Eugene Robinson Live

Nov 26, 2013

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. Today's column is about the Iran nuclear deal, which I think is a win-win that doesn't just stop but actually reverses (a little) the slide toward war. Others -- lazily, and with only superficial knowledge of history or context -- invoke comparisons to Munich. I believe I'm right. One thing I know for sure is that Sen. John Cornyn is wrong -- this isn't a ploy to divert attention from Obamacare. But I imagine some folks will want to chat about that too, as we're less than a week away from the day when the website is supposed to be working and everybody lives happily ever after. Let's get started.

For years I have listened to my conservative friends tell me that Obama was not a friend of Israel. If things got bad I always thought Obama would not hurt Israel's security in order to effectively have a press conference saying something good has occurred. Maybe its the poor roll out of the ACA, but either he needed something to spin or never really cared. I can't defend his actions anymore and I am disgusted with how he turned his back on an ally and got virtually nothing in return. I am ashamed of our foreign policy in the middle east and surrounding countries.

I disagree strongly. I think the Iran agreement is a real breakthrough that rolls back the Iranian nuclear program at virtually no cost. Iran will be less able to build a bomb six months from now than it is today -- significantly less. What problem do you have with that?

You seem to dismiss concerns about the Iran deal but any agreement that is opposed by Saudia Arabia, Hamas and Israel, strange bedfellows, may indeed have holes needing attention.

You could argue the opposite: Any agreement opposed by those incrediby strange bedfellows must have something going for it.

What Iranian nuclear weapons program? Is there any evidence of one? Have any of the US National Intelligence Estimates concluded Iran has a nuke program? Have any inspectors found one? This seems like a replay of Iraq. Iraq has WMD. Iraq has nukes. We must invade to save the world. How'd that go? So what if Iran could ramp up a civilian nuclear program into a nuke program. That is inherent in any civilian nuclear program. What the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel seem to really be saying is that Iran can no nuclear program whatsoever. And that is inane.

I'm with you most of the way but not all the way. It's true that as far as I know, there is no definitive evidence of a weapons program. But it is also true that the hardest, most time-consuming part of making a nuclear weapon is getting the fuel, and Iran's explanation for why it needs to enrich uranium beyond the concentration needed to fuel a reactor is pretty unconvincing. I believe Iran wants to have the capability to build a weapon -- but doesn't necessarily intend to actually build one. I believe the world can and will live with a "nuclear-capable" Iran because we're living with one now.

By virtue of which exercise equipment I like to use and the arrangement of the TVs at my gym, I found myself watching Fox yesterday morning as they "discussed" the international agreement with Iran. Rather than tout it for what it was- a first, small, positive step with a country that has been reluctant at best to have any sort of international dialogue, they took it for wholesale selling out by the US (the other 5 nations involved seem to have disappeared). Your colleague Charles Krauthammer referred to it as worse than the Munich in 1937 (never mind that there were actually good reasons for Chamberlin to do what he did). Is it so hard for conservatives to accept that diplomacy has a role in world geopolitics? What circumstances exist where they expect every other sovereign country in the world to do whatever the US says simply because we're the US?

My colleague Charles Krauthammer is a great columnist -- almost always wrong, unfortunately -- and I was disappointed to hear him make a lazy, dumb Munich comparison. You can throw the word Munich at any negotiated settlement of any international dispute and it means... what? It means nothing. It's not 1938. Rouhani is not threatening to send an army into the Sudetenland. If you want to criticize the deal, criticize the deal. Just yelling Munich doesn't make any point except that perhaps you should switch to decaf.

I found it interesting that a number of Republicans bashed Obama only minutes after the announcement of an agreement was made, long before they had a chance to read any details. What accounts for this reflexive hatred of all that is Obama from the current Republican party?

Some Republicans denounced the deal before they even knew its broadest outlines, never mind its details. Obama Derangement Syndrome?

