Debating Bibi's Speech Is a Major Distraction

03/02/2015 10:41 am ET | Updated May 02, 2015

Debating the appropriateness of the speech Israel's prime minister will deliver to Congress in response to an invitation by the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is a distraction. It diverts attention from, firstly, the endlessly more important issue of whether the deal that the Obama administration seems close to striking with Iran is one that serves the interests of the United States well, and, secondly, the question of the potential deal's effects on U.S. allies in the region and elsewhere, as well as on peace in the region and even the world.

To begin with, any deal that is negotiated between, on the one hand, a party that is known for its intransigence and adamant beliefs and, on the other, an administration that is known for its tendency to yield ground and is desperately keen to avoid another war in the Middle East deserves close scrutiny. One should also recall that the Obama administration has already ignored several developments in which Iran ran through red lines set by the United States without facing the threatened consequences.

One next notes that the deal assumes that U.S. intelligence services (and the international inspectors) will be able to determine whether Iran is abiding by its commitment to limit its development of nuclear capabilities so that it would remain about a year away from assembling a nuclear weapon. Does the record -- from Pearl Harbor to the Yom Kippur War, from the revolution in Iran that brought the current regime to power to the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia -- suggest that this is a valid assumption?

Some policy analysts suggest that even if the deal is not implemented as planned and Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons, it would be deterred from using them because its rulers are rational people. The leaders of Iran, the argument goes, must realize that if they use these bombs, they and their country will be subject to devastating counter-attacks. Others wonder; they point out that leaders in the Middle East often act irrationally and march to drummers we don't hear.

Also, we need to ask what U.S. allies in other regions, from Japan to Poland, would hold if Iran were allowed to command nuclear arms and use them to threaten Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Israel. Still others argue that any such developments are preferable to another American entanglement in a land war in Asia. And they hold that there is no way from preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons anyhow; such a development could be delayed by a year or two at most.

Particularly worthy of discussion are the reports that the Obama administration does not plan to submit the agreement for approval by Congress. On the one hand, agreements of such import surely deserve a full hearing and a vote by Congress. On the other, Congress has been so dysfunctional that the administration may well be correct in assuming that it will not approve the deal.

Whatever side one takes in this debate, one surely can agree that Bibi's speech is a very minor, passing side show. The focus of public attention and give and take should be on the coming deal between the U.S. and Iran. Its effects are going to be with us long after both the Israeli prime minister and President Obama are retired from office.

Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international relations at The George Washington University. His latest book, The New Normal: Finding a Balance Between Individual Rights and the Common Good, was recently published by Transaction Publishers. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Send an email to icps@gwu.edu to subscribe to his monthly newsletter.