After years of ‘kicking-the-can’ down the road and silent inaction towards the ever-growing crisis of a Nuclear Iran prevalent during the Bush era, the Obama Administration today took a huge leap forward with the affirmation of a multi-national agreement in Vienna.
From all corners of the political sphere, commentators and analysts will be debating both the merits and the aims of the final agreement as laid out on the 14th of July. There is no debating that it’s fairly comprehensive yet not a long-term solution to the problem; the timetable of the agreement stretches roughly to fifteen years, where afterwards the largest powers in the world will once again be left with coming to grips with Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon.
This agreement is far from a done deal; considerable domestic political pressure, both from Republicans and a healthy sum of Democrats, will create a contentious situation in Washington that may very well derail the entire situation together by failing to remove sanctions on Iran. Opponents of the deal will be aided by Israel, an invaluable American ally in the Middle East who strongly opposes the basic parameters of the deal and what it could spell for the future of Israeli security. Israel’s long-held Begin Doctrine, which maintains that any power driven to see Israel’s destruction cannot hold onto the means of that destruction, will certainly dominate the rhetoric of Prime Minister Netanyahu as he exerts a considerable amount of external pressure on American Diplomats and Congressional members.
Opponents, both fanatical and moderated, will use the history lesson of Neville Chamberlin’s Peace in Our Time debacle with the Third Reich as a further testament to the perils of negotiating with extreme powers. This historical connection has its merits, and major flaws, yet underlines the achievement that is apparent within the framework of the Iran Nuclear deal. Maybe even some will use the instance of President Clinton’s talks in the 90’s with North Korea as fodder for this argument, but this argument still stands as incredibly flawed.
After almost four decades of a foreign policy outlook towards Iran that has been debilitating and destructive, the United States has made its first major inroads into bringing the Iranian Regime back into the international community.
The Saudi’s, for a variety of reasons, fear the inevitability of Iran emerging from a regional player into a full-fledged member of the international community. For one, it gives Tehran a legitimate means by which to assert its near hegemonic status in the Middle East. The very concept of a hegemonic power in the Middle East has driven American and Western foreign policy analysts for generations to employ a sort of ‘Divide & Conquer’ strategy by which no real power has been able to gain a strong foothold in the region. The Iraqi and Iranian conflicts near the end half of the 20th Century proved to be a battle for hegemony in the region, and when Iraq took its largest step towards regional control in Kuwait the international community had to step in to assert a balance of power in the Middle East.
The Bush Administration’s debacle in the Iraq War of 2003, and the necessitated Obama removal of forces that came later in his Administration, opened up a power vacuum where Iran stood as an unquestioned beneficiary; while the international community struggled to grapple with the brutality of the Islamic State, Iran was free to build-up proxy armies through both Hezbollah and Shi’a militias fighting for President Assad in the Syrian Civil War.
As long as the Islamic State is driving through the Levant and a stable Government doesn’t reside in Baghdad, it seems inevitable that Tehran would be able to increase its influence in the region to the point where it would emerge as one of the strongest, if not the sole strongest, nation-state in the region.
The question becomes this; how do you make sure that an antagonistic power such as Iran is contained to the point where it doesn’t prove a problem both for the United States and her ally Israel?
The Diplomatic agreement, as laid out in Vienna by the participating powers, seems to be the best solution to this problem (note, I did not say perfect solution).
The sanctions passed by the United States against in both the Bush and Obama eras were ultimately effective in bringing Iran to the table, but they didn’t accomplish an aim that hawks on the right always argued; regime collapse. Instead, the economic pain induced by the West created an easy scapegoat for a Iranian regime that was already losing favor in the nation. And when a distinct portion of the Iranian population did protest and spark a near revolt in the streets, the United States waited back and let the situation diffuse. The sanctions worked to an extent yet they had reached the farthest point at which they would push Iran in either direction. From this point, it was clear that the sanctions needed to be lifted.
