(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Speaking at a fundraiser in New Jersey over the weekend, President Donald Trump predicted that he would have a new nuclear deal within four weeks if re-elected in November. In one sense, this is typical bluster from a president who has recently mused that his face should be carved on Mount Rushmore. At the same time, it highlights both a risk about a second Trump term and a truth about the Iranian regime his administration has pressured since taking office.First, consider the risk. Trump has always explained his maximum pressure campaign as an effort to coerce Tehran to submit to better terms. By itself, there is nothing wrong with that. The 2015 nuclear deal forged by Trump’s predecessor was weak. Key limitations on the technology and scale of Iran’s enrichment program expired over time.And Trump’s campaign has steadily increased pressure on the regime. The remaining loopholes in U.S. sanctions against Iran have been closed, and Iran’s most important general has been killed. Meanwhile, the U.S. is planning to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution to extend an arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October.But Trump is also prone to flattery, and has expressed desperation for a diplomatic win. As former National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote in his memoir this year, the president was interested in “making a deal he could characterize as a huge success, even if it was badly flawed.”Now consider the truth about the Iranian regime. Veterans of former President Barack Obama’s administration and America’s European allies have been scathing about Trump’s maximum pressure policy. In part they defend the 2015 deal, but they also say Trump’s current policy is not the way to get a better deal with Iran.Nonetheless, this is exactly the approach that Obama took against Iran — although he did not call it a “maximum pressure” campaign. After discovering a hidden uranium enrichment facility in 2009, the administration and Congress increased sanctions over time in a gambit to bring the Iranians to negotiations. When the first preliminary deal was struck in 2013, only some of those sanctions were lifted. Economic warfare was waged to get a better deal.Presidential elections are, of course, a binary choice. If you are worried about what kind of deal Trump may negotiate with Iran, then you might also be concerned that former Vice President Joe Biden would simply re-enter the one that Trump exited.But Biden has been more cautious than one might expect. The Biden campaign has not pledged, for example, to re-enter the deal unconditionally. “If Iran moves back into compliance with its nuclear obligations,” Biden told the New York Times last spring, the U.S. would re-enter the 2015 agreement. He also added that this would be a “starting point to work alongside our allies in Europe and other world powers to extend the deal’s nuclear constraints.”For voters who have supported Trump’s tough line on Iran, this presents a dilemma. Who would make a better deal with Iran: a mercurial president who has shown little interest in details and policy, or a former vice president whose administration negotiated a weak one in the first place? Put another way: Do you go with the devil you know, or the devil you once knew?(Corrects the location of the fundraiser in the first paragraph.)This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- “Cancel culture” is a phenomenon with almost no defenders. Instead there are people who lament and assail it, and people who deny it exists. It “isn’t real,” it’s “a patchwork monster invented to scare children,” it’s “a spooky campfire story.” In case you missed the point, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow put it in capital letters: “Once more: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CANCEL CULTURE.” His work of persuasion not quite done, he offered an alternative explanation: “The rich and powerful are just upset that the masses can now organize their dissent.”What this school of thought has going for it is the fuzziness of the concept of “cancel culture.” The same was true of its predecessor “political correctness,” which was also denied to exist rather than defended. The line between criticism and intolerance, like the line between sensitivity and oversensitivity, is subjective.That’s why a recent survey about self-censorship is so clarifying. It shows that a very large number of Americans — one might call them “masses,” borrowing from Blow — are thinking twice before speaking their minds about politics; that the number of the fearful is rising; and that the fear rises as one moves right on the political spectrum.The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, asked people whether “the political climate these days prevents me from saying things I believe because others might find them offensive.” In 2017, 58% agreed; in 2020, 62% did. Conservatives were most likely to agree, but moderates agreed too (64-36%). “Strong liberals” were the only group that had a majority in disagreement, and even 42% of them agreed. This sentiment is not confined to the rich and the privileged.It’s not just an aversion to criticism, either. Cato also asked, “Are you worried about losing your job or missing out on job opportunities if your political opinions became known?” A third of employed respondents said yes — including 22% of blacks and 38% of Latinos. They don’t seem to be reacting to a hardening of taboos against comments that nearly everyone sees as bigoted. They’re not registering increasing concern for “simple politeness.”They’re not Boomers who can’t handle social media, the dismissal former President Barack Obama bizarrely received when he criticized left-wing purity enforcers. Cato found that 18-29-year-olds were the most worried about job repercussions from their opinions.The findings are more consistent with what the critics of cancel culture are saying. The line of unacceptability is constantly, rapidly and unpredictably shifting; sanctions for crossing it are applied arbitrarily but sometimes harshly.Another set of surveys has asked Americans if they feel less free to speak their minds than they used to. Over the last few years, the percentage who say they feel less free has been much higher than it was in past decades.To deny a rising climate of intolerance in the face of such findings requires believing that the campfire story has been accepted by tens of millions of Americans of varying races and political views. You would have to maintain that all of these people are wrong, and not about some technical point or some abstract matter far removed from their daily experiences. but about their own experiences.Or you could acknowledge that the campfire story is real. We are becoming less tolerant of differing opinions, less inclined to judge them with open minds or at least charity.It may not be the most urgent problem in the world. One commentator on cancel culture has sagely observed that Covid-19 is worse. But that it is a problem is becoming increasingly hard to deny. And we may find that our efforts to solve all kinds of problems do not benefit from fear of candid discussion.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a senior editor at National Review, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and contributor to CBS News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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