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February 23, 2022 11:40 am
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New York Times News Coverage Cheerleads for Renewed Iran Deal

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the 2019 J Street National Conference. Photo: J Street via Flickr.

Will voters punish the American politicians who support a new nuclear deal with Iran?

The New York Times wades into this question with a news article carrying this passage:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, described the opposition to the accord as a small number of Democrats and a concentrated Republican effort “to play politics with American foreign policy.” He said no Democrats who voted to support the 2015 deal lost elections in congressional midterm elections a year later.

“There was no political fallout,” said Mr. Ben-Ami, whose group supported the agreement and is advocating its renewal.

“The beauty of having this argument a second time is that we actually have the facts from the first time — the real-world experience both that the policy was good and that the politics didn’t hurt anybody who supported it,” Mr. Ben-Ami said.

“Politics didn’t hurt anybody who supported it”? “No political fallout”? What about Hillary Clinton? She lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, who opposed the deal and won a surprise victory after making the deal a key issue.

“Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran,” Trump said as a presidential candidate in 2015.

In his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump said, “We all remember the images of our sailors being forced to their knees by their Iranian captors at gunpoint. This was just prior to the signing of the Iran deal, which gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us absolutely nothing. It will go down in history as one of the worst deals ever negotiated.”

Trump went on in his 2016 acceptance speech: “America is far less safe and the world is far less stable than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy. I am certain it is a decision he truly regrets. … In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map. Libya was stable. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq had seen a big reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was somewhat under control.”

Trump continued: “After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region and the entire world. Libya is in ruins, and our ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West. … This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: Death, destruction and terrorism and weakness.”

The elections immediately after the 2015 deal weren’t “congressional midterm elections,” as the Times inaccurately describes them. The year 2016 was a quadrennial presidential election year, not a midterm.

Ben-Ami’s claim, thoughtlessly parroted by the Times without performing the basic journalistic responsibility of a fact-check, isn’t even accurate with respect to the congressional elections. The claim that “no Democrats who voted to support the 2015 deal lost elections in congressional midterm elections a year later” is an outright falsehood not only in respect to the elections not being midterms, but also in respect to the outcome that is described. Actually, Mike Honda, a California Democrat who backed the deal, was defeated in 2016. It’s also worth noting that some senators who did support the Iran deal chose to retire in 2016 rather than face voters.

The sloppy portrayal of the politics isn’t the only problem with this Times Iran deal article.

It claims, “The Biden administration does not have to seek congressional authority to recommit to the deal.” That’s highly debatable. The Treaty Clause of the Constitution provides the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.”

Whether Biden has power to commit the United States without two thirds of the Senate is a constitutional issue that has yet to be tested. If a Senate supermajority were determined to test the matter, it’d be an interesting case. The Senate might get backing from a conservative Supreme Court majority if it crafted its assault on any deal carefully enough—say, by using Congress’s spending power to prevent the executive branch spending of any money on implementing any “deal” not ratified under the treaty clause.

The Times article also claims “Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the pact, in 2018, was followed by hundreds of American sanctions imposed against Iran, devastating the country’s economy and prompting its leaders to swiftly rebuild its nuclear program.” It wasn’t only the sanctions that devastated the Iranian economy but the coronavirus pandemic, regime corruption, and the Iranian government’s decision to spend its sanctions relief money and other revenues subsidizing foreign militias rather than helping the Iranian people. Likewise, the decision to “rebuild” the nuclear program may not be entirely attributable to Trump’s withdrawal from the deal, but rather to Iran’s ideological and strategic interest in attaining a nuclear weapon.

The Times’ inaccurate, skewed coverage here is non-trivial. If the newspaper provided more accurate coverage, policymakers like Biden might be less likely to rush to return to the flawed Iran deal. It’s only the latest example in a series showing that the New York Times can’t be trusted on the topic of Iran.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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