In a way, success of obamacare, success of ending 2 wars he inherited and now the impending peace agreement with Iran make Obama look very good. Is this exactly what the republicans are afraid of. Their "How dare he succeed?", "lets make sure he fails at every turn" attitude is fatiguing the american pscyhe to a dangerous new low and perilously cynical place. your thoughts?

Perception is important -- but ultimately less important than reality. We'll see how the Iran deal works out, but the fact that it means at least six months of peace, rather than a drift toward war (which was where we were heading), will be popular among the public. President Obama has three years to get Obamacare right, as he has noted. I believe spirits will brighten.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today and Happy Thanksgiving. As a longtime supporter of the president, it's disconcerting to see his approval numbers underwater, and having his "trustworthiness" numbers tumble is the most troubling. That, no matter what, seemed to be his most solid asset, and it seems to be slipping away. What can he do to turn it around in his remaining time, or is this simply what happens to presidents in their second terms?

A tough-minded, verifiable peace deal with Iran -- like the one just agreed -- is a good place to start. The president just has to do his job and fix the accursed website.

I wonder if you see a parallel between President Obama's position now and other administrations. I have come to believe that by the end of a presidents 5th year, people grow bored of the president, and tune him out. I think it happened with Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43, and now Obama. Agree?

Yes, with the asterisk that sometimes stuff happens. Events can intervene and send a president's approval up or down. The cycle you speak of is real, but it's not absolute.

I fail to see how Sect. Kerry, and yourself, can ignore the regime's ambitions to turn this supposed deal into some sort of acknowledgement that Iran is a nuclear power accepted by the West.

What do you mean by "nuclear power"? If you mean a nation with nuclear weapons, clearly that has not been accepted. Read the agreement, if you haven't already; it's just four pages long. There is no such acknowledgement. There is an implied recognition of the fact that Iran has indeed mastered the nuclear cycle, which puts it among a very large group of advanced nations. Australia is in this category, for example. But there are also provisions that restrain Iran from using its mastery of the cycle to enrich uranium even to 20 percent -- and, as you know, it has to be 90 percent to make a bomb.

"A great columnist" but "almost always wrong". Is that like a great surgeon who kills most of his patients on the table?

He writes forcefully and elegantly, and he usually argues his points with logic. He and I start from different premises about the kind of society and world we live in -- and the kind of society and world we want to live in. My premises are right (he said modestly) and most of Charles's premises, unfortunately, are wrong. But in terms of the art and craft of writing a column, he's really good.

Like you, I just can't buy the argument made by the critics of the agreement involving Iran that this is like Munich in 1938. At least not yet. Munich wasn't a disaster right away. In theory, it could have worked. It took the subsequent actions of the German government to show that it was a flawed strategy. Here, it all depends on what the government of Iran does with this agreement, and the opportunity for them to save some face and return to the international community. I don't know if this will turn out like Munich in 1938 or the Israel-Eygpt peace accords in the 1970s. Time will tell. I'm hoping for the best. And I'm not one who usually supports the president's foreign policy decisions.

I've read a couple of "Chamberlain did the right thing at Munich" revisionist articles and it's an interesting question, but I'm not ready to buy in. I suppose you could argue that Britain was less ready for war with Germany in 1938 and Chamberlain succeeded in buying time, but I think he believed he had actually made peace. One of the many obvious differences with the Iran agreement is that Hitler gave up virtually nothing whereas the Iranians have given up a lot. You are right to say that we won't know how good a deal this is until we see what Iran does. If they renege, what has it cost us? A measly $7 billion of their money? 

By removing even the threat of force, Iran has absolutely no reason to work with the US. Saudi Arabia will now look to get nuclear weapons as well. Soon you will have a nuclear middle east where multiple countries have unstable leadership and nuclear weapons. Any statement or red line from Obama will be laughed off by Iran and his credibility is shot with our allies. They are backed up against a wall. Since Obama has not shown any allegiance to them, I wouldn't be surprised if military force is used.

