Trick or Treaty?

Even Ronald Reagan would sign a treaty with evil empires when it served the cause of peace on earth

Opposition to the Iran nuclear treaty is driven largely by ideologically motivated, anti-Obama Republicans supported by a few pandering Democrats. Their strategy to defeat the president? They are willingly and enthusiastically playing Charlie McCarthy to Benjamin Netanyahu's Edgar Bergen.

But the opposition ranks are breaking; fissures are beginning to show. Consider the following list of Israeli security and military leaders who have signed a letter supporting the treaty: Shlomo Gazit, chief of intelligence and a major general; Carmi Gillon, director of the Israel Security Agency; Ami Ayalon, vice admiral, former head of Israel's secret service; Itamar Yaar, colonel deputy of the Israeli National Security Council; Arie Pellman, Israeli Security Agency official; Amiram Levin, deputy to the director of Mossad and a major general; Itzhak Barzilay, a Mossad official; and Nathan Sharony, major general and head of planning for the armed forces.

In addition, some 36 Israeli admirals and generals also signed the letter, including Uzi Eilam, brigadier general and the director of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission.

Meanwhile, upward of 40 American generals and admirals, plus a long list of national security leaders, including two former national security advisors and a former Secretary of State, also say they also support the treaty.

As for American Jewish opinion, 340 rabbis are urging support for the treaty, and polls show that American Jews favor the treaty by at least a 20-point spread.

Regarding the tenor and source of the opposition coming from Prime Minister Netanyahu's Israeli base (which is mirrored in right-wing America), Bernard Avishai, himself an Israeli, writes about his experience with a local Jewish cheese merchant. Asked by the merchant what he thinks about Israel's election, which returned Netanyahu to power, Avishai responds, "Are you out of your mind? I feel shame for this country." Which leads the merchant into hysterics: "Obama is putting the country at risk! Soon we will have missiles at Ben Gurion Airport!"

Wherever the source, whether inside the Republican caucus or at a cheese shop in Israel, the opposition is the seemingly the same: hysterical.

Given all the international intrigue fueling all this hysteria, President Obama might reasonably have responded to his critics with something like the following statement:

While we must always take into account vital interests of our allies, American national security interests must remain our internal responsibility. It is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.

Of course Obama never said that; the credit goes to none other than President Ronald Reagan, who, during a press conference, directed these remarks at Israel's conservative government.

The story: Because Reagan had decided to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Netanyahu of his era, accused Reagan of treating Israel as a "vassal state" and condoning second-hand charges that Reagan was anti-Semitic. (Sound familiar?)

It seems clear that the current attack, certainly from inside Washington, D.C., is not just about the treaty, nor even primarily about the treaty. (And this is really a treaty that can't be renegotiated; its opponents know this.) What we see here is another round of posturing by the coterie of knee-jerk, anti-Obama Republicans. In other words, this is business as usual — the same old game — albeit this time with world peace at stake.

But as the public girds to hear, once again, Republican candidates each laying claim to being the second coming of The Gipper, might we pause to consider the irony? Not only would Reagan have refused to go along with his party's Iran-treaty hysterics, he would not fit in with today's version of his party across a broad spectrum of issues.

Yes, Reagan made political hay out of that alchemy called the "Laffer curve" — the fiscal version of "the rain follows the plow" — but as H.W. Brands argues in his new book Reagan: The Life, Reagan's conservative rhetoric served to mask his preferred pragmatism, which led him to take positions that would "disqualify him from good standing in today's conservative movement."

At the top of the list was his support for tax increases throughout the '80s. He also supported liberalization of abortion laws in California; opposed right-to-work laws; supported immigration reform; supported gun control; had no hostility toward homosexuality (in fact, he and Nancy once left their kids in care of a lesbian couple prior to going on a vacation); strongly opposed a California ballot measure that would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools; rejected Israel's permanent retention of the West Bank; opposed new settlement construction; and promoted a land-for-peace exchange for Palestine. He even signed a treaty of his own with "the Evil Empire," aka the Soviet Union.

Later at that same press conference, Reagan was asked if he was losing patience with Israel. His blunt answer? "I lost patience a long time ago."

Sometimes The Gipper could get right to the nub of the matter. ♦

  • or

About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.