Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Who Do You Trust?

A Protest in New York against the Iran Nuclear Pact

He shall judge between the nations, 
and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 
and their spears into pruning hooks; 
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 
neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4

Once upon a time there was a quiz show called, “Who Do You Trust?” In its original incarnation it was called, “Do You Trust Your Wife?” Johnny Carson hosted the program before going on to his more famous role as host of  “The Tonight Show.” The contestants competed as couples and the quiz format had the man (always the man) choosing a category and then, after hearing the question, deciding whether to trust himself or his wife to give the correct answer.

The proposed nuclear deal with Iran has all of us playing a variation of that old game show. The critical question is, “Who do you trust?”

Technically, I think, it should be “Whom do you trust.” But since we no longer trust the grammar experts we now go with the common usage. Because most people would use “who” in that context, we have decided that “who” is proper, even though it isn’t.

Which is part of the problem. We no longer trust the experts. We don’t trust physicians about vaccines or scientists about global warming. We don’t trust historians. And we certainly are not going to trust diplomats and scientists to tell us whether or not the Iran deal is worth supporting.

Some of our not trusting is a good thing. Heaven knows that we have not always been well served by experts in many areas. The people who got us into Vietnam were, as David Halberstam wrote, “The Best and the Brightest.”

It is not a bad thing to question authority. The Hebrew prophets questioned authority. Jesus questioned authority. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is worth remembering that Protestantism is founded on the questioning of authority.

But we have gone far beyond a healthy skepticism. 

It’s not just that we don’t trust the experts. We don’t believe there are such things as experts. For some people, the very idea that a person is an expert is an automatic disqualifier.

And that is part of what is going on in relation to the proposed deal with Iran. 

Some of the criticism should be dismissed out of hand. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is indulging in outlandish  campaign  rhetoric when he says that President Obama is using this nuclear deal to “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” This is not appeasement. Secretary of State John Kerry is not Neville Chamberlain. And no one is giving away the Sudetenland.

It is also worth noting, as we consider our concern for the security of Israel, that the Israelis already have a nuclear capability. Although the official government position is that they will neither confirm or deny the possession of nuclear weapons, there is widespread agreement that they do have nuclear weapons. It is the official position of the Israeli government to promise that they will not be the first nation to use a nuclear weapon in the region. 

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian Revolution, after Khomeini's death in 1989, is a genuinely scary guy, but he is not to be confused with Adolf Hitler. Hassan Rouhani, who was elected President in 2013 is generally perceived to be a moderate (admittedly a relative term), at least in comparison to his more bellicose predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This deal will not cause the Iranian people to “greet us as liberators,” as Vice President Cheney famously predicted of the Iraqis when we went to war in 2003, but it could be the beginning of an improved relationship which would ultimately benefit the entire region. In a recent New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof observes, “Iran’s people are perhaps the most pro-American and secular of those of any country I’ve been to in the Middle East. (On my last trip to Iran, I took two of my kids along, and Iranians bought them meals and ice cream, and served them illegal mojitos.) The public weariness with the regime’s corruption, oppression and economic failings is manifest. I would guess that after the supreme leader dies, Iran will begin a process of change like that in China after Mao died.”

Opponents of the pact have made much of the crowds celebrating the deal in Tehran. We should note, however, that not everyone is celebrating. The people of Iran are celebrating what they expect will be the end of economic sanctions and a movement toward more freedom within their country. The militant Ayatollah’s have condemned the pact in a mirror image of the more hawkish leaders in the United States. Opponents in Iran warn that the United States government cannot be trusted.

Some have pointed out that our Saudi Arabian allies are against the deal, but these are the same “allies” who have supported Wahhabi Muslim extremism at home and exported it abroad in the various forms of the Taliban, Al Queda and ISIS. The Saudis are also the ones who provided the manpower to staff the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The people who negotiated this deal are experts in diplomatic relations, foreign policy, atomic energy, defense, and international economics. Thanks to C-Span, I was able to watch parts of the congressional hearings last week as members of the House of Representatives questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew. They were impressive, answering antagonistic questions with an almost encyclopedic grasp of the situation and a calm demeanor.

The Iran deal is not perfect, but it is a lot better than the alternative. In spite of the critics, there is very little downside. We are giving up sanctions that would erode anyway in return for closer oversight of Iran and the possibility of a much more peaceful future.

1 comment:

  1. “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”

    ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

    The amazing and disturbing thing about Right-wing religionists and their impact on our society is that while they present themselves as utterly subservient to God and the Bible... it's all really about the presentation of THEIR BELIEFS as absolute. No data, no facts, no diversity of experiences, no knowledge gleaned from history, science or life can ever outweigh what they want and need to believe, to the extent that they demand that everyone else agree with them.