Now is the time: for Iran and the U.S. to stop all the bullshit, stop all the posturing, all the grandstanding. On both sides. Time for the pragmatists on both sides to step forward, to put their cards on the table, to go “all in.” There will be no other time.
The last time an Iranian pragmatist was in power was in 2003. That was Mohammed Khatami. He too suggested a Grand Bargain to the Americans. He essentially offered to suspend Iran’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions and normalizing relations. Bush wasn’t interested. He was listening to Dick “Svengali” Cheney, who told him he had bigger fish to fry in Iraq and Afghanistan and with the rest of the Axis of Evil. That his job was to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East.
That was an opportunity lost. Another one didn’t come for another decade. Now is that time.
Iran has a new president. He has, to quote Grace Paley’s wonderful story, made “enormous changes at the last minute.” He offered Rosh Hashana greetings to the world’s Jews. He’s freed political prisoners. He’s written Pres. Obama telling him he’s serious about-face to face, high level talks. He’s penned this op-ed in the Washington Post. He intimated he might be willing to mothball Iran’s top nuclear facility, Fordo, if the west makes an attractive enough counter-offer. He’s said that Iran could accept any leader democratically elected by the people of Syria. The only other thing he can do is draw in big letters with magic marker on a poster saying: “I’m here and ready to talk” and hold it up in front of the White House.
The question isn’t whether Obama is listening. He is. The question is what he’s hearing. Does he understand that this is the moment? There will be no other. He either grasps this opportunity, and does it now, or he loses another chance for at least another decade. But unlike the past decade, during which war has barely been averted between Iran and Israel and the rest of the west, the next decade will virtually guarantee war. Not the puny wars Israel fights against Lebanon and Gaza in which it is both David AND Goliath, and its opponents are a blade of grass in the field. But wars in which Israel will face a far more formidable enemy. Perhaps not an enemy fully its match. But one that can inflict great pain. Pain Israel hasn’t suffered since 1973 when it lost an unimaginable 3,000 dead soldiers.
Israeli leaders like Ehud Barak boast that only 500 will die, as if that’s not an almost unbearable tragedy in a population of only 7-million. Israelis are full of braggadocio on such matters. It is only after they’ve committed to such lunacy and suffered the consequences that they realize precisely what they’ve done. By the time Iran’s missiles rain down on Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva, (after Israel has pummeled Iranian targets) it will be too late.
Does Obama want that on his head? That he could’ve resolved a conflict that has evaded presidents since Jimmy Carter, and lost the chance because he was too timid; or wasn’t willing to take the political risk? This is one of those moments when a politician has to ask himself: why am I doing this job? I have a chance to make a major contribution to stabilizing one of the most volatile regions in the world. World leaders wait all their lives for such an opportunity. Some don’t ever get the chance. If you don’t step up now, you might as well go home and teach constitutional law to first-year law students.
Here’s what not to do: don’t have Ben Rhodes go to the NY Times and boast about how your tough policies were what forced Iran to the table. Don’t let loose racist bullshit claiming that Iranians like all Middle Easterners only understand the language of force; and that you showed that steely resolve that speaks their language:
“The common thread is that you don’t achieve diplomatic progress in the Middle East without significant pressure,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said Thursday. “In Syria, it was the serious threat of a military strike; in Iran it was a sanctions regime built up over five years.”
That’s horseshit. It makes you look puny and petty. Stop trying for political advantage. Stop trying to work the angles to insulate yourself from attacks from your right-flank. If you have to, go to the people and explain what you’re doing and why. They’ll understand.
If you think thumping your chest and telling the world how you bested the Ayatollahs at their own game and brought them to heel is the way to go, then you simply don’t understand that there are guys just as tough as you in Iran just itching to prove you wrong. You don’t understand that the pragmatists on both sides are holding on by a very thin thread. That thread can snap at any moment. And that will bring the fire and brimstone crowd on both sides back to power. And we all know where that will lead.
Watch out for Aipac and the Lobby. Their Boss Bibi is livid and feels you sold him out. He’s gonna scream and holler about how the Jews are always sold out throughout their history. He’s gonna call you a wimp and betrayer of Israel. But you need to stand tall and say that what you’re doing you’re doing for Israel. But even more for America.
It’s time for the mainstream media to stop pandering, stop sloganeering about Iran. For example, three NY Times reporters in a single 24 hour period called Iran’s overtures to the west a “charm offensive.” This sort of condescension is itself offensive. It’s time for reporters to stop telling their readers what Iran will have to give up in order to achieve an agreement:
…There is talk of finding a way for it to maintain a face-saving capacity to produce a very limited amount of nuclear fuel…
This sort of grandstanding prejudges the results of the negotiations. It’s akin to poisoning the jury pool with prejudicial comments about the accused. It’s the job of negotiators to come up with a reasonable compromise both sides can accept. There is no provision in the NPT that calls for nations to have only a “limited amount of nuclear fuel.” Treating Iran as if it was any different from any other signatory of NPT in that regard is unfair and downright, well, offensive.
Speaking of offensive, this NY Times article originally contained a highly inflammatory and offensive quotation from Iran “analyst” Meir Javedanfar:
“As a result of the sanctions, the regime in Iran is under real pressure, and Rouhani comes to save the regime” Mr. Javedanfar told Israel Radio. “If Rouhani does the work, this is good for Israel. If the Iranians do the job, our pilots and soldiers don’t have to.”
It implied that Iran’s president was little more than a stooge for Israel, something that surely would ingratiate him with Iran’s hardliners. Since Javedanfar spoke these words in an Israeli radio interview he was clearly pandering to his Israeli audience and not considering how it might damage Rouhani. The quotation is now gone (you can read the original here) from the NYT. There are two ways of interpreting such comments: either Javendafar is stupid and didn’t realize how such a view would play in Iran (in which case why is he an analyst?); or Javedanfar slyly and consciously wants to undermine Iranian moderates because he doesn’t trust them or the regime and thinks, like Netanyahu, that they’re “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” In any case, where did the quotation go and why?
We’ve had a hostage crisis. We’ve shot down an Iranian airliner. Our ally Israel has murdered Iranian scientists. We’ve infected them with computer viruses. We’ve spewed hate and bile back and forth for decades. It’s time to end it once and for all.
Iran too has its radicals. Fundamentalists and hard-liners who think compromise is weakness. The ones who are ready to die for their principles and take everyone else along with them: their Samsons. We have such people on both sides.
The window is small. It’s open for a short time. Ayatollah Khamenei never supported Pres. Khatami’s overtures the west. When they failed, he could say I told you so. That left an opening for the hardliners to rush in and take over. That lead to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and everything he represented. Ten years of slogans, goading, and insults. Perhaps Khamenei learned something from that. At any rate, he’s thrown his support to Rouhani. He’s given him a certain period of time and told him to produce or else. The Supreme Leader has warned the hardliners not to interfere or subvert this initiative. He’s told the IRG to stay out of politics (for now). There has never been such a time before.
I give it six months, a year at most. After that, Khamenei will give up and let the dogs of war loose on his side. Obama has to see this. He has to. Or we’re all doomed. To war.