The crux of the issue with this agreement is whether or not it will effectively slow down and ultimately dismantle the nuclear program that Tehran has been investing in. The short answer is this; Mostly. While it has inadvertently proclaimed Iran’s right to pursue nuclear research through the parameters of the agreement, it will effectively delay the portion of Iran’s program that was designed to be weaponized. Analysis by both the White House and the Department of Defense had generated a ‘break-out-time’, the time where Iran could ‘rush’ and generate a nuclear weapon without international recognition, from two to three months. This timeframe was incredibly dangerous, and fortunately enough this agreement should push back that deadline to the point where Iran cannot ‘rush’ a nuclear weapon before the international community has time to react. This break-out-time posed the strongest threat to Israel’s short term security, and with it gone Israel should benefit in the long run.
Another important thing to remember about this nuclear deal is that the United States isn’t the only major western power directly involved with the negotiations. The concessions and gains made by the West don’t highlight either a weakness or strength inherent in Washington but rather strength through broad international consensus. Such a historic agreement, who’s ramifications will be felt across the globe for decades, highlight an international aim to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check while also maintaining that diplomacy is an effective means of solving difficult international issues. On this front, the Iran deal is a crucial accomplishment that not only asserts the United States’ leadership role globally but also speaks volumes to the importance of international cooperation.
All of this leads to my main point, which has everything to do with Israel’s security as well as the future balance of power in the Middle East; the nuclear agreement, though short-term, has the potential to lead to a sincere rekindling of diplomatic relations between Iran and the west, which is crucial if one wants to see change in Iran.
Regime change has been attempted by Washington through diplomatic isolation and sanctions, yet all of these have failed in the long term. They failed because, as I mentioned earlier, they strengthened domestic control that the Regime shared by giving them an outlet of blaming all of their nation’s problems, both economic and political, on the West. With the lifting of sanctions by the United States we see America’s first step away from this policy and the first political isolation of the farthest reaches of the Regime. Already, the Iranian government will have to deal with sincere opposition from the farthest reaches of the political spectrum within leadership, who argue that the agreement as stands is ‘not enough’. The very approval of this deal marks a slow and miniscule, but important, moderation of the Iranian regime.
As Oil exports begin flowing out again from Iran, the government will be met with a flood of foreign investment into the nation’s economy; expatriates moving back to Tehran, increase in international business in the state, and a slew of other benefits (and ultimately some drawbacks). The Iranian Regime will, quite possibly, meet with a huge dilemma of its own making; the very act of lifting sanctions will undoubtedly free up the state for international economy, which will reluctantly pry away the state and the populace from the upper echelon of the Regime.
Over time this will degrade the influence that the state has over the functions of the political system, further alienating them and forcing them to make tough choices when it comes to political control. Maybe even 15-20 years down the line, when the terms of the Iranian nuclear deal need to be renegotiated, the shifting nature of the Iranian political system may very well put the West in a better bargaining place when the time comes.
It’s incredibly tough to ‘prove’ any of these assertions since they are, in effect, assertions. But as a student of politics and international relations who more often than not argues from the ‘realist’ point of view, the deal that was agreed upon this Tuesday afternoon in Vienna proves to have some historical precedent behind its back; the recent dealings in Cuba, not the oft-mentioned Peace in our Time efforts to hold back Nazi Germany.
President Obama’s olive branch and reestablishment of basic diplomatic accommodations with Cuba were long over-due; a fifty-year policy of isolation had only hurt the average citizens of Cuba while keeping the Castro family firmly in charge of a fledgling island nation. The opening up of Cuba, and the introduction of the nation to the 21st century, will certainly move the country forward to the point where its very citizens realize the status of the West and long to be more like it. Such historical lessons can be attributed to Iran as well.
Iran, though antagonistic and a prime candidate for regional hegemon, isn’t fit for the ‘Axis of Evil’ that President Bush devised during his terms of repeated foreign relations catastrophe. Instead it’s a state that’s very political regime and daily actions are the result of failed United States policy; the ousting of the Shah and the massive instability that it created as a result. But deep within that cloudy exterior of Tehran’s intentions rests a populace who, despite the protests and history of animosity that light up the evening news, is more moderate than we give it credit for. By signing this nuclear deal and reestablishing a modicum of diplomatic relations, the opening of Iran has effectively begun. And in due time, the Iranian people should seize such an opportunity to become respescted members of the international community. And when that day comes, we can say that it all started with handshakes and the signing of pens on July 14th 2015.