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June 08, 2014 3:15 PM Four Pinocchios for Glenn Kessler

By Paul Glastris

In his Fact-Checker column that appears in today’s print edition of the Washington Post, which he actually wrote on June 2, Glenn Kessler gives three Pinocchios to Barack Obama for this statement in his recent West Point speech:

Despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years. At the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.

Kessler explains that the main reasons for the Pinocchios are, first, that Iran’s nuclear program also “steadily advanced” during most of Obama’s time in office (until it was frozen by the recent negotiations), and second, that the Bush administration had crafted international sanctions against Iran on military and missile technology and was laying the groundwork for the kinds of economic sanctions the Obama administration would later orchestrate. “We realize that these are just a few lines out of a major speech,” writes Kessler. “But the framing of the Iranian issue leaves a misleading impression….[T]his was a remarkably uncharitable and partisan description of an effort that really is a model of bipartisan cooperation.”

Sometimes, however, a fact-checker’s work needs to be fact-checked. Is Kessler’s assertion correct that when Obama takes credit for a policy of diplomatic overtures towards Iran backed by tough economic sanctions he is being “remarkably uncharitable” and that that policy “really is a model of bipartisan cooperation”?

While it’s true that in its last years the Bush administration turned towards sanctions as its main weapon against Iran and that Obama’s economic sanctions have enjoyed GOP support, it’s also true that Republicans have consistently opposed the diplomacy that is the flip side of the Obama sanctions policy. During the 2008 presidential campaign John McCain disparaged Obama’s call for direct diplomacy with Iran, arguing instead for more missile defense. In 2010 Rudy Giuliani and a number of former Bush administration officials labeled Obama’s Iran policy as “appeasement” and instead championed the idea of taking the opposition group Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) off the U.S. government’s list of terrorist organizations and making them part of an overall effort to overturn the Iranian government. In 2012 the GOP presidential candidates competed with each other in blasting Obama’s Iran policy as a naive and dangerous sellout of Israel and bemoaned the president’s twin failures to keep gas prices down and tighten economic sanctions on Tehran, even though the latter would undermine the former. Late last year, when Obama’s sanctions-plus-diplomacy strategy did result in a detailed interim agreement with Iran to freeze the advancement of its nuclear program for six months in return for the lifting of some sanctions while negotiating a possible long-term agreement, GOP leaders from Eric Cantor to Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio slammed it—and John Cornyn Tweeted “Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care”. Earlier this year, Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans tried to resurrect a bill to tighten sanctions on Iran after the Obama administration had convinced most Democratic lawmakers and even AIPAC who had supported such a bill to hold off so as not to jeopardize the ongoing negotiations with Iran.

So we judge Kessler’s statement that Obama’s sanction’s policy represents “a model of bipartisan cooperation” as misleading and inaccurate. We give it four Pinoccios.

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. This article was supported by the American Independent Institute.

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