The Iran Deal Echo Chamber Strikes Back

REUTERS/Steve Crisp (IRAN)

Jonathan Greenberg Senior Vice President, Salomon Center
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Last week, the Institute for Science and International Security – whose unfortunate acronym belies the excellence of their work – released a report detailing Iran’s failure to abide by the terms of the nuclear deal they signed with the United States and other powers known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Not only did some of Iran’s facilities and uranium stockpiles fail to meet the January 16, 2016 compliance deadline, the report further discloses that the body established to administer the deal knew about and secretly exempted the violations.

Immediately, the “Echo Chamber” leaped into action. You remember the Echo Chamber, right?

In the spring of [2015], legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” [Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes] admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

And there they were again last week, like jilted teenagers perking up and pretending to be happy when their ex strides down the hallway – the sad little collection of people for whom Iran can do no wrong.

MIT’s Jim Walsh – whose diminutive Twitter handle, @DrJimWalshMIT, is a case study in less-is-more – wrote a blog post disagreeing with the gist of the Institute report before assuming, for the sake of argument, that it was right, and explaining why it wasn’t a big deal. The Iranian regime’s chief Washington cheerleader, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian-American Council, called it a “crushing response.”

Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a key distributor of funds and marching orders for the Echo Chamber, has been tweeting about the report for days. Jon Wolfsthal, Jeffrey Lewis, Mark Fitzpatrick and a host of other “non-proliferation experts” participated in the shouting-down either on Twitter or in print.

The White House even got in on the act, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest criticizing the report and denying its veracity before, moments later, admitting that he hadn’t read it. To be fair, his characterization of the JCPOA during that press gaggle suggests he hasn’t read it, either.

These people have two problems: first, they have made the terrible error of staking their reputations on the Iran deal. They and their organizations are so closely identified with the failed attempt to sell the deal to the American people that their professional fates will be determined by its success or failure. Even if it doesn’t work, they’ll be there to tell you it’s working. For the Echo Chamber, the unpleasant alternative is that they will have “Iranian Nuke” stamped on their CVs.

They will, of course, respond that those of us who opposed to the JCPOA have staked our reputations on the deal failing. Except that, if we’re wrong, everybody’s too happy to care. If they’rewrong, we’re all shopping for SPF-a-billion sunscreen. And, also, we’re not wrong. And most Americans already know it.

Second, it is increasingly obvious that these organizations and individuals who market themselves as anti-proliferation are, in fact, merely short-term anti-war activists. Their sole interest was in preventing the use of the US military to confront the threat of an Iranian bomb. Actually preventing the acquisition of nukes by Tehran was, at best, secondary.

Looking at their body of work from that viewpoint – the short-term anti-war activist – they’ve been spectacularly successful. The Iran deal has totally changed the political and economic reality on the ground – to our strategic disadvantage. European and American companies have signed multi-billion dollar deals with Iran that make it impossible to imagine Tehran being found in material breach of their obligations. Even when they are.  As they were on January 16, 2016.

And Iran knows it. That’s why they keep taking American hostages and harassing American ships. It’s why they were in violation of the terms of the deal on day one. Because they knew they could be.

So the next time you see one of these “non-proliferation experts” saying something totally counterintuitive, just remember that they aren’t anti-proliferation. They aren’t even anti-war. They’re short-term anti-war zealots who have guaranteed us a bigger, more deadly war down the road. And they’re on your TV or in your Twitter feed because, come hell or heavy water, they can’t let you understand what they’ve actually done.

Jonathan Greenberg is an ordained Reform rabbi and the senior vice president of the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group. Follow him @JGreenbergSez.