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Obama's Pragmatic Appeal for Iran Peace

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Reprinted from Consortium News

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013.
President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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Trying to rally public support for a diplomatic agreement to constrain Iran's nuclear program, President Barack Obama went to American University in Washington D.C., where -- in 1963 -- President John F. Kennedy gave perhaps his greatest speech arguing against the easy talk of war in favor of the difficult work for peace.

Obama's speech lacked the universal appeal and eloquent nobility of Kennedy's oration, but represented in a programmatic way what Kennedy also noted, that the details and deal-making of diplomacy are often less dramatic than the clenching of fists and the pounding of chests that rally a nation to war. Obama went through the pluses of what he felt the Iran deal would achieve and the minuses of what its rejection would cause.

Obama said congressional approval of the agreement would gain the narrow but important goal of ensuring that Iran won't get a nuclear weapon while congressional rejection would lead toward another war in the Middle East, thus adding to the chaos started by President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option, another war in the Middle East. I say this not to be provocative, I am stating a fact," Obama said.

"So let's not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon."

Obama also called out many of the deal's opponents, noting that many were vocal advocates for invading Iraq and that some are now openly acknowledging their preference for another war against Iran.

Obama said, "They're opponents of this deal who accept the choice of war. In fact, they argue that surgical strikes against Iran's facilities will be quick and painless. But if we've learned anything from the last decade, it's that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple.

"The only certainty in war is human suffering, uncertain costs, unintended consequences. We can also be sure that the Americans who bear the heaviest burden are the less-than-1 percent of us, the outstanding men and women who serve in uniform, and not those of us who send them to war."

Still a "War President"

Apparently seeking to establish his own credibility as a "war president," Obama also took note of how many countries he has launched military attacks in and against during his presidency:

"I've ordered military action in seven countries. There are times when force is necessary, and if Iran does not abide by this deal, it's possible that we don't have an alternative. But how can we, in good conscience, justify war before we've tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives, that has been agreed to by Iran, that is supported by the rest of the world and that preserves our option if the deal falls short?

"How could we justify that to our troops? How could we justify that to the world or to future generations? In the end, that should be a lesson that we've learned from over a decade of war. On the front end, ask tough questions, subject our own assumptions to evidence and analysis, resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war, worry less about being labeled weak, worry more about getting it right."

One might note that as worthy as those guidelines are, they have often been violated by the Obama administration, such as its dubious allegations against the Syrian government regarding the infamous sarin gas attack on Aug. 21, 2013, and against Russia over the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. In both cases, Obama and his administration have kept from public view evidence that they claim to possess while decrying skeptics who have questioned the conventional wisdom.

But Obama did take to task the neoconservatives and other warmongers who have followed a pattern of exaggerating dangers to frighten the American people into support for more warfare:

"I know it's easy to play in people's fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich, but none of these arguments hold up. They didn't back in 2002, in 2003, they shouldn't now. That same mind-set in many cases offered by the same people, who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong."

In conclusion, Obama added, "John F. Kennedy cautioned here more than 50 years ago at this university that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war. But it's so very important. It is surely the pursuit of peace that is most needed in this world so full of strife."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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