumph of hope over experience. And perhaps that should apply to second terms as well. Indeed, the lessons of — not just the last few years — but rather, the 20th century, suggest President Obama should have walked away from the Tehran accord.
At least, this seems true to those of us who have attempted to learn from recent history. From Munich to Reykjavík, an unwavering commitment to diplomacy at any cost feels naive. Experience has taught us certain lessons: Appeasement doesn’t work. What does work is peace through strength. Yes, you can and should negotiate — but only from a position of strength. You have to be willing to walk away from the table…
For conservatives of a certain age, this is our template. But maxims are true until they aren’t. With apologies to Chesterton, Mr. Obama might believe negotiating with the Iranians is not an idea that has been “tried and found wanting,” but rather, an idea that has “been found difficult and not tried.”
All he is saying … is give peace a chance.
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The New York Times Peter Baker has penned a smart piece on how this controversy represents a conflict of visions. He’s right, but the conflict is even more fundamental than he suggests. Conservatives, believing in original sin, tend to be skeptical of the utopian notion that evil men can be persuaded — if we just talk reasonably to them! — to change their wicked ways.
That’s not to say we don’t wish the world were different. But we realize that we can’t will the world to change merely by pretending it already has. And it’s hard to “trust, but verify” when you can’t trust the verification will actually happen.
As Baker’s piece seems to suggest, the details of the deal are almost secondary for both supporters and critics. In the wake of the Syrian red line, the rise of ISIS, and Russia’s provocative actions in Ukraine, the question is: Do we trust Obama’s larger foreign policy worldview?
To some, Iraq serves as an example of why diplomacy is preferable to military options. To others, the suggestion that this accord will stop — or even slow — Iran’s nuclear ambitions sounds about as persuasive as saying: “I’m the Magical Man from Happy-Land, in a gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane!”
The degree to which you find it plausible that this deal will work probably says as much about our fundamental beliefs as it does about the deal, itself. Do you believe people are inherently good? Can we reason with those people who are demonstrably evil? When the stakes are this high, should we err toward a quixotic belief in diplomacy — or towards the harsh realities of a dangerous world?
America seems to have made that decision when we twice elected a man selling hope and change.