Obama bargains against his alleged self

The Washington Post’s editors point out that President Obama’s hard sell of a “deal” not yet reached with Iran might well weaken the U.S. negotiating position. Obama says that important details remain to be worked out. They include the connection between implementation by Iran of its promises and the lifting of sanctions; how inspectors can obtain access to new suspected nuclear sites; and how they can get answers to questions about Iran’s previous work on nuclear warhead designs.

The Post argues that “by insisting that the deal is already the best available, Mr. Obama is making it more difficult for his negotiators to walk away from the follow-up talks if they are unable to obtain satisfactory terms.” The Post also argues that Obama’s posture “helps ensure that the option of maintaining sanctions while insisting that Iran agree to dismantle more of its nuclear infrastructure. . .is no long a practical alternative.”

The Post’s analysis is sound. It raises this question: why is Obama making statements that might well weaken the U.S. position?

One possible answer is that Obama doesn’t care much about how the unsettled issues are worked out. Stated differently, Obama isn’t weakening his real negotiating position, namely get a deal and move on.

There are other possible explanations. The Post suggests that Obama is over-selling his “framework” in reaction to possible congressional action later this month. But Obama’s desperation to cut Congress out of the action should be seen as an outgrowth of his desire to get a deal — almost any deal — and move on. Absent that desperation, Obama would be using congressional skepticism to leverage concessions from Iran.

Obama’s obsession with getting a deal regardless of the details has been evident all along to those who have paid attention. It explains, for example, why Obama was willing to begin dismantling sanctions before before he had even a framework for a deal. Doing so put him in a better position to argue that there is no option to the impending deal other than war.

There is, I believe, a method to Obama’s madness. He’s not really negotiating against himself; he’s negotiating against a pretend self.


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