The Iran Nuclear Deal: What It Really Means

With Cuba and Iran, perhaps Obama is finally working to earn his peace prize?

With Cuba and Iran, perhaps Obama is finally working to earn his peace prize?

W.J. Astore

When I was a teenager, America’s two biggest allies in the Middle East were Israel and Iran.  We considered the Shah of Iran to be a strong ally in the region, and sold him some of our most advanced weaponry, including the F-14 Tomcat fighter with its powerful radar as well as HAWK surface-to-air missiles.  Students from Iran attended American colleges and universities.  Heck, we even helped Iran with its fledgling nuclear power industry.

All that changed, of course, with the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Iranian hostage crisis.  America became “The Great Satan,” American flags were burned, and young Americans were told we had been betrayed.  We took to wearing t-shirts that read “Put a hola in the Ayatollah,” featuring a head shot of the Ayatollah Khomeini with a sniper’s cross hair superimposed on it.  (I should know: I owned and wore that very t-shirt.)

That kind of estrangement, bordering on the unhinged, is what is changing for the better because of the nuclear deal with Iran, notes Peter Van Buren at TomDispatch.com.  In Van Buren’s words:

Here’s what actually matters most [about the Iran nuclear deal]: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. 

Iran and the USA have pulled back from the brink of war.  Sorry: No more off-key renditions by John McCain about bombing Iran.  Billions of dollars saved, countless innocent lives spared.  What’s to complain about?

As Van Buren notes, diplomacy, at least for the time being, was allowed to work.  In his words:

It’s a breakthrough because through it the U.S. and Iran acknowledge shared interests for the first time, even as they recognize their ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. That’s how adversaries work together: you don’t have to make deals like the July accord with your friends. Indeed, President Obama’s description of how the deal will be implemented — based on verification, not trust — represents a precise choice of words. The reference is to President Ronald Reagan, who used the phrase “trust but verify” in 1987 when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Russians.

The agreement was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. Men and women in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of “you’re either with us or against us,” is called compromise. It’s an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even gain the release of the four Americans held in Iran. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised since Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (Cuba being the sole exception).

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished.  Republicans, having no other viable path to power, reflexively attack the deal even before they’ve read it.  Impostors like Mike Huckabee actually suggest the deal is leading Jews to the door of the ovens, an outrageously inflammatory and irresponsible reference to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews in World War II.  Such rhetoric, wildly exaggerated, conveniently obscures the real fears of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

And what are those fears?  Here’s Van Buren again to explain:

No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo — hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh — just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.

He nails it.  After all, what’s the worse that can happen?  Let’s say Iran cheats and starts to develop a nuclear weapon.  In that case, the U.S. will have broad support in attacking Iran to eliminate that capability.  Meanwhile, the thousands of nuclear warheads that the U.S. possesses, and the hundreds of nuclear bombs the Israelis possess, should serve as a sufficient deterrent against Iranian nuclear designs (assuming the Iranians ever seek to fulfill them).

After so many failed military interventions in the Middle East, after so much death and destruction, isn’t it high time the world community tried diplomacy and engagement?  I’d say so.  And this from a former teenager who wore a t-shirt advocating the assassination of Iran’s revolutionary leader.

15 thoughts on “The Iran Nuclear Deal: What It Really Means

  1. I have a first person story to share when I was in the USAFE Air Force back in 1975 I flew back to the States on an Iranian C-130 for free because the Iranians would have their Hercules Aircraft serviced @ McGuire A.F.B. N.J. These Iranian Aircrews also took along their Families. Onboard I never met a more cordial, or welcoming Crew, and even got to sit in the Cockpit with the Pilots for much of the Flight. Even now I have Facebook Iranian Young People as Friends.Considering the way things are going for US in the Middle East I for one think we need all the friends we can get…

  2. Phil.. The Iranians are probably the most advanced towards democratic rule and social and economic freedom of all of the other Middle Eastern oppressive monarchies. Yes, there is this religious overhang which can be oppressive where the Grand Ayatollah vets candidates but in a country like ours, where we are ending up with one of two families, (Bush & Clinton) as a likely president we can’t throw too many stones at Iran. Let us also remember that even with the control the clergy has has vetting candidates in Iran, the last election there threw out a repressive regime and installed a relative reformer in power. Hence the current talks on nuclear abstinence were able t take place. .
    As a sideline, my half Jewish nephew just married an Iranian-American girl and she is a wonderful person. She is a trauma therapist and among her clients are American Iraq-Afganistan veterans with PTSD.

