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Jon Tester Montana Politics Ryan Zinke Steve Daines

The Iran Deal: Senator Tester Leads While Representative Zinke Beats the Drums of War

Even though we’re months from the next statewide campaign kicking off and years from the next showdown in the Senate, we’re back to a world of out-of-state “issue advocacy” ads attacking Senator Jon Tester, this time on the proposed nuclear deal with with Iran.

Among the Astroturf groups that have sprung up in the weeks since the framework of the Iran deal was announced is a group called “Veterans Against the Deal,” who have released a a video asking Montanans to call Senator Tester and tell him to vote against it. Featuring the moving story of a severely wounded American soldier and some troublingly ethnocentric editing of photographs of Iranians, the ad is an effort to build on the Republican narrative that diplomacy represents weakness. It’s a powerful ad, as propaganda often is, but the position taken in the ad, that the US should walk away from the deal, would weaken the United States, threaten war, and increase the odds of a nuclear Iran emerging.

The deal represents years of negotiations between Iran, the US, France, China, Russia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. To emerge from negotiations involving countries with motivations as diverse as those represents an enormous diplomatic achievement, and to believe that any of those countries want to see a nuclear Iran is ignore the geopolitical and economic reasons all of the P5+1 countries desperately want to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

And the deal offers the best, most peaceful way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. An impressive collection of retired generals and admirals wrote recently that “the deal blocks the potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, provides for intensive verification, and strengthens American national security.” More ominously, they warn that if the United States blocks the deal, “the Iranians could have a nuclear weapon within a year.”

What’s most troubling about conservative opposition is not just that’s wrong on the facts about preventing a nuclear Iran; it’s that, just a decade after the war in Iraq, some of the same people who got us embroiled in that conflict are pushing for another senseless Mideast war no matter the consequences.

The lie that that got us embroiled in the Iraq War that cost the lives of 4,493 young American women, as well as countless Iraqis was two-fold: that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the security of the United States and world, and that diplomacy could not be trusted to work. We hardly honor the sacrifice of those maimed and killed in Iraq by rushing to accept the very same lies to justify another war. We hardly honor their sacrifice by refusing to learn from the mistakes of a war that has done so much damage to so many people—all to satisfy the apparent endless appetite for war that some seem to possess.

Republican opposition to the Iran deal in Montana has been led, of course, by Representative Ryan Zinke, who condemned the deal before it was released, and moments after it was, before any human could have read its details, and in every waking, self-promoting moment since. He’s offered a series of knee jerk, reactionary arguments that echo the justifications for the Iraq War and that would leave us, if accepted, with only one option: to renounce multilateral diplomacy and begin the march to war.

Echoing the alarmist rhetoric Conrad Burns and Marc Racicot used to sell the Iraq War when they claimed we’d either fight in “Baghdad or Belgrade,” Representative Zinke told the people at Hometown Helena that the deal will give Iran an ICBM that can hit Helena. Moments after the deal was announced, he derided the military experts who support the deal as “pro-Iranian sympathizers” who are “fear mongering,” almost certainly with no awareness of the incongruity of his claim that fear mongering was wrong. He’s been making the right wing news circuit, claiming that diplomacy cannot work with the Iranian government, and that a diplomatic solution is a sign of American weakness.

What Zinke seems to have forgotten is the weakness our last unilateral conflict in the Middle East has engendered. We lost our credibility in the rest of the world, created enemies we are still battling, and spent trillions of dollars that could have been better spent building roads and bridges and the infrastructure for a 21st century economy back home. We squandered our treasure and our reputation, all because some people, so eager for war, refused to accept the idea that our nation is best served by the challenging road of diplomatic solutions, not the easy answer of war. As Abraham Lincoln noted, “Force is all conquering, but its victories are short lived.” To call for another senseless, expensive, deadly war without considering diplomacy is not leadership; it’s madness.

I don’t know how Senator Tester will vote on the Iran deal, though he has given a preliminary and qualified “thumbs up,” because he, unlike Senator Daines and Representative Zinke, didn’t offer a a set of easy sound bites before he could have possibly even read the agreement. Instead, he’s studied the issue, consulted with experts, and even taken the step of putting the agreement online for his constituents to weigh in. He’s done what we expect him to do: listen to both sides and make a difficult decision, not offer a politically expedient screed.

The truth is that the politically easy vote for Senator Tester would be to oppose the deal. It’s not has if the past forty years have been easy between Iran and the United States, and there’s no doubt that playing up xenophobic fears is easier than explaining a complex set of negotiations. But diplomacy, like leadership, like statesmanship, is hard–and it’s the right thing the right thing to do. I hope the Senator will support the deal, because we can’t believe that the answer to every foreign policy question is to send our men and women into battle, and we can’t believe that American leadership only means dropping bombs and threatening to invade to enforce our will. And we must stop believing that we are so weak as a nation that we can’t use diplomacy to address world problems.

In a world of foreign policy discussions that are often no more sophisticated than an ESPN “hot take” on a football game, the contrast between Senator Tester and Representative Zinke could not be more clear. The latter, for the sake of political posturing, thinks nothing of reckless rhetoric and policy making that are morally bankrupt and dangerous, while the former understands that supporting war means supporting real damage to our communities, our reputation, and our world. Isn’t that the kind of thoughtful leadership we want in the Senate?

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • When Tester said this was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make several days ago that was “political posturing”. Meaning of course I’m voting for it but I’m conflicted and need an excuse when TSHTF.

    • You know, Swede, that it’s all about politics for Daines and Zinke. This was a successful negotiation during the Obama administration. Congressional Republicans don’t want anything that comes out of this administration to succeed, even something that benefits the U.S. and its allies, and maybe keeps us out of a war. Daines and Zinke’s posturing sickens me.

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