There are very few things that both sides of the political spectrum can agree upon, but one such thing is that the recently concluded Iranian nuclear weapons deal is historic.
One side says that it is a historic triumph, the other beats its chest to underscore that it is a historic disaster. But, unlike the political commentators — both left and right wing — whose deafening predictions range from peace in the Middle East to a nuclear war that will obliterate Israel, I don’t want to know what the just born deal will mature to be. That’s something for the history books to say.
Anybody who thinks they’re the next Nostradamus with regards to this deal are gravely mistaken. If there’s one thing a quick study of contemporary Middle Eastern history can teach us — it is that nobody can predict anything with much certainty.
A good example would be in 2002, when, as the US Congress debated on whether the US should invade Iraq or not, Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that Iraq would develop nuclear weapons and train them on Israel. He was wrong of course, but his testimony strengthened the case for a war that would kill or wound thousands of US soldiers and land the American people in burgeoning debt. He also predicted that Iraq would become a peaceful democracy after the war. That didn’t happen either. And now, he exercises his mystic fortune telling powers with Iran.
Who knows Bibi, maybe third time’s a charm?
So no, this won’t be another article about whether the deal was a good one or not. None of us can predict that. Instead, it’s important to address some worrisome criticism of how the deal was put in place – through tactful, patient, and accommodating diplomacy.
Barack Obama has, in the past week, repeatedly used a quote credited to John F. Kennedy —
Let us not negotiate out of fear. But let us not fear to negotiate.
Some find the sentiment behind the quote heartening. After all, Kennedy managed to steer the United States out of a nuclear holocaust through sustained and tough nosed negotiations with the Soviet Union, not war or one sided conditions. But some find it a sign of weakness. The general sentiment in the anti-Iran deal camp is that there are only two solutions — either impose one sided restrictions on Iran, or declare war.
Both are very easy to talk about, but extremely difficult to actually execute. They’re also complementary – one sided conditions cannot be imposed on a state without war. So, ultimately, the master plan of the armchair grand strategists who oppose this diplomatic solution is a rather nuanced way of saying – “Screw it, let’s bomb them.”
Diplomacy, despite having saved millions of lives in the past few decades alone, still can’t catch a break among conservatives. Most opponents of diplomatic solutions call them naïve, and ridicule the advocates of such solutions as being “weak” or “cowardly”. Indeed, Obama and his counterparts in the EU have been unfairly chastised for making the rational decision and pursuing a peaceful resolution instead of an arbitrary one.
But 18 hour talks in Vienna conference rooms and carefully worded diplomatic treaties don’t make for exciting news do they? After all, shouldn’t we be bombing those darn untrustworthy Iranians instead of engaging in civilised 21st century diplomacy? Here’s the thing — you don’t get to call for some great patriotic war that you don’t pay for. Wars are measured in blood spilt, tears shed, and money burnt. If your only contribution is a baseless voice calling for war, you’re nothing more than a hollow war drum.
The diplomacy behind this deal is not naïve, but well placed and very well thought out. The consensus is resounding too – the world is behind this deal, and the UN Security Council unanimously supported the accord. Unanimity isn’t something the UNSC is famous for. That Russia and the USA agree on this approach despite having polar interests in the Middle East is a very important litmus test for this deal and the diplomacy that erected it.
Yet the diplomacy is being called naïve by critics who claim that Iran “cannot be trusted” and that Iran will continue to employ proxy forces to burn Israel to the ground. I cannot deny that Iranian leaders have made vehement statements against Israel, but it is ignorant to assume that the existence and growth of the Iranian nation serves a singular purpose — the destruction of Israel. The Iranian people are among the most modern in the Middle East, and Iran’s clerics have often been forced to reform the country’s Islamic character to prevent popular movements.
It is more insulting than it is ignorant to assume that every Iranian’s thoughts lie with Israel and her destruction, and not, for example, the latest album from Iranian rapper Yas, or the price of Iran’s famous caviar. These aren’t the barbarians many Israelis and Americans label them to be. And diplomacy recognises this human nature of a nation’s citizens instead of the grandly abstract ideas of patriotism or nationalism to be the core of a nation’s identity, which is why diplomacy is such a beautifully human process.
But some deterrents have even argued – “Well if diplomacy is so great at fixing the Middle East, why has Saudi Arabia rejected the deal?”
That’s a stupid argument. Iran is a Shia power, as opposed to Saudi Arabia’s Sunni state. They’re both rivals. Who on Earth would expect Saudi Arabia to ever endorse a deal that makes Iran a major economic rival as well? And besides, while most of the 9/11 bombers were Saudi Arabian in origin, Iran actually held a 10,000 person strong candlelight vigil for 9/11 victims in Tehran. Some 60,000 Iranians also held a moment of silence in a packed Soccer stadium to show solidarity with the American people.
The Iranian people deserve sustained diplomatic peace with the US far more than Saudi Arabia does. And the fact that diplomacy worked in making this deal possible, as well as the fact that Iranians cheered on the streets when their own country decided to give up its nuclear program for peace speaks volumes about the character of the Iranian nation.
Netanyahu, three years ago, stating that an Iranian nuclear bomb was “imminent” and that Iran would have a bomb within “months”. Three years on and Iran never tested a single bomb.
Diplomacy in its current form embraces all the little variables that go into making the equations of war and peace make sense. Cultural differences, historical animosity, legal reasoning, and humane action all fall under that umbrella. We cannot, in good conscience, reject all these variables and pound our fists on the table. That isn’t how the world works anymore. Diplomacy should not be shunned the way it is, if we are to progress as a species without killing ourselves.
Going back to 2002, when the US government proposed to put in place a transparency mechanism that would allow inspectors to look for and review Iraqi nuclear weapons (which never existed), one of the first opponents was Benjamin Netanyahu. He stated that Iraq could not be trusted and the only way to end the program (which had ended years prior due to a lack of resources caused by international sanctions) was by “dismantling [Saddam’s] regime.”
That did not work out too well for everyone involved.
We might not know if this deal was a step forward for another 10 years, but what I can say with certainty is that President Obama has earned his Nobel Peace Prize by doggedly pursuing peace instead of war with Iran. Diplomacy has prevailed, and pen and paper shall decide the fate of millions — not carpet bombing and tanks.