David Harsanyi / July 24, 2015

Americans Understand Iran a Lot Better Than John Kerry

Perhaps the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not feel compelled to indulge in American fairy tale endings

At a Tehran mosque last week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – amid chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel” – explained to a crowd that his nation’s interests are “180 degrees” in opposition to the United States. “Even after this deal, our policy toward the arrogant U.S. will not change,” he explained.

This vexed Secretary of State John Kerry, who claimed that he didn’t “know how to interpret” this kind of predictable antagonism from one of America’s longest-running adversaries.

What can it all possibly mean?

Perhaps the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not feel compelled to indulge in American fairy tale endings. Khamenei knows there is almost no way sanctions will return, even if he cheats. He understands his nation will be poised to have nuclear weapons in a decade, at the latest. Few people, even advocates of the P5+1 deal, argue we can stop the mullahs in the long run. Best-case scenario, as Fred Kaplan contends in Slate, is that the Islamic regime will get bored of hating us and join the community of nations.

Speaking of wishful thinking, I suspect that many Americans are less confused about Iran’s intentions than our gullible secretary of state, even if they support a deal for partisan reasons. Take a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that tells us a couple of things – neither being what fans of the deal purpose. Americans – though most don’t know much about foreign affairs, much less grasp the intricacies of this Iranian deal – intuitively understand Iran’s Islamic Republic better than Kerry.

When asked about the deal and given the administration’s framing of it, 56 percent said they support it.

But of course, the debate is the question. And this one is lacking vital context. The debate is about international inspectors and their ability to get the job done. We know those sanctions will be almost impossible to re-engage once the United Nations lifts them. Nor did the question let on what we have given up: The deal lifts an embargo on ballistic weapons in under a decade; we allow Iran to keep 6,000 centrifuges, which could allow the country to be on the threshold of nuclear weapons; and we are reinstating $140 billion that Iran can use, as Kerry has pointed out, in aiding proxies as the largest state funder of terrorism in the world.

That’s if the regime keeps its promises. Here’s the second question in that Washington Post-ABC News poll:

How confident are you that this agreement will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?

Sixty-four percent are not confident that Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium. Do these people realize that the entire point of this deal – as laid out by President Barack Obama and his surrogates – is to stop the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons? It’s not as if we brought home any hostages or put an end to Iran’s actions in Bahrain, Yemen or Lebanon. How could they support a deal that they claim won’t work? I suspect it’s because the first question is a theoretical framework. The second question can be based on evidence.

The Pew Research Center offers a more fully realized view of American opinion on the matter. Among the 79 percent of Americans who have heard about the agreement, only 38 percent approve, whereas 48 percent disapprove, and 14 percent do not offer an opinion. Only 26 percent of those who claim to have heard at least a little about the agreement contend that they have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence that Iran’s leaders will abide by its terms.

But for the most part, liberal pundits do not argue, as Kerry does, that this pact will stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in the long run. Instead, we are bombarded with a fallacy: Do you want war, or do you want this deal? Well, there are thousands of positions a person can have between bringing an entire nation into submission and our own capitulation – for example, continuing sanctions, increasing sanctions or even negotiating a better agreement.

Kerry says a veto override would mean Iran would only become stronger. But is an override even a possibility? Thanks to Sens. Bob Corker and Mitch McConnell’s ceding all power on the issue to the president, it seems improbable. Although, using a vote in the United Nations to create inevitability rather than first allowing debate in Congress not only demonstrates Obama’s contempt for process but also may be the pretext some apprehensive Democrats need to oppose the deal. And such bad polling as we’ve seen so far will go a long way in determining whether the Sen. Chuck Schumers of the world capitulate to the pressure coming from the administration.

For now, though, it seems that the American public is realistic about Iran’s intentions – or at least more realistic than our secretary of state pretends to be.

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