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August 19th, 2017

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What's the alternative?

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published July 30, 2015

   What's the alternative?

Anyone who criticizes our president's nuclear deal with Iran is bound to be asked: What's the alternative? With the clear implication that there isn't one -- not an acceptable one, anyway. It's either war or peace. A simple, black-and-white, all-or-none choice: It's the president's way or no way -- except war -- to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.

A nuclearized Iran, one with its own Bomb and the missiles to deliver it, could mean The End for our allies in the Arab world. The Saudis are already on edge. Not to mention the always threatened Israelis, who don't noise it about but have their own nuclear arsenal at the ready. It's a dangerous neighborhood, the Middle East, and no place for simplistic "solutions" that aren't solutions at all, but may only exacerbate tensions and lead to war anyway.

Don't like the president's either-or choice? Then what's your alternative? As he put it at his press conference the other day, none of the deal's critics "have presented to me or the American people a better alternative." He says he hasn't heard one.

Or maybe he hasn't been listening. Because there is a better alternative.

It's the same alternative that other presidents going back to Thomas Jefferson have used with varying degrees of success.

It's the same alternative to war that the Continental Congress used even before there was an independent United States of America.

It's the same alternative that, in more recent times, forced South Africa to abandon apartheid after all those years saying it never would.

It's the same alternative that forced Guatemala's military, which staged a coup in the 1990s, to reverse course and agree to a restoration of democratic rule in that strife-torn country. They did it at the behest of businessmen who feared that an embargo would destroy the country's economy. To quote Victor Suarez, then 38, an industrialist with a $10 million steel exporting business at the time, "We have learned that democracy, while perhaps not a perfect system, is the best for business."

It's the same alternative that impelled the late and unlamented Soviet Union to let its Jews go after the Jackson-Vanik Amendment threatened to impose a trade embargo on Russia if it didn't.

What is this alternative to either war or appeasement? Economic sanctions. Halt trade with a regime till it drops its bellicose ways and adopts more peaceful, cooperative and generally more civilized policies.

Call it diplomacy. Effective diplomacy. Diplomacy with muscle. Diplomacy that shows imagination, will, energy and most of all constancy of purpose ... all the qualities that have been missing from this administration's foreign policy.

It's an alternative that was working with Iran till this president abandoned it. For sanctions on trade tend to catch the attention of every influential group in a country with an interest in a growing economy -- importers and exporters, consumers who rely on a steady supply of vital goods at lower prices. And all those who want to live in peace with other nations instead of threatening and terrorizing them.

That's the better alternative our president failed to mention at his press conference. It's been the missing choice in his foreign policy all along. Instead he drifts from one ad-hoc, hastily improvised stance to another. Each may be announced with great fanfare after protracted negotiations and repeated UN resolutions. But that's all just for show. (See the case of North Korea, which set the precedent for this kind of dangerous deal -- and now has its own Bomb.)

This president is no dummy. He has to know there's an alternative to the false choice he's offered the American people. Or maybe he thinks the rest of us don't know that, and we'll go along with his over-simplified view of a complicated issue.

As this debate over the Iran deal intensifies over the coming weeks and months, We the People are going to learn a lot. And we may not buy the glib version of foreign policy this president is selling.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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