Open Letter to White House Reporters: Have You Asked Obama ‘And Then What’?

Open Letter to White House Reporters: Have You Asked Obama ‘And Then What’?

Dear White House Correspondents:

I know you have a demanding job with too many stories and too little time. Here is one that I hope you will put at the top of your agenda, and quickly: What is President Barack Obama’s plan after signing a nuclear deal with Iran?

As you know, the Obama Administration likes to boast that they ask the “and then what” question rigorously before any military venture. But it is just as important a question for a major diplomatic venture like this one.

And since there are legitimate criticisms made about the extent to which the Bush Administration adequately asked and answered this question regarding the decision to invade Iraq, it is even more pressing to answer it satisfactorily now. If the Iraq war was premised on overly optimistic assumptions about what would happen after the invasion, isn’t it possible that the Iran deal could also be premised on overly optimistic assumptions about what will come after the deal is struck? Put another way: does Obama have a “good Phase IV plan” for the Iran deal?

In fact, if you are looking for questions to ask the Obama Administration, why not ask them the standard litany of complaints about the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war?

  1. Are you sure the intelligence supports your judgment that Iran will comply with this deal? Why does the IAEA claim that Iran still hasn’t come clean about its weapons research? Are there skeptical voices inside the intelligence community that reach a more pessimistic judgment about the likely consequences of this deal? Have you asked yourself the “how could we be wrong” question, or have you only asked yourself the “how can we get this deal” question?
  1. Rather than dismissing/demonizing the many domestic and international critics of the deal, why don’t you engage the substance of their complaints? Are the critics wrong about everything?
  1. You have said that we can’t afford not to reach the deal now — that we are trapped and that what many independent experts worry could be a “bad deal” is actually the “best deal” possible. What have you done to preserve our options of not accepting a bad deal? Is this diplomatic trap one of our own making?
  1. Have you stress-tested the rosy assumptions underlying your description of how the deal will open the door to a grand bargain with Iran, and how others in the region will see the deal in similarly positive terms so the deal will not trigger a proliferation cascade as other states rush to hedge against the de facto legitimization of Iran’s near-nuclear status?
  1. How will you address Iran’s support for terrorism in the region and beyond once we have a deal and all of our energies will be devoted to keeping the deal going? How will you confront Iran’s destabilizing role in Syria and Yemen and Iran’s fomenting of the very sectarianism in Iraq that you say spoiled the “success” of leaving Iraq in 2011?
  1. Does the fact that Iranian hardliners are expressing great optimism about the nuclear deal give you pause at all about your own optimism? You have repeatedly said that the Bush Administration ignored the warnings that Iran would be the big winner in invasion of Iraq. You are now similarly discounting warnings that Iran will be the big winner in this deal. What steps are you taking to make sure this is not the result of the deal?

It may be that the Obama Administration has good answers to these questions, but if so I have not seen them. That might be because you are not asking these questions. It is late, but not too late, to start.


Peter Feaver

Photo Credit: Jewel Samad