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How Misinformation Distorts the Iran Debate
There are never any consequences for making false claims about Iran’s nuclear program.
There are never any consequences for making false claims about Iran’s nuclear program. This is from Max Boot in a column published yesterday:
Biden has no answer to the challenges posed by Iran and North Korea — but then neither does anyone else. Both countries are racing ahead with weapons of mass destruction [bold mine-DL] while turning their backs on diplomacy.
It is lazy and misleading to pair North Korea and Iran together in this way, and it is simply untrue to say that Iran is “racing ahead with weapons of mass destruction.” North Korea has a nuclear arsenal and the long-range missiles needed to deliver them, and Iran has neither. More to the point, the Iranian government doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program and has not had anything of the kind for at least nineteen years. Iran’s nuclear program has expanded and become more sophisticated in recent years in direct response to “maximum pressure” sanctions and Israeli sabotage attacks, but their government has not been “racing ahead” to build nuclear weapons.
Talking about Iran’s nuclear program in the same breath with North Korea is sloppy at best, because the two governments have taken fundamentally different paths with respect to nonproliferation. The Iranian government is still a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and it continues to respect its prohibition against the development of nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the treaty and has repeatedly tested nuclear weapons. In one case, it is not too late to prevent proliferation, and in the other that ship sailed a long time ago.
It is a measure of how bad our current Iran policy is that the U.S. continues to sanction Iran as if there were no differences between its nuclear program and North Korea’s. The Iranian government isn’t “racing ahead” with developing nuclear weapons, but the U.S. has given them strong incentives to do just that. The U.S. punished Iran when they were in compliance with the nuclear deal, and then increased that punishment when they took steps to respond to U.S. violations. U.S. promises of sanctions relief are virtually impossible to trust, and the U.S. has shown how quickly and easily it can reverse itself after a change in administration.
Boot’s false claim matters because it is the basis for his assertion that there is no available answer to the nuclear issue with Iran. If Iran were “racing ahead” with the development of nuclear weapons, there might be something to the idea that there is no good answer available, but Iran isn’t doing that. There is still time to find a diplomatic solution that keeps Iran’s nuclear program peaceful and avoids a new crisis.
Unfortunately, there is little or no political will in Washington to continue pursuing such a solution, and there is tremendous entrenched hostility to the idea of diplomacy with Iran. Even though a diplomatic agreement has been the only way to make any progress on the nuclear issue, the U.S. and its allies seem remarkably indifferent to the survival of that agreement. Giving up on the only option that has been proven to work would be extremely foolish, but that is where the U.S. seems to be heading now.
There is very little patience for diplomatic engagement in Washington, and perversely it is politically safer for presidents to abandon talks that might succeed than to continue with them. Biden could demonstrate some real political courage and leadership by pressing on with negotiations until they have reached a satisfactory conclusion, but all signs suggest that he will play it safe and take the path of least resistance. If that ends up leading to a new crisis with Iran, the record will show that it could have been avoided.