Over the past year, President Obama and the US State Dept have been negotiating with Iran on a nuclear-disarmament treaty. This deal would relieve Iran from many US sanctions in exchange for placing additional safeguards against nuclear weaponization in addition to those already required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In layman’s terms, this deal, at least temporarily, will degrade Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. As of now, prior to any deal, Iran does have the capability and the know-how to build a nuclear weapon if they choose to do so. However, Iran has maintained that their numerous nuclear facilities are for peaceful purposes only, as in accordance with the NPT. Regardless of whether Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon or not, the mere fear of this possibility provides the Iranians with incredible leverage in negotiations with the West. Nuclear armament is a bargaining chip for Iran to bring the US (and P1+5) to the negotiating table. Why does Iran want/need this leverage? Well, let me give you a very brief historical lesson on US-Iranian diplomacy.
Relations first soured in 1953, when US and British intelligence agencies successfully orchestrated a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq because the secular leader wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. However, most of the animosity between these nations traces back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 (and subsequent Iranian Hostage Crisis), when US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was ousted and the present-day Islamic Republic of Iran was established. The revolution placed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader of Iran, who had originally been exiled in 1965 by the previous government. While in exile, Khomeini declared the US as “the Great Satan” and an “enemy of Islam”. Although, it’s important to remember that these oft-heard claims serve a practical purpose. Muslim leaders often blame the US because “a clear external enemy can serve as a useful diversion from internal problems” (New York Times). This message has been championed by current-day Ayatollah Ali Khameini (no relation) and past Iranian Presidents (see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). Not to mention that we accidentally shot down a passenger plane in 1988, killing 290 Iranians on their way to Mecca. See, take that Malaysia, we can down planes too! You don’t own the monopoly on plane crashes! (too soon?)
So, it’s understandable why the Iranian government has disdain for the US and her allies, as well as why the West fears a nuclear Iran (we can take a guess as to who their target would be). A nuclear-capable Iran would certainly not be beneficial to the stability of the Middle East, but it would not signal the end of days. Let’s remember that during the height of the Cold War in 1985, Russia had over 38,000 nukes while the US had over 20,000. There are still around 10,000 reported nuclear weapons worldwide, but the actual number is sure to be much higher.
Understandably, many US/western citizens, as well as President Netanyahu are unhappy about a potential treaty and the easing of sanctions. Israel refuses to negotiate with Iran due to decades of animosity, as well as the fact that the Iranian gov’t refuses to even acknowledge Israel as a legitimate state and has continuously tried to undermine its legitimacy. Iran has armed and funded Islamic jihad through Hezbollah and other jihadist groups, that are responsible for a number of terrorist acts within Israel and from Gaza since the 1980s. Clearly, Israel has a vested interest in this deal. The fear of a nuclear Iran prompted the Israeli leader to give a speech to the US congress, without consulting President Obama. This isn’t the first time Netanyahu addressed our congress to warn about the dangers of Iran. He did the same in 1996, when he exclaimed that a nuclear Iran was imminent, and again in 2002, when he advocated for the US-led invasion of Iraq, and again on March 3rd, 2015. Honestly, how dare Netanyahu try to influence foreign-policy in the Middle-East?! Doesn’t he know by now that meddling in Middle-Eastern affairs is an American pastime. It’s like when you have a great vacation spot, but as time passes, more and more people hear about it, and now it’s just like, too touristy. That’s the Middle-East. It used to be our exclusive spot, our little secret, but alas, no more. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) was so moved by Netanyahu’s speech, that he and 47 other Republican Senators sent an open letter to the Iranian government in which they exclaimed that Iran “may not fully understand our constitutional system” and “that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.” The Senators, along with Netanyahu (who is facing re-election on March 17th), are using Iran for political pandering, a move which is as shallow and near-sighted as when I try to pick up woman on Tinder (please swipe right, I like puppies).
