- - Thursday, March 5, 2015

Families around the world apparently understand more about how to parent, scheme, and get what they want than our world leaders. Let’s see what moms and dads could teach Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama, and our Congress.

Step 1: Understanding Who’s Who.

The Kid.Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, comes from a young country. Like all kids, he forgets in his eagerness that his parents can live without him. (While the United States is indispensable to Israel, vice versa is not true.) He’s prone to tantrums, like refusing to deal with the teenage bully Iran at all, while forgetting that he’s the richest and most powerful kid on the block. Which is because of his parents.

Yes, he thanked the U.S. and claimed he didn’t want his actions to be political, but like all kids who are pitting Dad against Mom, he knew exactly what he was doing. He said “Thank you” only because he was following it with “Mom won’t even listen to me! If you don’t help me, you know, I’m still going to do what I want. Daaaadd!!”

All the while, he apparently forgot to mention that Israel hasn’t even signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and (probably) has nukes.

The Parents. The Obama administration and the John Boehner-led Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have a lot on their hands. Their kid feels threatened by that young delinquent down the street whom they don’t really like either. Mom and Dad obviously don’t agree on quite a few things, but they have to work together to present a united front to the kid(s). Unfortunately that didn’t happen here, and Mr. Boehner unilaterally invited Mr. Netanyahu to speak to Congress without Mr. Obama’s approval, possibly breaking U.S. law (more on that later). Mr. Netanyahu’s speech “insulted” the U.S. with “condescension,” according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who admitted she was “near tears” at what he’d done. Shame on you, kid. You made your mom cry. 

The Teen. OK, maybe not so much a teen as a crazy young adult, Iran finds itself in a world where it can finally ascend the ladder. And of course it wants to. Like the U.S., it wants to spread its ideology and may do that by interfering in other countries. Unlike the U.S., its ideology is pretty awful. However, it seems clear that along with all other teenagers, Iran wants to be treated like an adult – or a normal country.

And Iran is normal, despite what Netanyahu says. Iran takes a lot of nationalist pride in its nuclear program and Iran’s foreign minister called it “a leap, a jump toward deciding our own destiny, rather than allowing others to decide for us.”

This all sounds wise for a teen, so what’s the problem?

Well, North Korea’s an example of what happens when you give young adults nukes (literally). And it’s not fun. Iran probably wouldn’t be able to safely protect its warheads and it would destabilize the region. What Iran would not do, however, is use its nukes against Israel or the U.S. Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, has even issued a fatwa against the usage of nuclear weapons. From a practical standpoint, Iran is simply not suicidal. Most teens aren’t. They’re depressed, cranky, and make threats they never intend on keeping (like annihilating Israel). But they’re not going to kill themselves. Even if Iran gets nuclear – oh the horror! – scholars agree it’s highly unlikely it would use them. The U.S. and Israel have second-strike capabilities and would wipe this rowdy teen off the face of the map.

Step 2: Understanding how these people are supposed to act.

The Kid. Oh, dear lord, where to start? First, respect your parents. Mr. Netanyahu should not have come to the U.S. when Mr. Obama refused to even meet him. It’s definitely against international custom. Assuming everyone in Israel agrees with Mr. Netanyahu’s speech is like assuming everyone in the U.S. wanted him to give it. And most Israeli papers agreed that Mr. Netanyahu’s speech did nothing new at best and harm at worst, speeding up U.S.-Iran negotiations and Iran’s race to a bomb. Mr. Netanyahu harmed his relations with the U.S. by trying to play Congress against the president and by refusing to concede anything to Iran. His speech was marked at points by half of Congress clapping and the other half booing. Any true kid knows the routine: if mom says no, ask dad. But not if mom is going to find out.

Second, Mr. Netanyahu is a demanding kid. Back in Israel, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that “[Netanyahu‘s] policy is driving [Iran] to a bomb” and many American scholars agree that while a bad deal is worse than no deal, Mr. Obama’s deal isn’t a bad deal. It buys the U.S. at least 10-15 years to worry about Iran’s nuclear development and 10-15 years for Iran to hopefully transition to a more democratic, less hostile government. 10-15 years is not the “blink in the eye of the life of a nation,” Mr. Netanyahu. WWII took less time.

The Parents. How many times have advice columnists told you not to fight in front of the kids? I mean, seriously, Mr. Boehner. Could we at least pretend we get along? I blame the public humiliation and media attention entirely on the Republican-led Congress. What did you expect from hearing your kid out when mom said no? All he did was repeat everything he’s said before, only on your soil. And by the way, while you were out tanning or whatever, it seems that you forgot you may have been breaking the law. The Logan Act gives Mom — the president of the United States – the sole authority on conducting foreign affairs of this sort. Google it.

With regards to Mom, I hate saying this, but realize that maybe your kid was right. While Mr. Netanyahu’s plan wouldn’t work, his strategy would. The U.S. needs to be willing to walk away from the table, instead of begging Iran to concede. Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that Iran “might not say yes,” and that coming to a deal is absolutely necessary. Look, I don’t know much about bargaining, but I do know you don’t walk into Mr. Netanyahu's “Persian Bazaar” and say you’re going to buy the lamp at any price. You have to be willing to call their bluff, something Mr. Obama refuses to do.

Mr. Netanyahu simultaneously argued on Tuesday that Iran was irrational and suicidal AND yet will crack under economic sanctions. He contradicted himself, as all kids do, in order to support his policies. While he’s wrong about Iran’s irrationality, he’s right that they probably would crack under economic pressure. A combination of isolation, sanctions, and possible military strikes would destroy Iran’s government eventually. Mr. Obama should tell Iran that it’s America who “might not say yes.”

The Teen. And to you, Iran, I just have the normal teenage advice. Stop being hormonal and issuing fatwas or crazy threats. Treat women with respect. Understand that people are different and aren’t going to be wiped off the map because you don’t like them. Growing up takes time, but it will happen. And once you’re grown up, maybe you’ll be able to do grown-up stuff like have people trust you with nuclear energy. The IAEA won’t have to babysit you.

Oh and by the way, you’ll realize you don’t want – or need – nukes.

Isvari Mohan is the author of the war drama, The Eyes of Mikra, a singer, and a Global Law Scholar at Georgetown Law.

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