Editorial: The U.S.-Iran deal, politics, and Bernie’s rising stature

“It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation is not how many wars it can engage in, but how it can resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner. I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military engagement – especially after nearly 14 years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the region.”
What foreign policy statesman can we attribute to such an enlightened comment?
That would be Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, sounding very presidential.
His comment is in support of President Obama’s proposed agreement to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The deal, which would require Iran to dismantle most of its nuclear program for at least a decade and allow international inspectors to monitor suspicious sites, has been criticized by Republicans as enriching Iran and making it a stronger force for terrorism.
While acknowledging the agreement is not perfect, Sanders said in a recent statement, it “has the best chance of limiting Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon, while avoiding yet another war in the region.”
 “Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? Of course not,” Sanders said. “But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on – with Iran developing nuclear weapons capability and the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and Israel growing greater by the day.”
Sanders made the prepared remarks in a detailed speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, and also took the opportunity to challenge Republicans critical of the proposal.
“Those who have made every effort to thwart the diplomatic process and have spoken out against the Iran agreement, including many in this chamber, are the same people who spoke out forcefully on the need to go to war with Iraq (in 2003),” Sanders said. “I voted against the war in Iraq. Sadly, much of what I feared in fact did happen. I do not want to see it happen again… I fear that many of my Republican colleagues do not understand that war must be a last resort, not the first resort.”
Those are rational, poignant, and politically astute comments on a foreign policy issue central to this presidential campaign. In tone and substance those could have been words spoken by well-respected Democrats like Al Gore, President Obama, or Vermont’s legendary senator George Aiken. Yet it was Bernie, once known more for his fiery, left-wing diatribes promoting socialist policies than erudite comments on foreign policy, who captured the moment.
But it’s not Bernie who has changed. What’s changed is the militant and sophomoric positions championed by the GOP. Compare Sander’s comments to these Republican candidates:
• Donald Trump: “We are led by very, very stupid people,” Trump said Wednesday to great applause at a Tea Party rally on the west lawn of the nation’s Capitol. The deal was “incompetently” negotiated, Trump continued, boasting that if elected president he would negotiate better agreements on every issue from foreign trade to foreign policy. “We will have so much winning — if I get elected — that you may get bored with winning.” That’s just the kind of childish bravado you want in a president, right?
• Ultra-conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz labeled the agreement — which is supported by almost all European nations and other U.S. allies with the exception of Israel — “the single greatest national security threat facing America.” Cruz correctly notes the deal eliminates economic sanctions on Iran (that’s the whole point from Iran’s perspective), but saying that makes the Obama administration “the world’s largest financier of radical Islamic terrorism” is one of those statements that underscores just how radical, vitriolic and extreme the rightwing faction of the GOP has become.
• Jeb Bush, on the other hand, responded with a sense of political realism and thoughtfulness: “At 12:01 on January, whatever it is, 19th (2017), I will not probably have a confirmed secretary of state; I will not have a confirmed national security team in place; I will not have consulted with our allies. I will not have had the intelligence briefings to have made a decision…If you’re running for president, I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this.” Bush has been critical of the agreement, but because he says Obama did not extract enough concessions from Iran, not because he engaged in the negotiations.
• And there is this brash and uninformed statement by GOP candidate Scott Walker: “We need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on the very first day in office.” Even Trump understands that by then, in 2017, the economic sanctions will have been in effect for more than a year by most of the world, eliminating much of the economic impact if sanctions were to be reinstated by an incoming president of the U.S.
What’s new here is that Sanders, Vermont’s once irascible agitator, is able to cast himself as the thoughtful, rational, disciplined statesman seeking reasonable solutions to world problems. That’s not how many of us feared Bernie might be portrayed on the campaign trail when he launched his presidential campaign last May, and it’s a brilliant transformation made possible by the GOP’s line-up of lose cannons.
—  Angelo S. Lynn

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