The variable truths of the Iran deal

The Iran Deal has been scrapped, and you’re either ecstatic or livid about it. Those are the two options today – either be enthusiastically for something or vehemently against it.

The debate on the withdrawal from the Iran deal, a matter of global significance, is understandably fierce. I am not surprised that there is so much noise, passion, and disagreement around the deal, and I do not believe it is fruitless. Debate enables us to evaluate the issues from a variety of perspectives and make informed decisions.  Yet the discussion around the Iran deal, like so many issues that are hotly contested today, is not civil, and in many quarters does not seem particularly healthy or productive.

The problem is that there remains so much enmity and distrust between the two sides of our political aisle that we are unable, or at least unlikely, to identify the valid issues that distinguish our positions.  We pretend that the matter is clear-cut and based on a distinct and determinate set of facts – if you agree with me, you are intelligent and morally superior, and if you disagree, you are asinine and morally depraved.

The reality, however, is that many of the “facts” of the Iran deal are not straightforward, and one’s position on the deal may be based on a series of questions for which reasonable arguments can be made on each side, but no definitive answer can be given.

One such question at the crux of the debate is whether the Iranian regime can be relied upon to live up to their agreements or put more bluntly, whether the regime is already in breach of their commitment to halt their nuclear program.  Those opposed to the deal believe that the regime is lying, and those supporting the deal believe that the regime is complying.

Those opposed to the deal point to recently released Israeli intelligence that purports to provide irrefutable evidence of Iran’s ongoing nuclear development program. To counter, the deal’s supporters will argue that the IAEA has conducted through periodic inspections and has concluded that the Iranians are fully compliant.  Admittedly, the deal restricts the IAEA from inspecting certain sites, but one would assume that the International Atomic Energy Agency is a reliable and unbiased player and that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by leading the international community astray.

The upshot is that Iran may or may not be surreptitiously developing a nuclear weapons program, but each side can provide support for its conclusions on the matter.  Furthermore, the lying or complying question is not the only variable issue which distinguishes the two sides of the debate.

Let’s assume that both sides concede that the Iranian regime is not a trustworthy player and that they are probably continuing to develop their nuclear program. After all, it is known and admitted by even the most staunch proponents of the deal that the Iranian regime is a state sponsor of terror. Remember, no one on either side is suggesting that the Ayatollahs are peaceable and rational. They run a fundamentalist police state that severely limits the freedoms of their own people and funds the activities of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. The argument for the deal is not that these are good guys, but that this deal is the best that can be done for now.

And so the second question on which the debate hinges is whether the JCPOA is the best deal that can be struck, or whether there is a better deal to be negotiated which heightens the odds of national and global security for a longer period of time?

The deal’s proponents insist on the former. Some proponents believe that in the best case scenario, this article of diplomacy will encourage the Iranian regime to alter their behavior and choose to become a peaceful member of the brotherhood of nations. The worst case is that they will not change their stripes, but at least this deal buys us 8 years before they can develop a nuclear potential.

Opponents of the deal believe that there is a better deal that can and should be brokered with the re-imposition of economic sanctions. This theoretical deal would not only force the regime to rethink their aggressive tactics but would also deprive them of the funds they currently have to continue their support for international terrorism.

Proponents of the deal fire back that such economic sanctions will hurt the Iranian populace but not deter the regime from continuing their nuclear proliferation and their global ambitions.  Meanwhile, opponents insist that the Iranian people are already living under fiercely oppressive conditions and that further economic pressure will empower the people to rise up and overthrow the regime.

Once again, we see that the debate is predicated on opinion and conjecture, not on fact.  Will pulling out of the deal pave the way to a better deal or to an ugly military confrontation?  Rational and persuasive arguments can be made on both sides.

My point is not to advocate for either position, but rather to demonstrate that there are justifiable reasons why decent and rational people disagree on this important issue.  The tendency in our media at this moment is to reduce complex issues to oversimplified matters of right or wrong, or even good and evil, and to vilify those with opposing perspectives.  Our responsibility in this hyper-partisan environment is to delve beyond the propaganda and the thinly veiled agendas and to utilize our powers of rational inquiry to try to view the issues objectively and to view our peers more generously.

In most cases, our disagreement is not a function of some difference in morality or intelligence, but rather, as in the case of the Iran deal, a series of issues that are open to interpretation. We must be able to consider one another’s perspectives rather than casting them off as ill-informed or malicious. We must be able to respectfully disagree. Otherwise, we need not worry about things like Iranian nuclear proliferation- if we can not work together as a united populace, then we will sooner destroy ourselves from within.