The Iran Doomsday Clock
As the doomsday clock ticks, US politicians and allies rush to condemn the Iran nuclear deal.
After almost 20 months of a carefully choreographed diplomatic pirouette, the long-awaited nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1—the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany—has finally been made official. So, has the time come to celebrate the virtues of diplomacy, the nobility of dialogue and the tenacity of hard negotiations?
No, of course not. Congress now has 60 days to approve this landmark deal, and the countdown has just begun.
Cue the chorus of disapproval, the maelstrom of discontent and the absolute righteous indignation of politician and pundit alike. But, for good measure, let’s insert some more platitudes, reckless assessment and political slogans.
Iran is evil. US is good. Moral certainty prevails, much like that time we went to war with Iraq.
The deal between the P5+1 and Iran is arguably the best and most progressive piece of foreign policy to come out of the Middle East in the past 15 years. While the baseline for successful policy in the region is not hard to exceed—when balanced against the failures in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen—the nuclear deal provides the context for a much-needed geopolitical realignment. One that will open up new economic markets, encourage reconciliation and prevent (at least in the short-term) the potential for another armed conflict.
What is all the yowling from the peanut gallery about, then?
Republicans and their enormous roster of presidential candidates have naturally weighed in with their cacophony of doomsday rhetoric, as have our always supportive and ever appreciative allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
I will, therefore, endeavor to address a wide variety of talking points from some of the more portentous statesmen in this group. Each of whom think the Iran deal should be terminated, for the far better option of perpetual hostility.
In the immortal words of the Roman poet Horace, let us “Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise” (hopefully, maybe?).
Through the Perpetual Looking Glass
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in a recent speech, called the deal “one of America’s worst diplomatic failures,” followed by, “Looking ahead, we need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on the very first day in office, put crippling economic sanctions and convince our allies to do exactly the same thing.”
Sigh, OK, here we go…
Beyond the absurd conjecture of this statement—given the diplomatic failure that led to the Iraq War and, by consequence, destabilized the entire Middle East, leading to the rise of the Islamic State—the nuclear deal with Iran will remove two-thirds of all centrifuges, storing them under international supervision and granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) entry to nuclear facilities and areas of potential interest, in addition to permitting access to Iran’s supply chains for 20-25 years. The agreement also stipulates a ban on producing or acquiring any highly enriched uranium for 15 years, while reducing current stockpiles by almost 98%.
Getting a country like Iran that is permanently belligerent to the US, let alone the entire West, to accept an inspections regime that is nearly unfettered is not just an achievement, but a substantial victory.
Plus, the idea that sanctions might somehow be reapplied without a breach of the agreement stipulations is next to impossible. There is little chance they would be ratified by the rest of the P5+1, making renewed sanctions unilateral to the US. This would not only isolate Europe, but it would also provide space for Russia and China to exert greater economic and political influence throughout the Middle East.
The only loser in Scott Walker’s scenario will be the US.
Next, we have the near ceaseless umbrage taken by our dear ally Israel. A country that seems content to subvert our foreign policy every chance it gets, while never really articulating what it offers the people of America in return.
Nonetheless, Binyamin Netanyahu had this to say: “The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost international sponsor of terrorism … In fact, the deal gives Iran every incentive not to change.”
The narrative of Iran being the world’s leading brand of terrorism has been effective in the past, but not so effective since the rise of the Islamic State and the breakdown of geopolitical structures in the Middle East. More to the point, none of the recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia, France, Denmark, Australia or the US have been organized or funded by Iran, making this line of reasoning quite one dimensional.
Yes, Iran funds Hezbollah. Yes, Iran funds Hamas. Yes, Iran funds the Shiite militias in Iraq. Yes, Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria. Should any of these impact the foreign policy position of the US, vis-à-vis the nuclear deal? No.
The threat from Hezbollah and Hamas are unique to Israel; they are not existential threats to the US and should not be taken as such. Nor should US foreign policy interests be beholden to a country that was singled out for criticism in 20 UN resolutions between 2014-15. Most ironic is the fact that Israel has the only undeclared nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, but refuses to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—of which Iran is a signatory.
Iranian support to Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria is boorish, but not beyond the bounds of any state looking to project its own influence. And, as it stands, these militias are the only fighting force capable of challenging the Islamic State without a complete reengagement of US military on the ground in Iraq (something most Americans are not super keen on).
This is the devil’s bargain, but highly indicative of the complex world we now live in.
