MSNBC Guests Compare Iran Deal to Opening of China, Lament the ‘Political Climate’ Caused by GOP

During a segment on MSNBC’s The Last Word late Thursday, all three liberal panelists spouted off on the ability of the Soviet Union to follow treaties (in context of the Iran deal), comparing the Iran nuclear agreement to Richard Nixon’s China visit, and lamenting the “partisan...political climate” Republicans have caused the deal to be implemented under. 

Host Lawrence O’Donnell first teed up historian Allan Lichtman to provide “historical context for us and on the assumption that the deal works” to which Lichtman took the conversation in a strange direction by invoking the Soviet Union as a country that followed its treaties during the Cold War. 

Hyping the deal as of “a great historical importance,” Lichtman explained his Soviet comparison to Iran: 

[B]y the way, it's going to work for the same reason the Soviets back in the Cold War days, a much more formidable foe, adhered to treaties because it is greatly in Iran's interest to adhere to this treaty. You don't build a nuclear weapon in a truck under a tarp. It’ll be detected and the sanctions will snap in and they will be a pariah state.

Lichtman may say the communist state played by the rules, but William Schneider of the Hudson Institute would beg to differ. Writing in a post for Real Clear Defense on September 14, 2014, Schneider methodically presented how Moscow was been less than compliant with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention just to name a few.

Later on in the segment, columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post trotted out another the now-often used comparison of Nixon’s visit to China in measuring the success that the deal could have if Iran doesn’t cheat:

I was thinking the apologies are to Kennedy sort of opening talks and working toward a test ban treaty, Nixon’s detente policy and then if Iran starts to change, this could be like the opening to China and that’s the hopeful scenario[.]

Following Lichtman’s lead concerning historical claims, Alter made one of his own in an example of the liberal media applying some sudden respect to Republicans in times gone by with the supposedly “bipartisan” nature of the Panama Canal treaties:

If you go back to something like the Panama Canal treaties, which was intense, hard-fought debate in 1978, it was bipartisan. There were Republicans and Democrats on each side of the issue. It wouldn’t have gone through if it wasn’t for Republican Howard Baker joining with Democratic president Jimmy Carter. So, those were the days when the saying went politics ended at the water's edge and there was a sense as a nation we have to think about the national interest, not our narrow political interests when something very important like nuclear weapons was on the table[.]

Turns out, prominent Republicans such as Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Roger Fontaine and John McCain’s father were all opposed to the treaties while 21 Republican Senators that did support them were voted out of office in the first two election cycles after the treaty (1978 and 1980).

While he stated that he was “gratified that this deal is going to go through,” Alter told O’Donnell that he was “worried about the political climate in which this debate is taking place because with just a few changes in the composition of the Senate or with a certain kind of president, we could be very irrational foreign policy climate.” 

The relevant portions of the transcript from MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on September 10 can be found below.

MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
September 10, 2015
10:05 p.m. Eastern

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: Professor Lichtman, I'd like you to put this in historical context for us and on the assumption that the deal works. Now, let's all agree if the deal doesn't work and if Iran is cheating within a year and the whole thing falls apart, then this was not a big historic day, but now let's entertain the possibility that what Iran has agreed to in this deal, it actually does do, and this deal ends up working and removing Iran from the possible nuclear powers in the world. 

ALLAN LICHTMAN: This deal is a great historical importance and by the way, it's going to work for the same reason the Soviets back in the Cold War days, a much more formidable foe, adhered to treaties because it is greatly in Iran's interest to adhere to this treaty. You don't build a nuclear weapon in a truck under a tarp. It’ll be detected and the sanctions will snap in and they will be a pariah state. Why is this important? Number one it preserves the peace in the Middle East and the peace around the world. A nuclear armed Iran threatens the peace not only of the region but perhaps could lead to a worldwide conflagration. No doubt about that. In addition, let's not forget, Iran in many ways is a sophisticated country with a large middle class. About a third of the people are middle class and they are yearning to join the world's economy. They are yearning to become part of the world community. You don’t produce positive change by isolation, as we learned with so many decades in Cuba. You can only produce it by integrating nations into the world community and this opens up that possibility.

(....)

E.J. DIONNE: I was thinking the apologies are to Kennedy sort of opening talks and working toward a test ban treaty, Nixon’s detente policy and then if Iran starts to change, this could be like the opening to China and that’s the hopeful scenario[.]

(....)

JONATHAN ALTER: It’s really unfortunate it has gotten so partisan. If you go back to something like the Panama Canal treaties, which was intense, hard-fought debate in 1978, it was bipartisan. There were Republicans and Democrats on each side of the issue. It wouldn’t have gone through if it wasn’t for Republican Howard Baker joining with Democratic president Jimmy Carter. So, those were the days when the saying went politics ended at the water's edge and there was a sense as a nation we have to think about the national interest, not our narrow political interests when something very important like nuclear weapons was on the table and so, even though I'm gratified that this deal is going to go through, I'm worried about the political climate in which this debate is taking place because with just a few changes in the composition of the Senate or with a certain kind of president, we could be very irrational foreign policy climate.

NB Daily Foreign Policy China Iran Middle East Russia Media Bias Debate Sudden Respect Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats MSNBC Other MSNBC The Last Word Bill Schneider Lawrence O'Donnell E. J. Dionne Jonathan Alter Allan Lichtman
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