PARIS – This month’s agreements on the Greek crisis and Iran’s nuclear program are undoubtedly important achievements. But the comparisons that have accompanied both deals have tended toward hyperbole, impeding rational discussion of their implications for Europe, the Middle East, and the prospects for international diplomacy.
The deal between Greece and its creditors, for example, has been compared to the Treaty of Versailles, with the Greeks forced to accept ruinous terms of “surrender.” But economic depression, however difficult, is not war, and the position of today’s Greece cannot compare to that of the defeated Germans in 1918.
Meanwhile, opponents of the accord to limit Iran’s nuclear activities for the next 15 years have likened it to the Munich Agreement (shameful appeasement of an evil foe), while its supporters have compared it to the rapprochement between the United States and China in the 1970s. But the Iranians are nothing like the Nazis, and there is no country like the Soviet Union posing the kind of threat that inspired US President Richard Nixon to head to Beijing in 1972.
Equally problematic has been the tendency to compare the two sets of negotiations to each other. Beyond timing, they have little in common. What they do share is that their “success” was driven largely by the sense that powerful external threats made the alternative – no deal at all – much worse.