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Week In Politics: U.S.-Iran Policy, Netanyahu Speech


Time now for our Friday political commentators - columnists E J Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to see you both.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to see you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to see you.

SIEGEL: And I'm going to give you a pass on funding of Homeland Security this week. I'd like to look ahead instead to next week's heavyweight bout here in Washington over Iran. There are reports of progress in the talks with Iran over controlling its nuclear program and preventing it from developing nuclear weapons. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to address Congress next week opposing the kind of agreement that's been discussed. Millions of us who wouldn't know an IR-1 centrifuge from a handsaw are going to be told by one group of people that an acceptable deal is within reach and by others that the kind of deal that's in the works is misbegotten. So let's start there. David Brooks, you wrote today about this in a column. You think the premises of negotiating with Iran are ill-conceived?

BROOKS: Yeah, first I should say I have a son who's a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces, so listeners can take that into account.


BROOKS: Two things - first, I think it's a potentially terrible month for the Middle East. First, I think Bibi Netanyahu has made a disastrous decision coming here - really imperiled U.S.-Israeli relations, especially on the Democratic left. And second, I think the deal that we seem to be striking with Iran is filled with peril. It all depends on the nature of the Iranian regime. If Iran is like Gorbachev's Soviet Union that's about to turn and become a much more decent, civil player in the global community, then it's a great deal. But I really do not believe it's that kind of regime. I still think it's a paranoid, fanatical, rogue regime. And the deal essentially accepts the idea they're going to be a nuclear-capable state and gives them a potential loophole over the next X number of years to become a nuclear power. And that, given the nature of Iran's regime, strikes me as an extremely dangerous thing to do.

SIEGEL: Nuclear capable, but they would need - we don't know exactly how much time - at least a year or more to actually move from where they are to enrichment.

BROOKS: Right, and there would be some sort of temporary set of restrictions phased out of the sanctions. But nonetheless, we would accept - we started this process with the principle - and the president did and six Security Council resolutions started with the principle that they would not be nuclear capable. And we've surrendered that principle apparently - according to the reports. And that to me seems like a very substantial concession.

SIEGEL: Did we prevent them from having nuclear weapons - was the most commonly expressed...

BROOKS: Well, we would get rid of their nuclear program is what the president promised in 2012.

SIEGEL: E J, David's describing a fundamentally bad estimate of what Iran is all about and ill-conceived negotiations, E J. Is he right? Is there something just deeply wrong about the administration - and we can throw in Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China too in their approach to Iran.

DIONNE: And throwing them in is very important. First of all, we agree that Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit here is disastrous for a whole series of reasons. It's very unfortunate. This is about how you balance the risks - A. And B - it's about compared to what? And I think that the - it's - you know, Donald Rumsfeld might say it's about I can't tell whether it's known unknowns or unknown unknowns. The balance of risk is if you let them go 10 years, then, a year after, maybe they could develop a weapon. It seems to me postponing for 10 years or more - they're talking 10 to 15 years - is a victory. Because what's the alternative? Are we honestly prepared for the risks of war with Iran. And by the way, we are now fighting ISIS, where Iran is on our side. Do we want a two-front war against opposite kinds of enemies? I guess that would be fair and balanced. But the other thing is we're taking a risk on the possibility of regime change or alteration of that regime over the next decade. And it's quite clear that reaching a deal will make it somewhat more likely that that regime will change, because in the apparent fight that's going on in Iran, the people who want this deal seem to be the people who want to change the regime. So I think it's worth the risk, and I'll acknowledge it's a risk. David probably doesn't seem to think that risk is worth taking.

SIEGEL: But, David, I mean, does Benjamin Netanyahu - is he able, do you think, next week to articulate a space between this kind of deal and airstrikes against Iran to attack their nuclear facilities?

BROOKS: I hope so because I don't know too many people who think airstrikes against Iran is a good idea, including those of us who think this is a bad deal. This about the future of the Middle East - do we essentially decide that the pillars of stability are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, our traditional pillars? Or do we think that really we need to shift and embrace Iran and make Iran part of the community of nations? And so do we isolate Iran, which is the former strategy, or do we embrace Iran? And again, it is a series of risks. And I think it depends on the nature of the Iranian regime. My reading of the regime - and it's a guess like anybody else's - it's that they're not willing - they're still a revolutionary regime; and therefore, isolating them with continued sanctions is the right way to go rather than lowering the sanctions and embracing them.

DIONNE: Two quick things - one is there's the halfway house, which is we can have 10 years and try to move them, and if we don't move them, they'll be isolated again. But, Robert, you mentioned the allies at the beginning. The notion that at the end of this process, it will be easy to re-impose tough sanctions, there are a lot of people who look at our allies and say the sanctions would fall apart if we don't reach some kind of deal or if we blow a deal up. So, again, I think in the balance of risks, it's worth trying.

SIEGEL: OK, one other subject - I think completely unrelated. You did mention regime change. Will there be regime change in Chicago, E J Dionne?

DIONNE: You know, I was in Chicago this week, and I was at the - what was supposed to be the Rahm Emanuel victory party. And not everybody was surprised because there - you know, he got 55 percent when he was first elected, when everything was wonderful because he had never had to make a decision. He's made a series of unpopular decisions. His personality doesn't go down well with everybody - we'll put it charitably. And, you know, you also have a national overlay on here of, you know, progressive versus centrist. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia really represents progressive forces. And there was also a very low turnout.

SIEGEL: So there'll be a runoff?

DIONNE: Yes, so there is a runoff on April 7. The betting is still that Rahm Emanuel will survive, but a lot of the people were betting that there wouldn't even be a runoff.

SIEGEL: And, David, are there any implications for anybody other than Chicagoans in this?

BROOKS: Well, I do think E J's right. There is - it is a sort of a mirror image of the Elizabeth Warren-Hillary Clinton fight. And it's also a mirror image of a lot of places that where somebody comes to office inheriting a fiscal mess. And Rahm inherited too many schools, huge debt problem, huge pension problems, and he did some unpopular things in very abrasive ways. He's not the only person to have to deal with these issues. My sense of Chicagoans, in having covered them - politics - for a little while there, is that they expected mayors - they're a little patient with mayors, and they'll give them a couple terms. So I, too, suspect that Rahm will be re-elected, but not as certain as I used to be.

SIEGEL: Inconvenienced by a runoff, you're saying, but you think he will be re-elected?

DIONNE: Yeah, I would say that - but the one doubt I have is - A- six weeks is a long time. And Garcia - Chuy Garcia - is a nice guy who's relatively popular. He's going to be pressed on how he pays for his promises. And it is about Chicago being in a terrible fiscal circumstance.

SIEGEL: E J Dionne and David Brooks, thanks once again. Have a great weekend.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.