11/26/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Iran and Why Right-wing Cynics Don't Matter

Abrahm Lustgarten via Getty Images

American right wing alarmists couldn't get their Henny Penny costumes out of storage fast enough after the announcement of an initial agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. "The worst deal since Munich," "abject surrender," and "a terrible deal," said conservative establishment figures Charles Krauthammer, Ambassador John Bolton, and Bill Kristol respectively. Time will soon tell if Iran is serious about becoming a more peaceful and responsible nation and we deserve a thoughtful and vigorous debate about America's policy towards its regime. But if history is any guide, the right wing's reflexive aversion to the United States putting its shoulder to the wheel and negotiating solutions to seemingly hopeless international situations is both silly and wrong.

Consider their reaction to President Nixon and China. Conservative icon William F. Buckley was part of Nixon's traveling press corps during the his historic 1972 visit to China. Buckley's dispatches about the trip included a piece in Playboy describing Henry Kissinger's "defloration" of then California Governor Ronald Reagan to blunt conservative criticism after the trip was announced. Reporting on the president's hearty state dinner toast, Buckley caused a stir by saying he "would not have been surprised if Mr. Nixon had lurched into a toast to Alger Hiss," referring to the late American diplomat accused, but never convicted, of being a Soviet spy and whose persecution made a young Congressman Richard Nixon a household name. Buckley felt the whole China effort marked America losing "irretrievably, any remaining sense of moral mission in the world." Sticking to his guns in a 1976 piece after the fall of the Nixon presidency, Buckley said Nixon "certainly miscalculated" in his belief that improving U.S.-China relations was essential to securing a lasting peace in the Pacific and in the world. Today's more than $500 billion worth of trade, growing people-to-people engagement, and ongoing, if occasionally rumbustious, diplomacy between our two countries as part of a largely peaceful Pacific community of nations has proven that it was Mr. Buckley who had his figures wrong, not President Nixon.

And then there was conservative's rage over President Reagan's final innings with the Soviets. Right wingers became apoplectic when Reagan signed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) with his Soviet counterpart. The INF Treaty was the first time an agreement promised to reduce the number of nuclear arms on both sides of the arms race rather than construct a ceiling to contain its growth. Conservative Caucus chairman Howard Phillips said the president was "fronting as a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda" and produced an ad comparing Reagan to the 1930s British prime minister and poster boy for spineless diplomacy, Neville Chamberlain, that said: "Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938." Conservative darling George Will predicted that the treaty would "have zero effect on the momentum of the Soviet nuclear buildup" and reduced the president to a timid, pocket protector nerd rather than eagle-eyed Cold War commander, saying "the Soviets want victory; [the United States] want[s] agreements." And Buckley's National Review published an entire issue on "Reagan's Suicide Pact." Well, to borrow the Gipper's verbal tic, the Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of 93 to 5 and the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and the rest is history.

History bends to the will of farsighted, strong leaders, not passive, sniping cynics. And eventually so will Iran. So stand aside cynics, there is a long road ahead and much work to be done.