Is the Iran Deal More a Munich or a Versailles?

It can be said the nuclear agreement is like the treaty that helped cause World War II or the one that failed after World War I. Either way, Israel needs U.S. military commitments.

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Chamberlain (l), Daladier, Hitler and Mussolini before the signing of the Munich AgreementCredit: German Federal Archives

Those against lifting economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a suspension of its military nuclear program often draw false comparisons between the Lausanne framework deal and the Munich Agreement of 1938. For them, an even more apt comparison would be the 1919 Versailles conference at the end of World War I.

Then too, a U.S. president from the Democratic Party scored an important foreign-policy achievement a year before the end of his second term, but was met with hostility from a Republican leader. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, an early incarnation of House Speaker John Boehner and his Senate counterparts, insisted in vain that the German surrender be unconditional; in retaliation he deprived President Woodrow Wilson of a ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

This also foiled U.S. membership in the League of Nations, which was created without the power to enforce a stable world order. American isolationism in the dozen years of Republican presidents who succeeded Wilson contributed to a crisis that escalated into World War II. Because of Lodge and his ilk, the Americans weren’t with the British and French across the table from the Germans in Munich and during the first two years of World War II.

Nowadays, so as not to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to mention the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet and German foreign ministers whose institutional successors were in Lausanne this month.

The White House was also controlled by Republicans when Israel acted against the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and against the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, but any thoughts about a common denominator are wrong. American action (with Ronald Reagan’s light punishment in 1981 and George W. Bush’s approval and coordination in 2007) stood between Israel and international condemnation. The Iranian case is entirely different.

Totally mistaken is the Republicans’ Americentrict assumption — led by Netanyahu — that everything will rise and fall based on what's decided in Washington. Putin already chided Barack Obama in the summer of 2013 as the Americans, enamored with themselves, thought they had no match anywhere in the world. That was when the two agreed that Syria should be rid of its chemical weapons — the prelude to the framework agreement with Iran.

The parties that will be running the world for the foreseeable future are the ones that carried out the contacts with Iran: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. The nave idea that Congress’ Republican majority can dictate the P5+1 powers’ actions could be disastrous. If Obama had acceded to his critics and changed the Americans’ conditions, Russia, China and the three Western European powers would have lifted economic sanctions on Iran based on the current formula to be fleshed out by the beginning of July.

The ability to come to a P5+1 consensus, despite the major dispute with Russia over its Ukraine policy and the growing tensions with China over its spreading influence in the Pacific, is no less impressive than the agreement between the six and Iran. But it’s just as fragile.

And that same group faces Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East Quartet — the Americans, the Russians, the United Nations and the European Union. That’s the grouping that can dictate conditions to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It can also coordinate a position against Israel if Israel is foolish enough to take action against Iran on its own and without clear justification during the life of the nuclear deal.

Obama has hinted that he intends to challenge Congress, which so loves Israel, with an expanded military assistance package over time. He may even float the draft of a treaty that would commit to protect Israel against Iranian attack, similar to the mutual-defense provisions in NATO.

So let a message go out to members of Congress who so abhor sending troops abroad and who have cut the Pentagon budget so much that the top brass says America’s military preparedness has been impaired. Let them be so kind as to not only increase allocations to Israel but also to guarantee that the United States will come to Israel’s aid in combat, without providing a future president or Congress flexibility.

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