This week, a bunch of journalists, foreign policy wonks, and assorted pundits received an email from the White House that began with the legendary words, "Hey, I'm Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. For the past few years, I've been working closely with America's negotiating team, which was tasked with finding a way to achieve a diplomatic resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
Don't you just love that "Hey," greeting? So informal, so accessible, so confident, so quintessentially Obaman. And it didn't end there.
"Last week," Rhodes continued, "after two years of tough negotiations, our team along with our international partners achieved just that."
Perhaps anticipating a chorus of "Oh no, you didn't," Rhodes added that "it's important that everyone here and around the world understands exactly what's in it and how it'll work." And then came this assurance: "This is a strong deal, with significant constraints on Iran's nuclear program, and unprecedented access to Iranian nuclear facilities—including 24/7, continuous monitoring."
So what do you do if you still have doubts? The purpose of the round-robin email from Rhodes was to announce the latest PR initiative from the White House, in the form of a Twitter feed with the handle @TheIranDeal. (If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had done the same, the Obama administration and its sympathizers would now all be whining about "hasbara," the Hebrew word for public diplomacy, but let's leave that aside for now.)
According to Rhodes, @TheIranDeal is "dedicated to delivering the facts and answering your questions about the deal and how it enhances American national security." What that means—and here, Rhodes was explicit—is ensuring that America isn't dragged "into another conflict in the Middle East." In other words, the choice is between agreeing to this lousy, feeble deal or risking the lives and limbs of our troops in an Iraq/Afghanistan redux. But if you're still not convinced, you can send comments and questions to @TheIranDeal, and they will be answered. As the Twitter page declares, "Tweet us your questions, and we'll set the record straight."
As of the afternoon of Wednesday, July 22, more than 24 hours after the Twitter feed was launched, and with more than 12,000 followers already signed up, @TheIranDeal had published exactly 19 tweets. They were all pretty platitudinous, more or less, for example, "Why#IranDeal is a vital step: Problems like sponsoring terror or detaining citizens made more difficult to resolve if Iran acquired a nuke." As for answering the difficult questions, I saw no evidence of any effort to do so. Two questions I sent them remain, at the time of this writing, unanswered, and dozens of friends and colleagues have told me that they were hearing the same virtual silence.
Maybe the White House is short-staffed. Maybe President Barack Obama's confidant, Valerie Jarrett, has suddenly decided she doesn't like the idea. Maybe they don't know how to answer the difficult questions. I can't say for sure, but what I do know is this: With @TheIranDeal, the Obama administration has pledged itself to a direct dialogue with the citizens of this country and with the global public at large. So we need to hold them to account and bombard them with questions and comments.
In that light, I modestly offer some suggestions, in no particular order, as to what you all should be raising. There are any number of topics—the lifting of sanctions, the support for terrorism, the Iranian backing for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the weak inspections regime, the woeful human rights situation in Iran—that must be addressed. All you have to remember is to keep your questions within Twitter's 140-character limit. Oh, and maybe start off with the word "Hey," since this is now apparently an acceptable addition to the lexicon of political terminology.
Hey @TheIranDeal, how will you prevent the sanctions windfall coming Iran's way from being used to kill more Syrian kids?
Hey @TheIranDeal, if Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, why is the regime only "called upon" not to undertake ballistic missile activity?
Hey @TheIranDeal, why are you claiming "24/7 continuous monitoring" when the Iranians have at least 24 days to approve inspections?
Hey @TheIranDeal, what's your response to nuclear expert Olli Heinonen's claim that the 24-day window will make hiding nuclear arms development work easier?
Hey @TheIranDeal, why are you taking Gen. Qassem Solaimani, a man responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, off the sanctions list?
Hey @TheIranDeal, how do you assess nuclear expert David Albright's claim that installing new centrifuges will lower Iran's break-out time to a few days or weeks?
Hey @TheIranDeal, what leverage do you have if the Iranians refuse full disclosure of the Possible Military Dimensions of their nuclear research?
Hey @TheIranDeal, how will you monitor the underground Fordow enrichment facility if the Revolutionary Guards won't let International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in?
Hey @TheIranDeal, can you explain how legitimizing Iran's nuclear program—begun clandestinely—will improve human rights in that country?
Hey @TheIranDeal, does it bother you that Iran's Supreme Leader addressed a "Death to America" rally one day after this deal was announced?
Hey @TheIranDeal, what will you do if Iran's National Security Council refuses to ratify the deal?
Hey @TheIranDeal, to quote President Obama, are "all options" still on the table?
There are hundreds of similar questions that can be asked, but I hope you get my drift. The White House believes it can sell the Iran deal in the manner that one might sell a hot fashion designer—putting Obama on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," plastering social media platforms, and creating a general zeitgeist that anyone who opposes this deal is not only nuts, but probably someone who voted for George W. Bush.
Keep blitzing @TheIranDeal with questions. Keep demanding answers. Just because they are silent, it doesn't mean they aren't listening.