Last week’s New York Times had a great article illustrating the reality of how people use data to walk up the ladder of inference to make their argument. In an article about the Iran deal, the writers explained how both Dick Cheney and Hilary Clinton were using different parts of the story–different data–to reach their desired conclusion.
To hear Dick Cheney tell the tale, he and President George W. Bush were slowly but surely squeezing Iran into submission until President Obama and his team came along and recklessly let up the pressure.
To listen to Hillary Rodham Clinton, she and Mr. Obama succeeded where the Bush-Cheney administration failed by escalating pressure and forcing Tehran to the bargaining table — and on Wednesday, she will outline a tougher stance to enforce the resulting deal.
The sharply contrasting narratives reflect not just the ideological poles of a divisive debate that formally got underway in Congress on Tuesday. They also illustrate the divergent goals of two political leaders with keen interests in writing, or rewriting, the history of one of the most consequential foreign policy initiatives of recent years.For Mr. Cheney, the former vice president now in retirement, the debate is a chance to defend his team’s approach, even if that means overlooking some of the background. During a speech to supporters on Tuesday, Mr. Cheney denounced what he called a “shameful deal” that would risk a new Holocaust and possibly lead to a nuclear attack on the United States. “It is madness,” he said.
For Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state now running for president, the challenge is to walk a careful line between claiming credit for a much-criticized deal and positioning herself as tougher than her former boss. In a speech set for Wednesday, aides said, she will go beyond Mr. Obama by vowing to make it official policy to take military action if Iran races for the capacity to build a bomb, not just keep the option on the table, as he would.
Both are selectively presenting the history of the Iran issue. Mr. Cheney left out the fact that Iran went from a few hundred centrifuges spinning early in the Bush years to more than 5,000 when the two of them left office — a total the Obama deal would return Iran to. Nor did Mr. Cheney mention that the Bush administration ignored a diplomatic offer that would have limited Iran to just a few hundred centrifuges in a pilot plant.
Mrs. Clinton has her own spin on history. In the speech set for Wednesday, she will argue that she was a central player in escalating pressure on Iran through sanctions far tougher than anything the Bush administration put in place. Those included drastically limiting the country’s ability to sell oil and access international financing. She plans no reference to the other form of pressure: American and Israeli sabotage of the Iranian nuclear complex, a covert program that began under Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.
The elements of history that both choose to use or ignore illustrates the ladder perfectly. Their only point of agreement–the deal with Iran is historic!