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Nuclear Peace With Iran in Our Time: Is This Our Chamberlain Moment?

November 12, 2013 4:35 pm 15 comments

Saudi FM Saud al-Faisal greets John Kerry, November 3rd, 2013. Photo: State Department.

The deal that has been offered to Iran—to soften some sanctions in return for a promise by the mullahs to preserve the status quo with regard to their nuclear program—does not serve the interest of peace.  This is not to discourage further diplomacy and negotiation, but it is to underline what Secretary of State John Kerry has said:  namely that a bad deal is worse than no deal.  This is a very bad deal for America, its allies and peace.

Diplomacy is better than war but bad diplomacy can cause bad wars. The US is leading the noble efforts, stalled for the moment, to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough in our determination to prevent Iran from developing, or having the capacity to develop, nuclear weapons. There is little dispute about this essential goal: virtually everyone agrees that a nuclear armed Iran would pose unacceptably grave dangers to the United States and its allies.

Nor is there much controversy over the preference for “jaw jaw” over “war war” as Winston Churchill once put it. But the understandable concern, expressed by Israeli, French, Saudi and some other leaders, is that the Iranian leadership is playing for time—that they want to make insignificant concessions in exchange for significant reductions in the sanctions that are crippling their economy. Their goal is to have their yellow cake and eat good food at the same time. These leaders, and many experienced nuclear and diplomatic experts, fear that a bad deal, such as the one that secretary Kerry seemed ready to accept, would allow the Iranians to inch closer to nuclear weapons capacity while strengthening their faltering economy. The net result would be a more powerful Iran with the ability to deploy a nuclear arsenal quickly and surreptitiously.

Were this to occur, we would be witnessing a recurrence of the failed efforts to prevent a nuclear North Korea but in a far more volatile and dangerous neighborhood of the globe. Were Iran to use the current diplomatic efforts as a cover to buy time to make a preventive military attack unrealistic, this would indeed be our “Chamberlain moment”, a replication of the time ¾ of a century ago, when the idealistic but naive British prime minister made a bad deal with the Nazis in a desperate but futile effort to avoid deploying the military option against Hitler’s growing power.

Winston Churchill, despite his preference for jaw, railed against Chamberlain’s concession, describing it as a defeat without a war.  The war, of course, soon came and the allies were in a weaker position, having ceded the industrially and militarily critical Sudetenland to Germany while at the same time giving it more time to enhance its military power. The result was tens of millions of deaths that might have been avoided if the British and French had engaged in a preventive war instead of giving dangerous concessions to the Nazis when they were still weak.

The immediate choice for the world today is not between diplomacy and preventive war, as it may have been in 1938. We have a third option: to maintain or even increase the sanctions while keeping the military option on the table. It was this powerful combination that brought a weakened and frightened Iran to the bargaining table in the first place. It is this combination that will pressure them to abandon their unnecessary quest for nuclear weapons, if anything will. To weaken the sanctions regime now, in exchange for a promise to maintain the status quo, would be bad diplomacy, poor negotiation and a show of weakness precisely when a show of strength is called for.

The leadership of the pro-Israel community, both in the United States and Israel, have shown rare unity around the issue of not weakening the sanctions merely in exchange for the promise of a nuclear standstill from the Iranians.  Liberals and conservatives, doves and hawks, all seem to realize that the best way to avoid the scylla and charybdis of a nuclear Iran or a military attack is to maintain the tough sanctions while diplomacy continues.  As usual, the only outlier seems to be J Street whose claim to be “pro-Israel” grows less credible by the day.  Previously, J Street claimed to support tough sanctions as an alternative to the military option and drumbeating.  But now that Israel and its supporters insist that sanctions be maintained, J Street seems to be supporting the Neville Chamberlain approach to diplomacy:  make substantial concessions in exchange for hollow promises, thereby weakening our negotiating position and increasing the chances that the United States will be forced to take military action as the only means of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

This is the time when the entire pro-Israel community must stand together in opposition to the deal being offered the Iranians—a deal which is bad for the United States, for the West, and for Israel.  The Israeli people seem united in opposition to this bad deal.  The American Congress is doubtful about the deal.  This is not a liberal/conservative issue.  Liberals who view military action as a last resort should oppose this deal, and conservatives who fear a nuclear Iran above all else should oppose this deal.  Indeed all reasonable, thinking people should understand that weakening the sanctions against Iran without demanding that they dismantle their nuclear weapons program is a prescription for disaster.  Have we learned nothing from North Korea and Neville Chamberlain?

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, is a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author of The Trials of Zion. His autobiography, “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law”, was published last month.

A shorter version of this article appeared in Haaretz.


