THE BLOG
07/30/2015 04:52 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

Iran Deal: It's Time for Some Serious Talk

Getty

"This president's foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven." -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"The Obama administration will become the leading financier of terrorism against America in the world." -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Secretary of State John Kerry "acted like Pontius Pilate." -- U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark).

"Maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines." -- President Obama.

There's a new kind of language being used around the Iran nuclear deal recently negotiated in Vienna. We can call it "Trump Talk," defined as a drumbeat of outrageous political speech that is historically inaccurate, intellectually dishonest and even deceptive, morally and spiritually offensive and willfully tone deaf.

If politicians are letting one person trump the tone of politics, just to go up in the polls or get on the debate stage, that's very bad news for our nation's civil discourse.

It certainly isn't serious talk. Serious talk is "Hard work." "Difficult negotiations." "Competing interests." "Coalitions and diplomacy." Serious talk recognizes that no agreement, no matter how diligently negotiated, is perfect.

Iran is an enemy -- an enemy of America, an enemy of Israel and an enemy of peace. I believe that. But you need to find ways to make peace with your enemies in order to reduce potential conflict. Choosing war with our enemies as our first option since 9/11 has just made us more enemies.

The question is: What should we do about Iran?

Opponents of the agreement (at least the serious ones) generally fall into two camps. The first believes that there is some better/stronger/tougher deal that the Obama administration could have and should have negotiated. But it has been very hard for them to demonstrate what that deal would be. The other camp believes that negotiations with Iran are pointless and that a military attack is the only viable way to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But showing how such action would accomplish a non-nuclear Iran is also impossible to demonstrate and would more likely lead to the opposite result -- Iran going for the bomb as quickly as possible.

When the framework agreement was reached in April, Sojourners led a coalition of more than 50 Christian faith leaders in a statement of support. We said:

This path is better than the alternatives. Increasing sanctions, as some have proposed, is impossible without multinational support. And to engage in military strikes would be, at best, premature, as well as highly unpredictable and morally irresponsible in creating yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.

Some argue that the deal only serves to delay the inevitable -- that in 15 years, after key provisions of the agreement end, the Iranians can go back to their old ways and launch a new effort to construct a nuclear weapon. Perhaps.

But wouldn't it be better, in that scenario, to have the benefit of 15 years of strong International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring and reporting of Iran's nuclear program? Wouldn't it be better to have 15 years of intrusive inspections, blueprints, and intelligence? Might 15 years provide more options for changing Iran, both internally and externally?

Under the so-called "snap-back" provisions of the agreement, the United States and its allies will have the ability to unilaterally and quickly re-impose the international sanctions on Iran if we believe they are failing to comply with the terms. The "break-out" period for Iran to compile enough highly enriched uranium to pose a threat will go from two months (as it stands now) to 12. And, of course, the U.S. would not be forced to take military action completely off the table in 15 years.

There are legitimate concerns that must be addressed, including the strong opposition to the agreement by our friends and allies in Israel. But as Fareed Zakaria rightly asks, how is it in Israel's interest to face in Iran with more than 25,000 centrifuges, a breakout time of mere weeks, and a collapsed international sanctions regime? Or is seeing an enemy like Iran develop a nuclear bomb sooner than 15 years really a good option?

We must continue to work toward an Iran that is democratic and free; that respects the rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities; and that ends its support for dangerous armed actors like Hamas and Hezbollah. All Iran's bad behavior couldn't be loaded into this deal. We cannot ignore their destructive, and dangerous behavior, and must continue to oppose it in as many strong and effective ways as possible.

Indeed, Iran's bad behavior makes it more essential to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. This diplomatic agreement is solely to prevent Iran from doing that.

Many of the same voices urging Congress to kill the agreement belong to those who promised us that regime change in Iraq would unleash a wave of democracy across the region. They insisted that war was the only answer to Saddam Hussein. They were wrong -- deadly wrong -- about Iraq, yet they seem to have neither learned their lesson nor questioned their own instincts and impulses. Their utterly disastrous and failed war in Iraq has not only empowered Iran, it also clearly paved the way for ISIS. Now the same wrong people who took us to war want us to go to war again. That's all they know how to do and we can't let them do it again.

As Paul Pillar of Georgetown University and the Brookings Institute wrote:

The stakes of the agreement's fate in Congress are high. The most immediate and obvious stake is what Secretary Kerry laid out in his testimony this week: killing this agreement would mean an Iranian nuclear program that would be free of any restrictions and any monitoring other than the minimum to which it is subject under the [Non-Proliferation Treaty].

Killing the agreement also would mean destroying one of the most significant steps in recent years on behalf of nuclear nonproliferation generally. More broadly and perhaps less obviously, it would mean losing an opportunity to remove a shackle from U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East and to be able to address more effectively and directly many other problems of concern to both the United States and Iran.

It would mean damage to U.S. credibility and damage to relations with the European allies who were partners in negotiating the agreement.

There are about 50 days for Congress to review and vote on whether to accept or reject the Iran nuclear accord. Fifty days to choose diplomacy and peace over a belligerent and habitual rush to war. Making peace is hard work; making peace with enemies requires perseverance, discipline, and firm resolve.

It's time for serious talk -- especially from those purporting to lead or run for president.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God's Side, is available now.