With regard to Netanyahu’s remarks, I would squabble that Iran already has an incentive to change, and this change originates with the signing of the nuclear deal. Furthermore, maintaining a sanctions regime without the possibility of a deal, while continually threatening military action, all but guarantees nuclear breakout and squanders any opportunity for political change inside Iran.
The Wisdom of Ages
Moving on to more doom-laden pastures…
Now comes the time where I must implore of you one small indulgence, as I circle back to presidential hopeful and part-time Canadian, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, whom I quote: “The greatest risk to this Iranian deal is that millions of Americans will be murdered by radical theocratic zealots.”
The murder of millions of Americans via a nuclear apocalypse, Mr. Cruz?
This, after the exuberance on the streets of Tehran when the deal was announced. Iranians were even filmed cheering, “Green and prosperous Iran does not need an atomic bomb.” While there was some hard-line rhetoric, including the always excitable “death to America” chant, it was probably negated by our continued instance on labeling Iran “evil.” Maybe we should just agree to split the difference?
It is also worth mentioning that these theocratic zealots have one of the most enterprising art house cinemas in the world, one of the only condom factories in the Middle East and allow sex-change operations by decree of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.
This is not an attempt to excuse state repression or issues surrounding human rights, but it does work to dispel a certain myth. One that ambitious politicians like Cruz promulgate as political strategy to play on the fears of Americans who lack the understanding to make informed decisions about foreign policy.
Iran, far from being a country whose sole existence is to wage holy-war against the US, is actually recognized as being one of the more liberal states in the Middle East. When polled, 51% of Iranians held a positive opinion of the US. Iranians do not want to be at war with the US, much like Americans do not want to be at war with Iran.
But facts are not important to Cruz, as he continued this baseless assessment by informing his constituents that Iran will load a nuclear bomb onto a ship and detonate it “to shut down the entire electrical grid on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Just to soothe our collective consciousness, and temper the fears of those who believe we might be careening toward nuclear oblivion, it is worth mentioning that the US still maintains a military deterrent strategy referred to as “mutual assured destruction.” Which effectively means this: Should Iran reach nuclear break out and instigate a thermonuclear war, the US reserves the right to totally and utterly annihilate Iran with a much larger and infinitely more powerful nuclear arsenal.
All of this, of course, would have to be orchestrated under the careful and continuous watch of the IAEA, which will be monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites for the next 20-25 years.
This is a winning strategy for a country that just spent two years negotiating a deal it will never live to see.
Check and mate, Mr. Cruz.
The Hardest of Truths
Finally, there is Saudi Arabia, where an anonymous diplomat told The Washington Post that “If sanctions are lifted, Iran will try even harder to redesign the region. Iran is trying to change the Middle East, and this is unacceptable to Sunnis.”
Sunnis, not Saudis. No truer statement could be made to illustrate the rubric by which Saudi Arabia views its role in the Middle East. Not one of a state power, but one of a sectarian power, which is partly sustained by the idea of religious conflict with the Shiite of Iran.
This was echoed by another Republican presidential candidate, the mostly coherent Lindsay Graham, who intimated that the Iran deal would be a declaration of war against Sunni Arabs.
Yet given the decades of Sunni proselytization, funded by oil revenues from Saudi Arabia, which legitimized the ideologies espoused by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, this seems a bit dramatic. Iran still remains a minority religious state, whose Shiite sect only accounts for 10-13% of all global Muslims—essentially limiting its power to narrow spheres of influence in Sunni majority countries, where Shiite might be present.
The other part of Saudi Arabia’s intransigence toward the Iran nuclear deal originates with adverse economic conditions. Once the sanctions are lifted, Iran will kick-start a nascent oil sector that is projected to export close to 1.5 million barrels per day. As the market is flooded with surplus oil, the cost per barrel will fall even lower. And if you are a unitary oil state like Saudi Arabia, this does not bode well for your long-term financial projections.
On the other hand, if you are a gas guzzling SUV-loving American, this provides one more incentive for you to support the nuclear deal with Iran.
In summation, I will leave you with this: There are very few reasons not to support the nuclear deal, and even fewer reasons to maintain a state of permanent antagonism with Iran. Was it the best deal ever negotiated? No, but that deal would have required a total dismantling of Iranian nuclear infrastructure—and that was never going to happen. Is this deal good enough to support some measure of rapprochement with Iran? Yes.
As the 60-day countdown commences, our elected leaders must weigh the choices: reconciliation and détente or antagonism and hostility. Because in the end, the US might slowly start to resemble the country that needs to rejoin the international community.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.