The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers announced today in Vienna will likely go down in history alongside other pioneering historic U.S. initiatives like Nixon’s visit to China, Jimmy Carter’s Camp David Accords, and Reagan-Bush presiding over the end of the Soviet Union. The agreement would place restraints on Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade in return for eliminating two decades worth of punishing sanctions which have stunted Iran’s economy. It would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.6%, which is far below weapons-grade and reduce its highly enriched stockpile from several thousand, down to 300 kg. It would convert the Arak plutonium reactor so that it could not make a nuclear weapon. It would open Iran to a full inspections regime, though it’s yet unclear what access would be offered to purely military sites.
The deal has the Republicans and Israelis howling. Which is as it should be. Remember that George Bush was offered a Grand Bargain by Pres. Khatami in 2003. Ending Iran’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions and normalizing relations. The Bush-Cheney response was the American version of Khrushchev’s infamous: Nyet. If a Republican president turned down the most generous offer Iran’s ever made to end its nuclear program, what would you expect his successors in Congress to do?
Among other entertaining comments, Bibi’s warned us that Iran wants to “take over the world.” Does he realize that the more such ridiculous comments he makes the less seriously anyone in the world takes him? Does he care?
As an aside, I note a semi-official Birthright alumni group has been enlisted to lobby against the Iran deal. Though the group claims it is independent of the official Birthright group, it share an important figure, Michael Steinhardt, one of Birthright’s founders and leading donors. Next time you read pablum from Birthright officials claiming it is non-political, you’ll know where to tell ’em to stick it.
What the deal naysayers don’t realize is that the world will long note and long remember their obstreporousness. It will remember they turned their backs on this momentous agreement which promises to change relations in the entire region for the better for decades to come. The world and Americans in particular will liken Republicans who oppose this measure to the John Birchers, the Ku Kluxers, the Hooverites, all those who tried to stand in the way of progress. When history offers an opportunity to break out of old paradigms and restraints, the brave and bold grasp it. The frail, frightened and timid walk away uttering old shibboleths.
Bibi Netanyahu is also one of the obdurate. As Yossi Melman notes, he had a chance to embrace the agreement as an Israeli achievement, even if it didn’t give him all he expected. Instead, Netanyahu has chosen to adopt the role of the ominous Charles Foster Kane figure who walks the halls muttering beneath his breath. I picture him walking through the prime minister’s residence with a pint of open pistachio ice cream murmuring: “They’ve ruined me. What can I do now? Where can I turn?”
The prime minister is a resourceful politician, if not one with great imagination. He will succeed in switching from the Iranian bogeyman to another suitable one. He has numerous prospects to choose from: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Democrats (a joke), etc. But none of these has a nuclear program. This is what grabs the world’s attention. So with Iran removed from Bibi’s bag of political tricks, he will become a much reduced figure, something like Ebenezer Scrooge confronting Christmas Future.
Today, history met at the intersection of Destiny and Past. Bibi and the GOP massed themselves in front of Past. History chose Destiny instead.
I would never make the mistake of claiming the future holds nothing but hope for all concerned. Iran and the U.S. still have many outstanding differences. Even harsh ones. But the Obama administration and Rouhani government have shown there is a mutual will to overcome them and achieve something enduring that will improve not just their own citizens’ lives, but those of the entire region.
This agreement said nothing about other conflicts in the region like Syria, Iraq, or Yemen, in which Iran is involved. It confined itself rightly to the nuclear issue. But there is a huge opportunity in future years for Iran to play a more constructive role in the region. There is an opportunity to negotiate a resolution of the Syrian quagmire. There is an opportunity to join forces to end the threat of ISIS in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. There is an opportunity for Iran to play a constructive role with its Palestinian allies in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is no guarantee that any of the above will happen. But if I were a betting man I’d wager than at least one of these outcomes will come about.
I’ve written often here about the regional competition between Israel and Iran. One of the reasons Bibi has adopted such an intransigent position on this matter is that Israel detests any nation challenging power dynamics. It wants no threat to its military dominance. Nor commercial competition. Iran is ten times Israel’s population. It has everything that other Arab nations around Israel do not: excellent educational system, thriving commercial interests, economic competition, democracy. It poses a genuine threat to Israel on many fronts.
This new development marks Iran as a herald of the future and Israel as a symbol of the past. The region now has an opportunity to turn away from the strong-man autocracy represented by Mubarak, al-Sisi, the Saudis and even Assad. It has an opportunity to unite against Israeli miliary adventurism to blaze a new path. Again, there is no guarantee that the Middle East will embrace this prospect. It may remain mired in the past. But this is one of the truly great opportunities to chart a new path. If T.E. Lawrence were alive today he’d be beating a path to Iran’s door as a harbinger of a new regional future.
Those of us who laughed bitterly when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize may yet have reason to say he deserved it. But it’s still an open question.
I’ve just created a petition asking for the Senate, particularly moderate Democrats on the fence, to support the deal and sustain the President’s veto. Please sign it and circulate it to your social media followers and e mail contacts.