The threat of force is not removed. Iran's nuclear facilities will be subject to daily inspection. Look, here's the deal: I believe that since Iran is a huge country with decent technology and expertist, and with deposits of uranium on its soil, it is not possible to keep the nation from mastering the nuclear cycle if it chooses to do so. But most nations that have mastered the cycle did not go on to build nuclear weapons. If you believe that bombing Iran (and assassinating its top nuclear scientists, as Israel has been doing) will ultimately wipe away the knowledge it already possesses, then you won't ever like any negotiated agreement. I believe you can't unring the bell -- the knowledge -- but you can win assurance that there won't be a bomb.

Gene, Normally I agree with you, but not this time. Obama promised he would not allow a nuclear Iran and he is turning back on his promise, like he has with virtually everything else in his administration (Gitmo, ACA etc). He is truly an untrustworthy president, not that republicans would be any better. I just thought he might be different.

He said he would not accept Iran's having a nuclear weapon. That is still his position.

My issue with Obamacare is it is just another entitlement to older Americans, (the same generation that got us in this economic mess) on the backs of their children and grandchildren. Am I off base on this?

Yes. Some of those children and grandchildren are already taking advantage of provisions of the Affordable Care Act (like my 23-year-old son who can still be on my health insurance policy). And all of those young, healthy children and grandchildren will inexorably get older and sicker -- and more thankful for the benefits that Obamacare provides.

Hi Gene- It seems your colleague Jen Rubin is suggesting that. Congress has its own foreign policy. This seems dangerous and counterproductive. What specifically is it about this temporary deal that those opposed hate? I don't get it. Best

I think it's what I said in an earlier answer: Some people believe that nothing short of bombing is acceptable. I think that's insane. A bombing campaign could set back the Iranian nuclear program, to be sure, but in five years we'd be back at the same point. You can't eliminate the knowledge of the nuclear cycle with a cruise missile attack. You can, however, teach Iran the lesson that next time it should go straight for a bomb -- as a deterrent. 

South Caroline v Clemson... Who you got???


Do you think the fact that Iran has a disproportionately large (compared, say, to the US and Europe) under-30 population signals to the world that Iran will be open to making major changes in the next decade or two, as that youthful cohort starts attaining positions of influence in their country?

Here's what that means to me: Iran's autocratic/theocratic regime should look at those under-30 numbers and realize it has to evolve or get swept away. Those young people are going to be looking for economic growth and an opening to the world. If they don't get it, ultimately the regime will be in big trouble.

Do you think there's any hope that the U.S. will seize on Karzai's demands as the perfect reason to get out of Afghanistan entirely? I get that Karzai is between a rock & a hard place but we really need to leave that situation.

I woould have said adios to the guy long ago. To call him erratic in an understatement. You could add the adjectives corrupt and duplicitous, too. I've never understood why we thought this guy was a dependable ally. Look, I get the strategic calculation. The real issue is the countries on either side of Afghanistan -- Iran, of course, and nuclear-armed Pakistan. But Karzai is just hopeless.

Hi Gene- Heard on NPR a story about ACA providing much better coverage for folks in CA, including a gal who had her old high deductible policy cancelled. Will these type of stories, that it hear little of, mitigate the disaster that has been the roll out and if so when will the tide turn?

Yes, those stories will change perceptions. Eventually. I don't know when.

I would like to point out that many Democrats, including Chuck Schumer and Eliot Engel, came out against the Iran deal. They are not exactly Blue Dog Dems.

No, they're not. I hope they take a closer look at the deal, however, because I think they'll find it's a big win for those who seek to eliminate the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

This would be laughable if it weren't so infuriating -- that people actually believe what Cornyn said. If Obama walked on water, the Republicans would accuse him of being unable to swim.

In this case, go ahead and laugh. 


And that's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for a lively hour, and I'll see you again next week. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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