  3. Presently the religious right GOP Congressional fanatics do not appear to have veto override capability. Their plutocratic policy deciders may allow them to relentlessly spew armageddon fantasies through the treaty ratification process and beyond, assuming the plutocrats see profit from enacting this agreement. Some of that group are also Christian fundamentalist fanatics, so there is no absolute guarantee money will talk while eschatological bullshit walks.

    It has been so long since the USA practiced anything remotely resembling sensible foreign policy there can’t be much institutional memory available at State. Somebody must have stayed up very late many nights reading history and actually grokking its gist for a change. And then an even more impressive miracle happened: their recommendation was actually adopted. Hallelujah.

  4. I’ll offer a hypothesis for the sake of argument:
    The Iranians believe the real reason Congress is hostile to the nuke deal is that they really want regime change … considering
    1) Kermit of the CIA and his 1953 coup delivered Iran to the Shah (and his secret police), … US did it before why not again …
    2) Afghanistan and Iraq are examples … done it before why not again…
    3) A new regime in Iran would please US clients in the region …
    4) thar b oil (spoken with a pirate’s accent)

    Can anyone name a nuclear armed state that suffered regime change (from another nation)?

  5. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    “No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo — hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh — just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.”

    Bingo!

  6. It shouldn’t be surprising for anyone to come to the realization that kind, thoughtful, well-spoken people reside throughout this half-dark sphere. Most, if given a bit of a chance, just want to have an honest living and raise their children with peace and hope. Iran is a rather large country with economic power and a cultivated history. Although Obama’s tenure has been disappointing (to say the least), it is gratifying that he has enough sense to not be belligerent towards Iran (we shouldn’t be belligerent at all).
    Jon Stewart is wrapping up the Daily Show and recently had his his last opportunity (presumably) to grill Obama face-to-face. Of course the Iranian Deal is topical, and Stewart began by facetiously applauding Obama for trying this new thing called “diplomacy”. He also queried Obama about Middle East policy in general, basically asking what we are doing and “whose side are we on?”. Unfortunately, he stopped short of bringing any unpleasant facts to light nor did he ask any truly difficult questions. Stewart was at least able to get off another facetious quip when he asked (now that we’re doing diplomacy) “Do we still get to bomb people?”. Obama laughed (turning my stomach) and went on.

    So, three cheers for diplomatic relations with Iran!
    But don’t look over here…we are starving and killing and destroying Yemenis & Palestinians.

    • Interesting article. Thanks. The deal is much needed. Oil prices should drop, and tensions in the Middle East should ease. So of course there are those who want oil prices high and who thrive on constant warfare — for them, the deal is bad.

  7. Ooops, I found another view, (http://mondediplo.com/openpage/the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-just) one that is mirrors my views and will promote understanding of Iran. I do have one problem with the article. It leaves out dealings of the conservative right with Iran, the deal known as arms for hostages. I doubt any conservatives will read this but Reagan did acknowledge ‘arms for hostages’ (“A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. ”
    Ronald Reagan, television address on 4 March 1987)
    It seems to me that to many Americans refuse to let fact interfere with their beliefs. Suffer a quote from John B. Glubbs ‘The Fate of Empires’ “. . . The normal course followed by nations in decline, internal differences are not reconciled in an attempt to save the nation. On the contrary, internal rivalries become more acute, as the nation becomes weaker.” I think you can agree that the statement summarizes politics in the USA.
    Please read the article.

  8. Brief comments: 1.) any caving in by Iranian regime is a national humiliation. What gives the imperial powers of “the west” the “right” to dictate these terms to Iran? Of course it’s only the threat of military annihilation (“might makes right”). The source of joyful demonstrations in the streets of Tehran was simply relief that they needn’t fear being attacked today. But next month? Next year? Forget not the very loose cannon called Netanyahu; 2.) Mike Huckabee, of course, tries to position himself as THE ultimate “christian” among the GOP yahoos jockeying for position for 2016 election. He simply represents a would-be Ayatollah who wears a cross around his neck rather than a turban on his head; 3.) dollop of diplomacy or no, US activity in the region will continue to be ruled by the thirst for crude oil and the psychotic lust for power over other peoples.

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