In the face of growing, bi-partisan opposition in Congress and in public opinion polls when conducted objectively, the administration’s battle for the Iran nuclear deal’s survival is understandably all-hands-on-deck. With President Obama’s speech at American University, however, the campaign tactics took a shrill, ugly turn. The new approach is: Take no prisoners. To hear the president tell it, there are no reasonable people who disagree. The deal’s opponents are uniformly knee jerk, partisan alarmists, armed with tens of millions of dollars; they’re ignorant, dishonest, fantasists, fear-mongers, and warmongers. This exercise in vilification was unfair and unseemly.

In claiming that "every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support," the speech was also disingenuous. Throughout the negotiations, our Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and every Gulf state except Qatar expressed dismay at our shifting Iran policy and grave concern or vehement opposition to the emerging agreement. Their current deafening silence reflects a political calculation that the deal, though it realizes their worst fears, is a fait accompli; and their expectation of an American quid pro quo, not support or consent. If they, like Israel, faced potential annihilation from Iranian nukes, their calculus would be very different. Singling out Israel was factually and morally wrong.


Worst of all, in attacking the deal’s critics, the president invoked familiar anti-Semitic myths of Jewish money, power, and disloyalty, and revived the slanderous claim that Israel and its supporters pushed the U.S. into war in Iraq. This was unconscionable. And in a period of resurgent anti-Semitic violence, when Israel rarely receives fair treatment, it was reckless and dangerous. In the eyes of allies and adversaries alike, it weakens the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel on which the security of both nations, and of other friends in the region and beyond, depends.

Can a deal being peddled that way be a "good" one?

I believe not. The core problem is the nature of the Iranian regime: totalitarian, theocratic, oppressive, xenophobic, anti-American, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, rapacious, the leading instigator of regional instability and the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. This is a classic "deal with the devil."
Under prior legislation, most sanctions on Iran were to sunset only when the president certified to Congress that Iran no longer provides support for acts of international terrorism and has "ceased the pursuit, acquisition, and development of, and verifiably dismantled, its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launch technology."

The deal accomplishes none of these goals. Rather, Iran receives as much as $150 billion in frozen assets, will reap immense profits from post-sanctions commerce, and can spend as much as it will to promote terrorism. Much of its nuclear infrastructure remains intact and it can continue R&D in weaponization. It may acquire ICBM’s in eight years and will eventually be free to enrich without limitation, enabling it to become a nuclear weapons threshold state and reducing the "breakout time" between enrichment and nuclear weapons to zero.

Administration officials initially promised a deal would include "anytime, anywhere" inspections. This one does no such thing. Instead, a cumbersome, convoluted process to address Iranian violations provides ample time to conceal most kinds of evidence. Iran’s leaders have declared repeatedly that inspection of "military facilities" will not be allowed, and secret side deals between Iran and the IAEA may compound the inspection plan’s flaws.

Before the deal was struck, the alternative to a bad deal was "no deal." Now the sole alternative is said to be war. This presents a false dichotomy. If Congress turns down the deal and overrides a veto, U.S. sanctions, the ones that matter most to Iran, remain in place and other nations will have strong economic incentives to respect them. The military option remains available and Iran would be foolish to take actions that risk its being exercised.

As alarming as the deal is the wishful thinking behind it. Despite denials, the president is evidently ready to accede to Iran’s ever-expanding regional hegemony, in the belief it can be converted to a moderate, trustworthy partner, overwhelming evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Deal or no deal? Not this deal.

Block is senior rabbi at The Temple – Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio and is the immediate past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.