Truman National Security Project

Keep shutdown architects out of Iran talks

By Andrew Person | 12.3.13

As the American people engage in a lively debate over the recent agreement reached in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program, I think there is one perspective we could probably do without: that of the architects of the recent government shutdown. Predictably, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor. R-Va., and others involved in the recent government shutdown have criticized the deal and offered advice on a better approach to negotiations with Iran. Cantor noted that “Iran can’t be trusted” and, in a twist on Ronald Reagan’s approach to negotiations with the Soviet Union, said the attitude towards Iran should be “mistrust and verify.”

Though it is hard to tell exactly what kind of deal Cantor would support, it is easy to spot a pattern in his preferred negotiating strategy: issue an ultimatum, and either get what you’ve asked for or walk away from the table. This was precisely the negotiating tactic that brought our government to a grinding halt for weeks without accomplishing a thing besides causing hardship for millions of Americans and wasting billions of dollars.

The results are in and the government shutdown has been ruled a failure in the eyes of the vast majority of the American people. Therefore, in my view, the architects of the government shutdown should do the honorable thing and recuse themselves from the entire debate on Iran. They should admit that the shutdown was a mistake and that they are taking a few months to develop a new negotiating strategy.

When asked about the Iran negotiations they should admit, frankly and soberly, that they are not really in a good position to judge negotiations with Iran since they failed so badly during their own negotiations with fellow American lawmakers and the president. Sadly, I don’t expect this kind of concession.

Fortunately, Cantor’s views do not find much resonance across the country. The American people would vastly prefer a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear program than war, and thus it makes sense that they generally reject the all-or-nothing approach suggested by Cantor. The reason for that is simple; taking an all-or-nothing approach yields nothing. And in this case, taking nothing could ultimately lead to war.

These negotiations are simply far too serious for recently discredited negotiators like Cantor to weigh in on the discussion. By rejecting negotiations out of hand with an adversary that “we cannot trust,” Cantor is rejecting the realpolitik approach taken by the Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the George H. W. Bush administrations.

Therefore, since Cantor and his fringe band of shutdown negotiators will not withdraw from the debate, I think the American people should simply refuse to take their criticisms seriously. They should reject out of hand any suggestions that negotiation with Iran is inherently naive or tantamount to the appeasement of Nazi Germany. When weighing whether or not to support the deal, they should tune in to more thoughtful critics who have something they can point to that might suggest they understand how negotiations are supposed to work.

And it should be noted that, in keeping with a long-standing American tradition, this foreign policy debate is not inherently partisan. The key negotiator of the deal was William Burns, now serving as Deputy United States Secretary of State. He was nominated by Bush in 2008 as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs after years of high-level service in the Bush administration. Burns was confirmed in his current role in 2011 by unanimous consent. It’s hard to overstate how broadly this man is respected across partisan lines.

I am confident we will have a thoughtful and robust debate over the Iran nuclear deal in the coming weeks. But, honestly, I think criticisms from the shutdown caucus is one point of view we can do without.

Andrew Person is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project. This article originally appeared in Missoulian.

The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of any organization.