Iran and The Blob's identity crisis

Are we about to get hoodwinked?
By Sam Patten | Apr 09, 2021

There is a running joke in Washington about “The Blob,” which is the foreign policy establishment and its hangers-on. In the most recent edition of Foreign Affairs, neoconservative Robert “Bob” Kagan tries to remind The Blob that America is a superpower, whether we like it or not.

Call it Bob v. The Blob.

Bob makes the interesting, though hardly new, point that unlike Russia, which frequently overstates her significance, or China, which strives for unrivaled global hegemony, America is uncomfortable with our power, even embarrassed by it. As a consequence, we don’t always use it well.

Fast-forward to the best evidence of this in recent years: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as JCPOA, aka the Iran Deal. Barack Obama steamrolled The Blob to get this deal done, and, to his credit, Donald Trump pulled us out of it. That would make it a dead letter, were actors in the Biden administration not now tripping over themselves to revive it.

“Unclench your fist and we’ll hold out our hand,” Obama said in his typically eloquent first inaugural. It sounds nice as far as the wordsmithing goes, but, in terms of brass tacks, is it good policy to enter into bargains with killers, human rights abusers and doomsday-ists?

No, it isn’t.

While we were all so busy looking at our shoes and pretending not to be a superpower, the remaining Koch brother (conservative) and hedge fund billionaire George Soros (liberal) joined forces to set up something called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Twisting the words of former President John Quincy Adams, who warned us not to go overseas in search of monsters to slay, the Quincy Institute call themselves realists, which is to say they know the American Century is over.

So don’t have any more foreign entanglements, guys, OK?

Quincy Institute Senior Vice President Trita Parsi was one of the most ardent backers of the JCPOA back in the Obama administration, and of closer ties with Iran in general. Some regional experts noticed his advocacy is frequently in tune with that of Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, but all good ideas have many fathers, so that could be a coincidence.

In another recent piece, Parsi gently chides his friends in the new administration and accuses them of “fumbling” instead of moving more swiftly to repair relations with Tehran in the first 100 days.

But he gets the joke: the fix is in. Parsi no doubt fondly recalls the days of negotiations between the Great Satan and Iran characterized by Zarif yelling and former Secretary of State John Kerry wincing and acceding.

Spoiler alert: a wincing power is not a superpower.

The Iranian game plan now is to get all the Europeans to recommit to this bad deal. So the question can be reframed: Is America still rogue, or have we returned to the community of nations? Their approach is both tricky, and effective with people who don’t really pay attention.

Yet there is a problem with which they’re still grappling. In the good old days, the American president was dead on reaching a deal. The current president, by contrast, is distracted by an array of other things and lacks that singular focus.

For us ordinary taxpayers, that is — ironically enough — good news. A new Iran Deal is bad for America, just like the old one was. But a superpower, whether a reluctant one or not, cannot afford to be asleep at the switch. Bad deals happen in shady back alleys, not in the light of day. Let’s keep the light squarely on those who are hustling us back into a bad deal.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.

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