Don't Expect Any Quick Miracles on Iran

| Tue Sep. 24, 2013 1:06 PM EDT

Andrew Sullivan writes today that there will be plenty of opposition to negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran:

But the resistance from the Greater Israel lobby will be intense, as will opposition from Christianists and the 20th Century faction in the GOP, like McCain and Butters [this is Sullivanese for "Lindsey Graham" –ed]. Hence the president’s remark in his UN speech right now about how “the roadblocks may prove to be too great.” But Obama needs to drop some of his caution and defensiveness on this — and embrace the “Yes We Can” of his 2008 campaign. Those of us who supported him back then in the wake of neoconservative catastrophe dreamed of a moment like this one. He must not let it pass.

I don't think this is right. Obama's caution is precisely the right attitude for two big reasons:

  • Reality. Regardless of how promising Hassan Rouhani's recent statements may seem, we've seen this movie before. There's a tremendous amount of mistrust on both sides, and a tremendous gulf in actual, concrete demands between Iran and the West. Nobody in his right mind should dismiss the Iranian outreach—especially since much of it seems to be motivated by genuine hardship caused by western sanctions—but neither should anyone in his right mind take it at face value. It's highly unlikely that an agreement will be reached soon.
  • Politics. Obama is a Democrat, and Democrats have to take greater care to avoid looking naive in foreign affairs. Is that unfair? Sure, but the world is unfair, and this is the way it is. If Obama wants to gain broad support for an eventual deal—which will be hard enough already given the reflexive anti-Obama sentiment among Republicans these days—he has to conduct tough, tortuous negotiations. Rouhani is likely working under the same conditions.

Unfortunately, this is not a "Yes We Can" moment. It's a moment when Obama's native caution and pragmatism will serve him well. Nobody should expect miracles here. It's going to be a long, arduous grind.