As I previously discussed, subjective narratives lead to fallacious viewpoints. The American narrative is that Iran wants to destroy Israel (true, at least in regards to the Iranian government), they want to destroy the West and they want establish a new Islamic socio-political world order. The problem with this narrative is that it unfairly amalgamates Iran’s people and their government into one entity. There is a reason why President Routhini, who promises moderation, rationality and more engagement with the outside world, won his election with more than 50% of the vote. That is because “six out of 10 Iranians actually favor the restoration of diplomatic relations between their country and the United States, a stance that is directly at odds with the position the Iranian government has held for nearly three decades.” Furthermore, the population of Iran (77 million) is extraordinarily young and very well-educated. More than two-thirds of Iranians are under the age of 30, have attended college and are very well-informed. The literacy rate stands above 82%. Right now, most of the government is comprised of people who were involved in the 1979 revolution. There is a major generational and ideological gap between Iran’s government and its people. The youth of Iran are forced into double lives. Out in the open, they adhere to the Islamic rules/customs enforced by the government (such as men and women not shaking hands in public) while at home they browse the internet and express themselves on Facebook and Instagram. Let’s hope they don’t discover the self-indulgent pleasure of the selfie. Young Iranians have even begun to openly challenge the strict Islamic lifestyle forced upon them. Iranian students and other supporters protested in 2009 (Iranian Green movement) after Ahmadinejad was elected to a second term and again in 2011. This is not to say that Iranians only want to establish better relations with the West because of their supposed openness to Western culture and technology. Youth unemployment is up to 27% and Iran’s GDP has been crippled by Western sanctions over the years. Iran has an economic incentive to work with US government.
This leads us to this potential Iranian-US Nuclear Treaty. Iran is at a turning point. If we fail to establish a better relationship with Iran and its people, Iran will elect a new hardliner like Ahmadinejad. This is a man who refused to acknowledge the Holocaust. This isn’t just some assumption either. The Assembly of Experts, the clerics who appoint and can dismiss the country’s supreme leader, are eager to replace Routhini with a hardliner. That is why they picked Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, an ultraconservative as their new chairman, instead of one of the other four, more reform candidates. The US as an enemy only strengthens the conservative party, providing them with political ammo to use in upcoming elections. Sanctioning Iran has been working to some degree. It has stagnated their economy and limited their ability to fund Hezbollah. However, in terms of nuclear disarmament, sanctions have failed. Iran has actually increased its nuclear program under sanctions for the last two decades, not decreased. If we allow Iran to continue building towards a nuclear weapon, we will most likely go to war. Israel certainly will, as they’ve already bombed centrifuges in foreign nations before without consulting any other government (See Syrian strike and Iranian strike). Even if we could just militarily destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it would most likely just strengthen the Islamic regime. As Fareed Zakara states in his Washington Post Op-Ed, “When any country is bombed by foreigners, its people tend to rally around the regime. The Islamic Republic would likely gain domestic support. It would also respond in various ways, through its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. The attacks might be directed at U.S. troops or allies.”
Do we want to continue on the current path of hostility, or do we want to form a more peaceful understanding with each other? A working relationship with Iran provides stability in the Middle East and security for Israel. It establishes a path for reform and modernity for Iran. It provides the US with a new trading partner, instead of just trading (oil for cash) with Saudi Arabia, a nation which sentences rape victims with death and doesn’t allow their women to go anywhere without a male companion. Iran may be taking the long view, but so are we. This isn’t some naive, liberal hippie talk. This is serious. The old guard will all be dead within the next couple of decades. The youth are the future of Iran.
If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from the people of Iran:
*When you have time, you should check out this fabulous PBS documentary on Iran. It might just change your perspective*.
PS: I understand why many would not want this deal to get done. I can see both sides of the argument and no one knows how exactly all of this will play out, The reason I want this deal is the same reason you may not want it. We all strive for the same outcome (a non-nuclear Iran), it’s just how we get there that we may disagree with.