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Monday, December 5, 2016

Because the Middle East has fomented some of the world’s most protracted and agonizing conflicts, it’s easy to forget that it has also been the wellspring of some of the world’s greatest wisdom. As just one example, a certain teacher born more than 2,000 years ago preached a message of peace that has remained one of the most inspiring of human legacies.

So it seems fitting that, as the celebration of his birth approaches, the Middle East has a new chance at, if not outright peace, then leashing the dogs of war. President Barack Obama and several Western allies have negotiated an agreement with the ancient land of Persia, now Iran, that could coax it away from its path toward nuclear weapons.

This nascent agreement, uncertain though its outcome may be, ought to be cause for some, well, thanksgiving. If nothing else, it signals a thawing in relations between Iran and the United States for the first time since American diplomats were taken hostage in 1979.

If Iran can be lured back into the community of nations, temperatures across the region might be lowered dramatically. While it has long been an influential player in the Middle East, its authority only grew when George W. Bush deposed Saddam Hussein, who had served as a counterweight to Iran. The land of the ayatollahs props up the savage Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, threatens Israel and promotes terrorism throughout the region. If it can be persuaded to stop its mischief-making, the seeds of peace might bloom.

Oddly, though, this cautious détente has not been universally well received. Take the reaction of several leading Republicans, for example. Even before they knew any of the details of the agreement, they retreated to a reflexive posture: If Obama is for it, we’re against it.

Minutes after news services announced a deal — but before most of us, including dyspeptic Republicans, knew what was in it — GOP heavyweights started denouncing it. Some went with the overworked comparison to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazis. Some accused the president of increasing tensions in the Middle East.

But the silliest reactions here in the U.S. were those that claimed Obama was negotiating with Iran in order to distract attention from the problems with his rollout of Obamacare.