Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was given the unenviable job of defending President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran on Sunday at a conference in New York sponsored by the Jerusalem Post.
“Facing sporadic jeers, the cabinet member laid out a broad defense of the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran from a financial perspective, offering new details of its expectations of a final agreement. And he defended the president’s record on recommitting US support to Israel, speaking over repeated catcalls,” the Jerusalem Post reports.
Although JPost editor-in-chief Steve Linde was on hand to chastise the hecklers as “very disrespectful,” it sounds as if the paper itself was not terribly impressed with Lew’s arguments. For example, the Post reports, “Sanctions will be reimposed automatically if Iran cheats, he asserted, despite acknowledging that the precise measure for snapping back sanctions has not yet been settled.”
Lew also insisted the agreement would require “robust monitoring and inspection anywhere and everywhere the IAEA has reason to go,” but the Iranians have been clear nothing of the sort will happen, and there’s no evidence the administration has any leverage to make them change their minds.
He also adopted the unfortunate habit of other administration officials in simply denying the veracity of news reports harmful to the nuclear deal, such as the highly embarrassing revelation that Iran has been steadily increasing its uranium stockpile, without offering any compelling reason to buy the administration’s line. Lew even threw in the classic “Jedi mind trick” hand gesture while delivering this line of obfuscation, to no avail:
“But it was Lew’s restatement of Obama’s commitment to the State of Israel and its long-term security that prompted particularly harsh reactions from the crowd,” the Jerusalem Post reports. “Lew responded by asserting that no one can question the president’s commitment to the Jewish state.”
Actually, in true Obama style, he responded by comparing the President to far greater figures from the past, such as Mandela, Reagan, and Begin. “Whether it was Nelson Mandela emerging from prison after 27 years to negotiate the peaceful end to apartheid, Ronald Reagan sitting at a table with a nation he called the ‘evil empire’ to negotiate the end to the Cold War, or Menachem Begin meeting at Camp David to negotiate a peace accord with Egypt, Israel’s sworn enemy, diplomacy is not conducted with our friends, but with our adversaries.”
Lew laid out a case for substantial economic damage to Iran from the sanctions it has endured—$160 billion in lost oil revenues since 2012, accompanied by a 9 percent contraction of its economy. This begs two questions: First, it is clear that economic damage has not thwarted their nuclear ambitions. Indeed, it has been obvious from the string of pratfalls and embarrassments following the Lausanne summit that Iran has the whip hand in these negotiations, conducting themselves in every way as the party prepared to give up the least, and walk away from the table if their demands are not met. This is a reality that cannot be changed by giving speeches that deny the obvious.
Second, nothing Lew, or any other administration official, has said inspires the slightest confidence those ostensibly devastating sanctions can be “snapped back” if Iran reneges on whatever deal it ultimately signs. The insurmountable reality of what would have to be arranged between an assortment of nations—some of them hostile to American interests, others not eager to lose profitable Iranian trade again—towers above White House rhetoric to the contrary.
It was rude of the crowd at this event to heckle Lew, but someone has to snap this administration out of its delusional haze before it’s too late.