Former Ambassador Repudiates Downplaying of War Chances

Amb. James Jeffrey

by Ali Gharib

Last week, I wrote a post about AIPAC wanting a “better deal,” something that’s not really feasible in the real world. In another post, I took on Robert Satloff, the head of the AIPAC-founded Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), who not only wrote that he saw a path to the mythical “better deal” but even went so far as to downplay any chance of war at all. The “worst-case scenario,” Satloff proclaimed, would be a mere “war of words between our legislative and executive branches.”

Now the hawkish opinion pages of The Washington Post have published a firmer and more concise repudiation than I could have of this magical thinking—both the notion of negotiating a better deal and that congressional rejection of the current deal won’t lead to an increased likelihood of war. And it came from Robert Satloff’s own shop. In a short letter to the editor, a response to “better deal” talk from two other hawkish think-tankers, former Ambassador Jim Jeffrey broke it down like this:

There are serious arguments for congressional rejection of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): symbolic, assuming a veto, to signal unhappiness with President Obama’s Iran policy; or absolute, overriding a veto to topple the deal and focus Iran containment on a more credible U.S. military threat and closer regional relationships. But Congress should not reject the agreement assuming that the United States can then get a better deal. Who would negotiate it? Mr. Obama would have neither enthusiasm nor credibility, the Iranians no motivation to yield and the international community little interest in new negotiations or even continued support for our oil trade sanctions. We would be left with no restraints, rather than the JCPOA’s limited ones, on Iran, eroding sanctions and little international support if force must ultimately be used against Iran.

That’s spot-on, and it comes from a critic of this deal, but one offering a sober analysis of what lies ahead. Jeffrey doesn’t view war as an inevitability—and he shouldn’t, because it’s not—but he acknowledges that the use of force becomes a real possibility if Iran is unconstrained.

In his remarks to the VFW confab yesterday, Barack Obama said, “In the debate over this deal, we’re hearing the echoes of some of the same policies and mindset that failed us in the past. Some of the same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq, and said it would take a few months.”

That’s right: the overlap here isn’t necessarily only in the personnel but in the “mindset.” One aspect of that mindset is, as Obama said, the playing down of the negative consequences of taking action (think: “cakewalk”). In the latest case, the unforgivable optimism is one that sees all the best options (negotiating a better deal) staying very much alive after rejection of a deal and all the actual worst-case scenarios (war) receding to the realm of impossibility. I hope that the more levelheaded analysts among the pundit class continue to call out their colleagues—even their bosses—for this thinking.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.