Trita Parsi has a new article in Foreign Policy which demolishes the argument by Israeli and U.S. hardliners that sanctions brought Iran to its knees, brought Hassan Rouhani to power in the last election, and made a nuclear agreement possible. Parsi recounts in detail the numerous times in the past decade (even before the latest round of sanctions) when Iranian moderates actually brought nuclear compromises to the western powers, only to have them rejected or ignored. He quotes Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the IAEA, writing in Rouhani’s Time 100 profile:
It took the West a decade to realize that bare-knuckle competition for regional influence was not a viable strategy for dealing with Iran. The recent interim agreement, facilitated by Rouhani’s low-key diplomacy, could have been reached 10 years ago.
Parsi also makes the counter-intuitive, but insightful claim that while sanctions played a marginal role in bringing Iran to the table, they did mollify hardliners in Congress and Tel Aviv. So in that sense sanctions were a domestic, rather than foreign policy.
While the last Iranian election has taken on a subsequent air of inevitability, Parsi makes clear how much luck was involved in Rouhani’s victory. He makes clear that there are a number of other equally plausible scenarios that could’ve ended with a hardliner in power. All of which points to the urgency of the west making a deal now, rather than biding time, adding more draconian sanctions, and hoping for an even better deal from Iran.
There are numerous racist tropes concerning Iran making the rounds (especially in the Israeli press) including the ‘mad mullahs’ and the crafty ‘merchants in the bazaar.’ But there is one element of truth in the latter stereotype: a wise and pragmatic merchant knows when he’s leveraged the most he can expect from his customer. He knows when the moment has come to seal the deal and take the best offer possible. In that sense, Barack Obama ought to recognize that moment and not dither or delay. So far, events point to this being the president’s approach. But he’s been known to zig-zag when the going gets tough, as it will when Republicans realize a nuclear deal could give Democrats a political boost. Is it too much to expect from him that he carry this deal through to its logical conclusion no matter what the political headwinds?
Can you imagine a Camp David-type treaty-signing in the Rose Garden with a beaming Rouhani in clerical robes shaking hands with Obama (something like the photoshopped image above)? While the Republicans mutter in their beards?