|Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989)|
It's difficult to reason with a roomful of hysterical people who are convinced they are about to die. But that's essentially what's happening in the public discussion over the Iranian nuclear weapons agreement, which is called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). For reasons beneath justification, and to the exclusion of virtually everyone else on the planet, a small mob of Israelis and hyperventilating Republicans--along with one or two turncoat Democrats--are beside themselves with terror at the prospect of a negotiated weapons deal with Iran. Congress is acting like a bunch of white-knuckled drunks, and Netanyahu is waving a bottle under their nose. To hear them rant, you'd think Barack Obama's presidential pen is equipped with a doomsday device that'll send Iranian missiles screaming toward Washington the instant the ink is dry. The hysteria would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous and irresponsible.
I won't bore the reader by attempting to mount a point-by-point defense of the agreement. Others have already done a masterful job of it, including President Obama, Israeli columnist Akiva Eldar, Iranian journalist Mohammad Ali Shabani, and New Mexico senator Martin Heinrich. I encourage you to read them and draw your own conclusions. However, it should be pointed out that the JCPOA has already been unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council, the European Union, and the P5+1, which consists of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany. If that's not good enough for the Israelis and the Republicans, I suggest they restrict their apocalyptic fantasies to some kind of online role-playing game, if not in the interests of international harmony, then certainly to avoid further embarrassment to themselves.
I don't know how much simpler to make this. Let's suppose for a moment that everyone in the world except the Israelis and Republicans turn out to be wrong--a profound unlikelihood--and that those sneaky Iranians decide to thumb their noses at us and develop a nuclear weapon anyway. If that occurs, two things will happen in rapid succession: (1) Israel will immediately know it, since they have the best intelligence infrastructure in the Middle East--let's not forget, these are the guys who penetrated and destroyed the Iranian centrifuges with a diabolically clever Stuxnet virus--and (2) the Iranian nuclear weapons facility will surrender its corporeal integrity in massive fireball, thanks to Isreali war planes. Israel has already made it explicitly, abundantly clear that the instant Iran begins developing a bomb, they will launch preemptive airstrikes without the niceties of a coalition approval or U.N. sanction. I take them at their word, as should the Iranians.
We have nothing to lose, but a great deal to gain by building a working diplomatic relationship with Iran, which we have not had in many years.
I must've dozed off at the precise moment when Iran replaced ISIL as our chief threat to global stability. However, it's worth mentioning that if it weren't for Iran, ISIL would already have swept through Syria and Iraq. The heroic Kurds have fought valiantly against ISIL, and U.S. air strikes have inflicted devastating casualties, however the most effective ground forces in the war on ISIL have been the fierce, Iranian-backed Shi'a militias, without whom the Iraqi army would already have been decimated, and without whose protection Baghdad would long ago have fallen to the black flag. Iran is the most potent enemy of our enemy.
In spite of our adversarial history, Iran is willing to negotiate a nuclear weapons agreement. In spite of the occasional incendiary rhetoric, Iran understands that it has vital interests at stake, and an important role to play in the future of the Middle East. ISIL does not. Unlike Iran, the Islamic State will never negotiate; if they ever manage to obtain a nuclear weapon--or any weapon of mass destruction--they will not hesitate to deploy it against Israel or the United States. ISIL literally views itself as the holy engine of the apocalypse. They simply want to see the world burn. Like the mad tyrant Caligula, they would that all of humanity had but one neck that they might cut it.
Without Iran, we cannot beat ISIL. So, Republicans need to make up their minds. Would they rather defeat ISIL or pucker up to Netanyahu? To me, it's not even a choice. I'd rather have Iranian-backed Shi'a militia boots on the ground than American troops any day. I suspect the Iranians and Iraqis feel the same way.
But amid all of the high-pitch anti-Iranian rhetoric, what Netanyahu and the Republicans have forgotten is that none of this happened in a vacuum. Iran may once have been a designated "state sponsor of terror," but long before anyone heard of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the United States sponsored its own kind of terror, which ultimately cost the lives of thousands of innocent Iranians.
In 1952, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency staged a coup d'état in Iran, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, primarily because Mossadegh was planning to nationalize Iranian oil reserves, which would have been very bad for U.S. oil and business interests. In Mossadegh's place we installed the monstrous Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, a Saddam Hussein-like despot whose notorious secret police--the dreaded Savak--subsequently tortured and murdered thousands of political prisoners.
The brutality, savagery, and corruption of the Shah's U.S.-backed regime eventually sparked a massive Islamist uprising known as the Iranian Revolution, led by prominent opposition clerics such as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Military and clerical leaders of the uprising later formed a powerful political and military organization called Hezbollah, who would later provide training, weapons, and organizational support for a fledgling, ragtag group of militants known as Al Qaeda. Who, a few years later, would fly a pair of Boeing jumbo jets into the World Trade Center.
Call it what you will. Payback. Karma. What goes around comes around. In any case, the circle of agony was complete.
Now, we have a chance to make amends for our past sins in Iran. We owe it to the Iranians to give them a chance.
Diplomatic agreements, like interpersonal relationships, are rarely all-or-nothing propositions. Life simply doesn't work that way. It involves compromise and finesse, especially among former adversaries. Diplomacy is the art by which civilized nations agree to settle their differences without having to go to war, however in the kindergarten playground free-for-all of American politics, such subtleties are lost on the Luddites.
The object of the Iranian agreement is not simply to dissuade Tehran from developing its nuclear weapons program, but to do so in a way that allows Iran's leaders to save face. This is vitally important, and it is the only way forward. Iran has a potentially vibrant economy that does not depend exclusively on oil. They have enormous human capital, and a highly educated population. Because of their people, they have the potential to come out from under the shadows of the past and become not only a great nation, but the predominant stabilizing force in the Middle East. And we're going to have to help them, regardless of what Netanyahu says.
The government of Iran is slowly, grudgingly, moving into the 21st century. Change is happening within Iran's political system. A lively opposition exists, and many of the Iranian people do not agree with the policies of the current government. We have allies and friends among the Iranian people, but seismic, society-wide changes will not happen overnight, and we cannot force it. It must happen organically, when the Iranian people are ready for it. Hopefully by then, their government will be, too.
"The Historic Deal that Will Prevent Iran From Acquiring A Nuclear Weapon," Whitehouse.gov
"Israel increasingly isolated as Iran opens up to region," Akiva Eldar, Al-Monitor, Aug. 18, 2015
"The most incredibly lucid explanation, by a US Senator, of why the Iran Deal MUST be supported," flitedocnm, Daily Kos, Aug. 17, 2015
"Nuke deal won't change Iran's approach to region," Mohammad Ali Shabani, Al Monitor, Aug. 7, 2015