Kudos to Thomas Friedman for his piece in today's NY Times (quoted, in full, below). With all the boo-hooing about how such a deal would be a betrayal of our Israeli and Saudi "allies," as Friedman notes, a deal that might lead to a detente with Iran would be a huge boon to US interests across the Middle East.
On the other hand, the imposing of a new, crippling round of sanctions on Iran - one that might completely eliminate Iran's ability to export its oil - could very likely stop negotiations in their tracks and in so doing, deal a potential death-blow to any chance of averting war with Iran or securing Iran's help in bringing an end to the holocaust that is Syria (and that threatens to engulf Lebanon and Iraq as well). Yet the GOP-dominated House of Representatives is aching to impose those sanctions, as are some of the usual suspects in the Senate. (I'm looking at you, Lindsey Graham - and you ought to be embarrassed by your bogus comments that if we do it just "right", sanctions can work even better. Ask the people of Iran about that. For that matter, ask the people of Iraq about how that worked out for them. Or just go read some of Joy Gordon's reports on how wonderfully sanctions have worked, in both countries.)
The NYT reports that AIPAC and its ilk are wearing out the carpets in Congressional offices, insisting that harsher sanctions go forward. Other of the usual suspects have hastened to the dailies to pound the same point: WINEP honcho Patrick Clawson (in the WashPo) hastens to remind us that "Israel, the Gulf states and Iranian democrats will be reassured only by vigorous U.S. actions to address their concerns" - and that besides, and despite evidence to the contrary, all that Iranians really want is regional "hegemony" (not, of course, that the US and Israel have ever aspired to that). The ever-pesky Elliott Abrams, hoping to drive his own nail into the coffin into which Bibi's amen chorus wants to put the negotiations, also chimes in (likewise in the WashPo) with a reminder of how nasty the Iranian government has been to the Baha'is. No argument; they have been brutal; but, gee, why did Abrams pick this particular time to make that point?
To my mind, none of this carping is enough to override Friedman's point: detente with Iran can serve US interests much better than would ratcheting up sanctions. And along the waym detente just might lead to a more stable, more peaceful Middle East. So . . .
I'm reminded of the oft-used expression about how one should "lead, follow, or get out of the way." Congress is both too divided and too discredited (shut-down, anyone?) to lead. As Bibi knows, though, they're good at following. But where Bibi wants to take them, American interests - and, I should think, those of the planet - won't be well served. That leaves only one option.
Get out of the way. Please.
November 12, 2013
What About US?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
It goes without saying that the only near-term deal with Iran worth partially lifting sanctions for would be a deal that freezes all the key components of Iran’s nuclear weapons development program, and the only deal worth lifting all sanctions for is one that verifiably restricts Iran’s ability to breakout and build a nuclear bomb.
But there is something else that goes without saying, but still needs to be said loudly: We, America, are not just hired lawyers negotiating a deal for Israel and the Sunni Gulf Arabs, which they alone get the final say on. We, America, have our own interests in not only seeing Iran’s nuclear weapons capability curtailed, but in ending the 34-year-old Iran-U.S. cold war, which has harmed our interests and those of our Israeli and Arab friends.
Hence, we must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests in the face of Israeli and Arab efforts to block a deal that we think would be good for us and them. America’s interests today lie in an airtight interim nuclear deal with Iran that also opens the way for addressing a whole set of other issues between Washington and Tehran.
Some of our allies don’t share those “other” interests and believe the only acceptable outcome is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and keeping Iran an isolated, weak, pariah state. They don’t trust this Iranian regime — and not without reason. I don’t begrudge their skepticism. Without pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the global sanctions on Iran they helped to spur, Iran would not be offering to scale back its nuclear program today.
But that pressure was never meant to be an end itself. It was meant to bring Iran in from the cold, provided it verifiably relinquished the ability to breakout with a nuclear weapon. “Just because regional actors see diplomacy with Iran as a zero-sum game — vanquish or be vanquished — doesn’t mean America should,” said Karim Sadjadpour, the expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment.
Why? Let’s start with the fact that Iran has sizable influence over several of America’s most critical national security concerns, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, terrorism, energy security, and nuclear proliferation. Whereas tension with Iran has served to exacerbate these issues, détente with Tehran could help ameliorate them. Iran played a vital role in helping us to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and can help us get out without the Taliban completely taking over again.
“Iran has at least as much at stake in a stable Iraq, and a stable Afghanistan, as we do — and as an immediate neighbor has a far greater ability to influence them, for good or ill,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, the Iranian-American co-founder of Macro Advisory Partners and a former top aide to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
There is a struggle in Tehran today between those who want Iran to behave as a nation, looking out for its interests, and those who want it to continue behaving as a permanent revolution in a permanent struggle with America and its allies. What’s at stake in the Geneva nuclear negotiations — in part — “is which Iranian foreign policy prevails,” argued Mousavizadeh. A mutually beneficial deal there could open the way for cooperation on other fronts.
Moreover, there is nothing that threatens the future of the Middle East today more than the sectarian rift between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This rift is being used by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Hezbollah and some Arab leaders to distract their people from fundamental questions of economic growth, unemployment, corruption and political legitimacy. It is also being used to keep Iran isolated and unable to fully exploit its rich oil and gas reserves, which could challenge some Arab producers. But our interest is in quelling these sectarian passions, not taking one side.
The Iran-U.S. cold war has prevented us from acting productively on all these interests. It is easy to say we should just walk away from talks if we don’t get what we want, but isolating Iran won’t be as easy as it once was. China, Russia, India and Japan have different interests than us vis-à-vis Iran. The only man who could unite them all behind this tough sanctions regime was Iran’s despicable previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The new president, Hassan Rouhani, is much more deft. “Our sanctions leverage may have peaked,” said Sadjadpour. “Countries like China won’t indefinitely forsake their own commercial and strategic interests vis-à-vis Iran simply to please the U.S. Congress.”
All this is why the deal the Obama team is trying to forge now that begins to defuse Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and tests whether more is possible, is fundamentally in the U.S. interest. “The prize of détente with Iran is critical to allowing the U.S. a sensibly balanced future foreign policy that aligns interests with commitments, and allows us to rebuild at home at the same time,” said Mousavizadeh. There are those in the Middle East who prefer “a war without end for the same tribal, sectarian, backward-looking reasons that are stunting their own domestic development as open, integrated, pluralist societies,” he added. “They can have it. But it can’t be our war. It’s not who we are — at home or abroad.”