Fellow leftists: oppose a bad deal with Iran

I, as someone who identifies firmly on the left, am opposed to the deal currently on the table in negotiations between the P5+1 powers (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) and Iran. Others who share my convictions against war, imperialism, and oppressive corporations should join me in fighting the agreement as it stands today.

First, I should clarify that I support diplomacy both in principle and as the best way to resolve the Iran nuclear crisis. I would support a good deal with passion, and, to be honest, it took me a long while to settle on my position against the ongoing negotiations because I was so inclined to support any kind of talks at all. The reason that I have chosen this position has a lot to do with the opinions voiced by various actors in the Middle East. It’s not only Israel that has taken a stand against this deal, but also several Arab and other Middle Eastern leaders. Those who are on the ground, who understand the implications of this agreement better than anyone in Europe, East Asia, or the United States, overwhelmingly oppose the deal. To presume that American politicians know more about what is right for those whose lives are on the line than they do is to exhibit a hubris akin to that of the Bush dynasty.

Moreover, as someone who is opposed to war and to weapons proliferation in general, I am terrified by the idea of a nuclear Middle East. Supporters of the deal have pointed to Israel as an example of a nuclear-armed state, suggesting that a nuclear Iran would be no different. The fact remains, however, that Israel has been unofficially nuclear for decades, and none of its enemies has felt sufficiently threatened to risk an arms race, which is not the case regarding Iran. Since it became evident that the deal negotiated in the past few months was to be a bad one, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have opened talks with Russia to start nuclear weapons programs of their own. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, which Arab leaders seem to believe is plausible at the end of these negotiations, Saudi Arabia may quickly acquire a weapon of its own from its nuclear-armed ally, Pakistan, and other countries that view themselves as regional heavyweights, such as Egypt and Turkey, would not be far behind. The future, then, would become one similar to the Cold War, with the principal actors being Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Israel – a situation that no liberal, and indeed no one who values human life in any capacity, can find acceptable.

Another concern with the deal is that it is set to flood the Iranian imperial program with cash. I would posit that one must be orientalist to regard Iran as anything other than an imperial power. Some have allowed themselves to see the various conflicts between Iran and others in the region, especially Arab parties, as infighting, as though the Middle East was a single, homogenous “other” devoid of distinct national, ethnic, religious, or cultural identities. They think that, because neither Iranians nor Arabs are white Europeans, it must be possible to group them into one category, so that Iranian aggressions against predominantly Arab peoples, clearly imperialist from any objective understanding, cannot be labeled as such.

In reality, of course, Iran’s imperialism could not be more blatant. I have spoken with people living in Yemen today, for example, where Iran-backed Houthi militants have taken over huge swaths of land, turning the country into a vicious battleground between Iran and its rival Saudi Arabia. Civilians caught in the crossfire, like in Europe’s and America’s imperial campaigns elsewhere in the world throughout history, are the most frequent victims of everything from bombings to devastating water shortages (some 80% of Yemen’s population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations).

In Syria, Iranian forces have joined proxy groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and intervened in the civil war that President Bashar al-Assad is waging against his own people. In an extraordinary exhibit of those parties’ utter disregard for humanity, regime planes have increasingly incorporated illegal barrel bombs into their military strategy – unguided missiles filled with explosives and shrapnel that are usually dropped either randomly or on mosques, designed to kill the maximum number of civilians with fast-flying shards of scrap metal.

Lebanon also falls increasingly under Iranian influence, as does Iraq. In both countries, the governments are undermined more and more by Iranian shadow armies (both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shi’a Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq have been implicated in massacres of Sunni civilians), and both Beirut and Baghdad increasingly become protectorates of the Islamic Republic.

Iranian military and political leaders have frequently referenced empire building as a key foreign policy objective. One parliamentarian, Reza Zakani, close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even said (before the Houthis consolidated their control over the Yemeni capital of Sana’a) that, “three Arab capitals have today ended up in the hands of Iran.” Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Major General Qassem Soleimani admitted in March that he hoped to exercise power over Jordan soon as well.

Thus, as someone vehemently opposed to imperialism, no matter its perpetrator, I cannot support a deal that would provide the Iranian government with the funds to expand their efforts to that end.

Of course, there is an argument to be made that the existing sanctions are a form of collective punishment that affects the Iranian people more than it does the regime. To some extent, that is true – there is less money in Iran because of sanctions than there would otherwise be. Iran’s economic problems, however, have perhaps less to do with the total amount of cash in the country and more to do with its poor distribution. There is wealth within Iran’s borders, but it is largely concentrated in the hands of the IRGC, which, in addition to serving as an imperial army and a repressive military police force, functions as a powerful corporation. Much like the Republican Party in the United States, Iran’s dominant capitalists and most radical religious extremists have joined together in a single political organ, and it is that organ that both controls Iran’s wealth and is likely to benefit from this deal. That system is what keeps the Iranian people impoverished, just as it maintains the wealth gap in the United States and elsewhere.

It has taken me a long time to come to this understanding, but, considering all relevant factors, I have decided that it would be inconsistent with my liberal values to support the deal currently on the table. Iran is an imperial power, its leadership epitomizes corporate greed as well as religious extremism, and the danger of Khamenei acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is immense. I hope that anyone who falls on the political and moral left will follow these arguments and will join me in opposing the deal.

About the Author
Benjamin Gladstone is a junior at Brown University, where he is pursuing degrees in Middle East Studies and Judaic Studies and where he serves as president of Brown Students for Israel, the Brown University Coalition for Syria, and Students for Responsible Policies in Yemen. In addition to blogging with the Times of Israel, Benjamin is a Scribe Contributor at The Forward, and his work has been published in the Tower Magazine, the Jewish Advocate, the Brand Of Milk And Honey, the Hill, the Brown Daily Herald, the Brown Political Review, and the New York Times. He is a founder and editor of ProgressME, a student publication that highlights underrepresented voices on Southwest Asian issues.