The Iran Treaty: Obama Channels His Predecessors

This blog was originally published on Forbes as The Iran Treaty: Obama Channels His Predecessors on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

When President Obama announced the historic nuclear treaty with Iran, his statement echoed the words of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. In 1987, when Mr. Reagan announced his historic disarmament treaty with Russia, he said, “We have listened to the wisdom of an old Russian maxim. Though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is, ‘Doveryai, No Proveryai’—‘Trust but verify.’” Today, Mr. Obama said, “…this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification.”

Mr. Obama was also channeling a classic rhetorical technique called “antithesis,” or juxtaposing two contrasting ideas to create a positive emphasis. At the beginning of his statement, Mr. Obama cited John F. Kennedy’s famous use of antithesis in his Inaugural Address:

Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Abraham Lincoln famously used antithesis in his Gettysburg Address:

We cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Mr. Obama used antithesis in his Keynote speech at the 2007 Democratic National Convention:

There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.

Over time, the antithetical messages in these speeches have resolved positively:

  • Mr. Reagan’s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has endured
  • Mr. Kennedy’s negotiations ended the Cuba Missile Crisis. After years of a standoff with Cuba, we have reopened diplomatic relations with them
  • Mr. Lincoln’s Civil War ended with the abolition of slavery
  • Mr. Obama’s Keynote vaulted him from obscurity to the path to the presidency

Let us hope for a positive outcome in the nuclear treaty with Iran.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as The Iran Treaty: Obama Channels His Predecessors on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.


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