  • What i find unbeleivable is that supposedly ” intelligent” people in very powerfu positions in our government would take the word of the Iranian mullahs. They want to wipe us( USA) and Israel off the map. These mullahs are playing you Mr Obama and Mr Kerry. Wake up

  • E. Patricia Coppola

    I believe that Alan Dershowitz is right. The problem is as I see it, that Chamberlain truly believed that he had signed a treaty with Germany that would ensure peace. It made him a laughing stock in the eyes of Hitler. Either Obama is unbelievably naive or he’s unbelievably un-American!! In any case it’s a very bad deal for the U.S. Israel and all of our other allies. Since when in the last several decades has Iran proved themselves anything but untrustworthy?? So why would we ever start to trust them now? They are out to develop nuclear weapons and I personally don’t think that anything will stop them. If we lighten up on the sanctions it will just happen that much faster. Keep the sanctions in place! It’s the only way to contain them and possibly keep them from having those horrible weapons. Because you know once they have them no one will ever feel safe again.

    • Your article is very tightly and accurate and as far as J Street is concern this is coming from a 58 y/o African American born in the projects of Chicago raised in the notorious Englewood area, Veteran, Hebrew Christian son of Abraham speaking and saying that J Street is little more than fully westernized assimilated traitor who need to make Aliyah so they can learn firsthand what and who and where the real deal is.

  • Irmgard Gesund

    I completely agree with Allen Donow’s comments. Prof. Dershowitz has many times spoken up for Israel,even written a book supporting Israel, and for that we can all be grateful. But what make him so disappointing is that in the final analysis, he cannot seem to break with Obama and Co. and admit the painful truth: Obama and Co. are Israel’s worst enemies. It is both very sad and infuriating. And probably true of a lot of Obama’s Jewish supporters.

  • Are you trolls really suggesting that one of the brightest jurists of our time is a warmonger?

    Mr Jagoda, I think that when you can bring an educated credible opinion to the table like the tenured Harvard Professor does, then you can comment like you have.

    Until then sir – you should shut your face.

  • Dershowitz, as always, makes a game with words. Truth is lost in a maze of verbal diarhea. As the proverb says “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool returns to his folly”. Only from Dershowitz would you hear a statement extolling (and underlining) a speech of John Kerry, who had just tried to close a deal with the Iranians by giving away the store. It is Dershowitz’s job to protect and defend Obama and Kerry at all costs, even if he must destroy Israel and the Jewish people in the process. For this he gets to meet with Obama “face to face”. As Chamberlain was to the English people (forever telling them how he was on their side and would bring them peace) so Dershowitz is to Israel and the Jewish people. He is a traitor and a fool. A pet dog to Obama and the Moslem Brotherhood.

    • Strange comments from Mr. Donow. Dershowitz is correctly saying the deal offered Iran by Kerry is a bad deal. The proposed deal relieves some of the sanctions in return for Iran promising to freeze its nuclear program. Promises from a country that is the world’s leading supporter of terrorism and has continued and continues to lie about its nuclear efforts. Dershowitz is rightly criticizing Kerry’s efforts, not supporting them. It appears Mr. Donow has gone off on an anti-Dershowitz tirade which has nothing to do with what Dershowitz wrote about.

      • The bottomline is that Dershowitz in his first paragraph (sometimes readers only read the first paragraph to get the gist of an article) elevated Kerry by quoting him when he stated on Nov 10 “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Dershowitz thus used Kerry as his authority, as his mentor, not letting the reader know, at that point, that it was actually Kerry who was promoting the deal with Iran. It took 2 paragraphs later for Dershowitz to give Kerry a second and last mention saying that Kerry “seemed ready to accept” the deal even though it was a bad deal. No condemnation of Kerry there, he was seemingly just simply going to accept the deal. As if he could have been ignorant of any of its contents, as if he was not the author, as if he was just an innocent bystander who happened to have the job of signing for a delivery. There is reason to be concerned about Kerry and Dershowitz gave him a pass in such a long article about Iran. Kerry is supposed to be Obama’s lead person in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Dershowitz did not focus responsibility on Kerry or Obama or himself for his past history of support for Obama. He needs to own up.

  • Dr Gabriel Mayer

    Bravo !!!

  • Esther Sarah Evans

    The only difference is that this is a “more so” case. Why? Because Chamberlain was just naive, but Obama is ONE OF THEM.

  • Dershowitz never met an approach to peace that he would not try to torpedo with his inexcusable and continuing war talk. Dershowitz is one of the globe’s leading threats to peace in the Middle East.

    Getting Iran back into the community of nations (after more than three decades) will take patience and the long view. Dirty Dershowitz is a loud-mouth showoff who might just cause the globe to be blasted by nuclear war–especially since Israel is so armed.

    Go home, Professor Dershowitz, and kindly shut-up your face! Thanks.

  • Dershowitz has contributed to bring those people to power with the rest of the Obamistas.

  • The “Dersh” has spoken!

  • OBAMA and Kerry worship the ground Neville Chamberlain and Frank Marshall Davis crawl on.

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