By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — Republicans are opposed to President Obama’s deal with the Iranians — whatever it is.
A couple of minutes after 9 p.m. on Saturday, word crossed the news wires that negotiators in Geneva had reached an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Then, at 9:08 p.m. — before any details of the pact were known — Ari Fleischer delivered his opinion on the agreement, via Twitter.
“The Iran deal and our allies: You can’t spell abandonment without OBAMA,” he wrote.
This is the sort of trenchant judgment Fleischer was known for as chief spokesman for President George W. Bush at the start of the Iraq War. His anagram analysis was so relevant to the topic that it deserves application to his name, too. Turns out you can’t spell “Re: Chief Liars,” “Hi, false crier,” “Hire Sir Fecal” or “I relish farce” without ARI FLEISCHER.
But Fleischer’s instant and reflexive response — even knees don’t jerk as quickly as he did — set the tone for Republicans. Three minutes after Fleischer’s tweet came one in agreement from Ron Christie, another veteran of the Bush administration. “Precisely,” he wrote, also without the benefit of knowing what was in the agreement. “A disgraceful deal.”
An hour later — still before Obama detailed the accord in a statement from the White House — John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, had analyzed the administration’s motives in reaching the deal.
“Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care,” he tweeted at 10:15 p.m., 19 minutes before the president spoke.
Aha! So the agreement to suspend Iran’s nuclear program, negotiated over several months, was actually a clever (and prescient) ruse to turn attention away from problems with the health care law, which surfaced in the past several weeks.
This was a variant on the “wag the dog” accusation, named after the 1997 film. But in the movie, and in the way critics applied the accusation to President Bill Clinton, a devious commander in chief was distracting attention from domestic troubles by waging war.
Cornyn’s usage, however, would appear to be the first time a president has been accused of distracting the public’s attention by making peace. Call it “wag the dove.”
In the eyes of Republicans, the agreement with Iran has a fatal flaw: It was negotiated by the Obama administration. This president could negotiate a treaty promoting motherhood and apple pie, and Republicans would brand it the next Munich.
The opposition in this case is particularly mindless. Certainly there are reasons to be skeptical that Iran will act in good faith. But the deal is temporary — six months — and easily reversible. In the (likely) event that Iran doesn’t agree to a permanent accord to end its nuclear program, the tougher sanctions contemplated in Congress could be applied. Would it be better to go to war now without exhausting diplomatic options? We’ve been there and done that — when Ari Fleischer stood on the White House podium.
But Republicans were being reflexive, not reflective. They went right to 1938. Rep. John Culberson of Texas tweeted the message “Worse than Munich” and a link to a Breitbart News article with that headline and images showing Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart juxtaposed with Hitler and Chamberlain.
“America just had a modern-day Neville Chamberlain moment,” former congressman Allen West, R-Florida, declared.
All the great minds of the Republican foreign policy establishment joined in:
“Placing your trust in #Iran is like betting on a blind horse on a wet track,” tweeted Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota called it a “total surrender by Obama administration.”
“In addition to domestic debacle of Obamacare,” wrote Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, “now POTUS and Dems accelerate crisis in Middle East.”
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois said the administration won only “cosmetic concessions.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia quickly branded the pact a “mistake.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said it “makes a nuclear Iran more likely.”
And Cornyn kept right on going, sending out links to articles titled, “Abject Surrender by the United States” and “Our ‘Suckers Deal’ with Iran.”
In the stampede to judgment, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona risked getting trampled. He actually waited until hearing Obama speak before issuing a statement, and then declared that he would “look forward to studying details.”
A member of the opposition party who wants to think before criticizing the Obama administration? Good thing “JEFF FLAKE” doesn’t lend itself to anagrams.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.