Belmont Club

"I'll Take Care of You"

Scott Johnson at Powerline says he suspected there was something fishy about the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran from the first.  “If the idea is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the agreement is a bust.”

It leaves the centrifuges running and it leaves a stockpile of enriched uranium sufficient for several bombs. The scope of the agreement does not extend beyond the known enrichment facilities and the facility under construction at Parchin. It guarantees Iran that at the end of the day it will be left with a nuclear program. Combined with the sanctions relief Iran secures up front, it looks like the agreement facilitates Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The problem simply stated was this. Either one of two things had to be true: Iran gives up the bomb or it does not. The Obama administration claims it has negotiated an end to the Iranian bomb, but the Iranians do not appear to act as if they will. Which then, is true?

His confidence fell a few more notices when the Los Angeles Times quoted an Iranian official disclosing the existence of a secret agreement between the administration and Teheran that spelled out the establishment of a joint commission. The commission would have the power to decide whether Iran was giving up the bomb or not.

Abbas Araqchi disclosed the existence of the document in a Persian-language interview with the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency. … Araqchi described the joint commission as an influential body that will have authority to decide disputes. U.S. officials have described it as a discussion forum rather than a venue for arbitrating major disputes. …

In his interview, Araqchi touched on the sensitive issue of how much latitude Iran will have to continue its nuclear research and development.

U.S. officials said Sunday that Iran would be allowed to continue existing research and development projects and with pencil-and-paper design work, but not to advance research with new projects. Araqchi, however, implied that the program would have wide latitude.

“No facility will be closed; enrichment will continue, and qualitative and nuclear research will be expanded,” he said. “All research into a new generation of centrifuges will continue.”

The State Department, for its part, denied there was any material secrecy afoot. “A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, denied later Monday that there was any secret agreement.” “We will make information available to Congress and the public as it becomes available,” Harf said.

But until the contents of this deal are announced, the only way the public can evaluate the proposed deal is through the operation of trust. If we “trust” the administration then we will accept that the secret deal — whatever it may be — is beneficial to America. If we do not trust the president then the very secrecy of the agreement will suggest it has something to hide.

The relationship between trust and secrecy was described by Bruce Schneier. Trust allows the public to accept the unseen. But evidence of too many things unseen undermines trust. Schneier writes:

Ronald Reagan once said “trust but verify.” That works only if we can verify. In a world where everyone lies to us all the time, we have no choice but to trust blindly, and we have no reason to believe that anyone is worthy of blind trust. It’s no wonder that most people are ignoring the story; it’s just too much cognitive dissonance to try to cope with it.

This sort of thing can destroy our country. Trust is essential in our society. And if we can’t trust either our government or the corporations that have intimate access into so much of our lives, society suffers. Study after study demonstrates the value of living in a high-trust society and the costs of living in a low-trust one.

Although these remarks were written in the context of the NSA scandal they are equally valid in the Iranian nuclear negotiations case. If trust in the Obama administration has fallen below a certain threshold then “secret deals” are no longer covered by confidence. On the contrary they are probably going to be regarded as evidence of perfidy.

Jim Geraghty raises an interesting point in this connection. “If there really is no secret agreement with Iran, isn’t the State Department declaring our trustworthy deal partners are LYING?” And if the Iranians are indeed lying then how can they be trusted in the first place.

This raises the possibility that what is really involved in the Iranian nuclear deal is not “secrecy” but parallel truths, or what used to formerly be called double-dealing. In a double deal there is no secrecy as such, only deception. There is no real secret deal, just two deals, neither of which is real; a situation in which the administration says one thing to the public and one thing to the Iranians neither of which is actually true.

This creates difficulties. When Fred Kaplan writes “We Have a Deal With Iran. A Good One,” the obvious question is what deal is that? The deal he says he’ll give the Iranians or the deal he describes to the American voters? When “fair and balanced” Andrew Sullivan denounces “democrats for war with Iran … the Senate is full of them” the alternative is … what?

A simple minded man might argue that you can’t tell what cards are in a hand until they’ve been laid face up on the table. A “secret deal” or one about which “we will make information available to Congress and the public as it becomes available” represents cards that are face down. Andrew Sullivan might take president Obama’s word for things, but there’s no obvious reason for those who don’t trust him to extend a similar confidence. What has he done to earn it?

Until then maybe the best course is to bear in mind the slogan: “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

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