Monday, July 20, 2015

The Historic Nuclear Deal With Iran

Détente & Rapprochement


Meeting In Vienna: “Delegates from Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States in Vienna on Tuesday after agreeing to an accord to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability,” The New York Times writes on July 14, 2015.
Photo Credit: Carlos Baria
Source: NYT

Whatever you think about the nuclear deal that the P5+1 nations (along with the  EU) negotiated and signed with Iran, significantly limiting its nuclear ambitions for possibly 15 years, what ought to be loudly acknowledged is how historic a document it is. Although there were many nations involved in the negotiations in Vienna, the chief players were two long-standing enemies of almost four decades: the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On July 14, 2015, what was agreed to by all parties was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a document that runs to 109 pages and includes five annexes. The details are important, but so is the fact that an agreement took place at all. Let us not drown in the details while forgetting the larger implications.

A well-written piece, by Elizabeth Drew, in The New York Review of Books reminds us of the importance of this event, a culmination of 20 months of arduous and tenacious negotiations, with many false starts, false hopes and periods of nothing happening; yet, no one gave up, and credit ought to go on the U.S. side to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for their faith in the process. this is no small matter, and deserves recognition.

In “The Iran Deal Goes to Washington” (July 17, 2015), Drew writes
That many of the opponents’ arguments don’t quite add up suggests their position is informed by some underlying, unspoken views. In fact there’s a longtime strain in the Republican Party that opposes negotiations with countries we don’t like. Republican presidents Nixon and Reagan were attacked from within their own party for negotiating with “the enemy”; Barack Obama, in his opening to Cuba and his deal with Iran, is taking on that view full-blast, as he said he would in his 2008 campaign. In the words of Dick Cheney, “We don’t negotiate with evil.” The term “Munich” is tossed around by some members of Congress who don’t know what happened there. Cheney and his neocon allies made sure that the US didn’t let the UN or respected international weapons inspectors get in the way of their drive for war with Saddam Hussein. If the inspectors found no weapons of mass destruction, that just showed how wily the Iraqis were.

One can detect in some of the statements of objectors to the deal a refusal to accept that the United States isn’t all-powerful and can’t get its way—by force if necessary—against any other country it opposes on an issue. The idea of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is so close to the surface of what many of the deal’s opponents say that it’s hard to ignore. Yet, quite apart from the side effects of such an attack, even if it were successful it would, according to various experts, only set back its nuclear program by one to three years. The negotiated deal would prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon for at least ten years. If during that time changes occur within Iran that make the country more reasonable to engage with, or even if the deal were to be the first step in Iran’s eventual joining of the community of nations, it would be all the more significant. But Obama has made it clear that he’s not counting on that.
I was at one time skeptical that such a deal could be reached, but no longer. Having read much about it the last few days from various media sources, including the arguments put forth by the deal’s opponents, I think that the deal is a good one. It has been well-received and endorsed worldwide by political leaders, international organizations like the U.N. and NATO and by nuclear-arms experts, including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is by no means perfect, but there is no better option.

I have read many of the articles that declaim the deal faulty and flawed; they come from the usual and expected sources. Some people, even if intelligent, can’t easily admit that the president, his secretary of state and the negotiating team have done a commendable job. Should they not receive any credit? The doom-and-gloom scenarios become incredible if they are used too often? The easiest thing is to find fault with the deal and be actively negative, imagining the worst-possible outcomes, instead of the best. Predictions of future events are always risky.

The reaction in Israel among politicians has generally been negative, and understandably so. but it has some support among Israel’s security establishment who, despite their misgivings, hold a more realistic view of what can now be achieved. Cooperation on matters of regional security will remain strong between the  two long-time allies, the U.S. and Israel, and this still counts. On a speculative note, the deal, might eventually open discussions between the two nations now officially hostile to each other.

Not today, but perhaps later. It must be remembered that Iran was the second Muslim country after Turkey to recognize Israel as a sovereign nation. There is no reason why Israel and Iran cannot again establish diplomatic and trade relations, as was the case before 1979’s Iranian Revolution. This is being optimistic, but then again this is what would bring about regional peace and stability.

I view it as a mistake for American lawmakers to vote against the deal (what is the alternative?), notably if it is based merely on partisan politics or election campaigning, where the striking of a superficial pro-Israel pose or on showing disdain and personal animus of the Administration—and in particular of President Obama—will somehow energize the party faithful and win more votes in 2016. Legislators ought to vote on the merits of the deal, which I do not think is asking too much.

The Republican Party has for too long been influenced by the Christian Right and a political-religious ideology steeped in biblical eschatology. It might come across as moral leadership to some, but it is often nasty, puerile and anachronistic. This is a mistake that needs to be rectified, if the party is to regain a modicum of credibility. President Richard Nixon, it must be remembered, made historic visits with both China and the Soviet Union in 1972; both had long-term positive results. Yet, both were criticized by the hawks in the party.

An important point in diplomacy is that nations gain peace by negotiating with their enemies, and not by engaging with them militarily. (Does anyone genuinely think that a military option is a good one?) No one is suggesting that this deal will immediately stop Iran from financially supporting terrorist groups in the region, or stop Iran from meddling and expanding its regional ambitions, or compel Iran to become a reasonable member of the community of nations with an exemplary or enviable human-rights record. These would all be wonderful and desirable changes to see in a region that requires less chaos and more stability.

This might happen one day, but this is not the nature or basis of this deal. First, trust will have to increase between Iran and the U.S. This is no easy matter considering their decades of festering mistrust dating to the 1953 joint British-American coup d’état—endorsed if not ordered by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the height of the Cold War—that ousted the country’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. This has not been forgotten by the Iranians; and the harsh rhetoric emanating from the religious leaders reflects, to some degree, this continuing mistrust. History is used as a weapon, which is often the case, when leaders have nothing else to offer their people.

Yet, there is cautious optimism. A deal was signed by all parties, including Iran (and Russia); it is backed by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This current deal might become the basis for many more agreements, including normalization of relations and trade. One day we might be talking about détente and rapprochement.

Not yet, though, For now, it seems that the deal will achieve what it says it will; to expect more today is both unrealistic and unprecedented.

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