Obama speaks on the deal

A report in the New York Times notes a speech by President Obama recently on the Iran deal.

It opens “Obama took on critics of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers in an aggressive speech on Wednesday, saying they were the same people who created the “drumbeat of war” and played on public fears to push the United States into the Iraq war more than a decade ago. “Let’s not mince words: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some sort of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon,” Mr. Obama told about 200 people in a speech at American University. “How can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives?” Mr. Obama, opening a new, more overtly political phase of his public campaign for the accord, portrayed the coming vote in Congress to approve or reject the deal as the most consequential foreign policy decision for lawmakers since Congress voted in 2003 to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He implored them to “shut out the noise” and back the deal”.

The report goes on to note “Delivered in stark terms that surprised some foreign policy analysts and left no room for questioning whether the agreement is good for American security — “It’s not even close,” Mr. Obama declared at one point — the president’s speech was a striking display of certitude about a diplomatic deal that has split the American public and presented a dilemma for lawmakers, including many in his own party. Mr. Obama criticized Republicans who are pressing forward with legislation to block the accord, which is on track for a vote in September”.

Interestingly it adds that “Opposition to the agreement, he said, stems from “knee-jerk partisanship that has become all too familiar, rhetoric that renders every decision made to be a disaster, a surrender.” He said hard-liners in Iran who chant “Death to America” were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.” Lawmakers who oppose the deal said they were not persuaded, and some said they resented the president’s tone. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the speech had done a disservice to lawmakers in both parties who “have serious and heartfelt concerns.” “These Democrats and Republicans deserved serious answers today, not some outrageous attempt to equate their search for answers with supporting chants of ‘Death to America,’ ” Mr. McConnell said, adding that Democrats who had declared their opposition would be “especially insulted” by the president’s remarks. “This goes way over the line of civil discourse,” he said”.

The piece mentions that “Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, said that Mr. Obama’s speech seemed intended to leave no doubt “that those who oppose it are either uninformed or, in the case of the Iraq war comparison, recklessly marching to the next war in the Middle East.” Mr. Miller called the speech a “stunning” show of boldness by a president who feels empowered in the final stages of his presidency to pursue an accord he believes could be transformational. “There is a real danger here for him in overselling” the deal to a skeptical Congress, he said. In making his case, Mr. Obama made an unusual, personal appeal to voters — more in keeping with a 30-second political television advertisement than a foreign policy address — urging them to contact their representatives and press them to accept the deal, which would lift some sanctions against Iran in exchange for new restrictions meant to suppress its ability to obtain a nuclear weapon”.

Needless to say the piece notes the section of the speech where President Obama confronted “pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, which are sending hundreds of activists to lobby lawmakers to reject the deal and are planning to run more than $25 million in television advertising to rally opposition to it. The struggle is playing out this month as members of Congress leave Washington to face voters in their home states and districts. “If the rhetoric in these ads and the accompanying commentary sounds familiar, it should,” Mr. Obama said. “Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” Aipac responded forcefully on Wednesday to the president’s characterization of its campaign of opposition to the deal”.

The piece rightly mentions that “Obama’s tone came as a surprise to some political and policy analysts who said he had delivered a speech that seemed intended to stoke fear instead of foster discussion. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that even though the White House had been effective at privately engaging skeptics of the deal on its merits, Mr. Obama appeared to be “hyping” his case to the public, perhaps in an effort to match the incendiary language of his opponents”.

It concludes “While Mr. Obama’s comparison to the Iraq war appeared to be an effort to distinguish his own approach from that of President George W. Bush, some critics said his speech employed the same with-me-or-against-me trope associated with Mr. Bush. “It comes remarkably close to the cartoon image that he has painted of Bush’s rhetoric,” said Peter D. Feaver, a political scientist at Duke who was a national security aide to Mr. Bush from 2005 to 2007”.



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