The arms embargo and the Iran nuclear deal

Will President Obama and his Democratic Party supporters throw Israel “under the bus”? This would be the reality if, in order to achieve a nuclear weapons threshold deal with Iran, the UN conventional arms embargo on the Islamic Republic would be lifted. In fact, if this scenario would come to pass, all of America’s allies in the region would be “thrown under the bus”. That is, with the exception of Iran, who would then be well on its way toward becoming the regional hegemonic power.

All along, the criticism of the Obama nuclear negotiations has been that it is impossible to separate the Middle East regional dimension (conventional arms and the balance of power) from the lifting of sanctions and embargoes. As the nuclear deal goes, so goes the conventional balance. But the fantasizers inside the administration and on Capitol Hill have always claimed that they knew better. They postulated that it was unrealistic to combine the regional balance of power with the nuclear negotiations. Now, however, as the nuclear negotiations reach their final hour, it appears as if conventional arms and the future of the Middle East balance of power have become the impossible sticking points.

Never mind the various technical details of the nuclear negotiations. They merely add up to a decade or so of “managed access” of Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure, and then a quickly phased industrial level nuclear normalization. But as all its neighbors know, Iran is not a normal state. That is, not until they have normal relations with all their neighbors, including Israel. As a revolutionary Islamic state, this is undeniably not the case.

The dangerous gamble within the Obama White House has been that, once sanctions against Iran have been lifted, Iran’s regional behavior would adjust to its new economic conditions. This means that its relationships with terrorist entities such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the outlaw Assad regime in Syria would have to be dramatically altered. But as the final nuclear negotiations proceeded to their ever-extended deadlines, Iran assigned a billion-dollar line of credit to their clients in Damascus and South Beirut.

This fact was duly noted all across the Middle East, as Sunni Arab states and the Israeli government pondered: Just how insulated from reality have the US Democratic Party and their many citizen supporters become?

There are many people in the Democratic Party (especially on the far left) who just plain do not like Israel and would love to see it pushed back into an untenable security situation. But this group is in the minority. For the majority of the Party, a kind of isolationism has set in, encompassing all foreign policy criteria. The Democratic Party now believes that the projection of power is almost never a good thing. They now orient their strategy away from such a diplomatic-power tandem, with the effect of the creation of numerous global vacuums.

Where once the projection of American force had come to be depended upon, this is no longer the case. So the Democratic Party is in a political quandary. It knows that to lift the conventional arms embargo on Iran would be unacceptable to the vast majority of its Congressional delegation, but it also has no alternative other than a negotiated nuclear settlement with the Ayatollahs.

By conceding to lift the Iranian arms embargo, the Obama administration’s long sought after nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic would require the US to totally abandon a conventional policy nearly forty years in the making. This would be a Faustian bargain to say the least.

How did Obama get in such a position? The simple answer is: He disrespected his Russian partners and failed to anticipate the essential contradiction at the root of America’s post-Cold War NATO foreign policy. He was not alone in this; he had nearly the entire EU with him in a vain attempt to isolate Moscow and keep it outside the European security framework.

This was an ill-fated policy from the beginning. President Putin responded first in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Then he moved Russia closer to China, warned Obama over any involvement in Syria, urged Greece not to succumb to EU pressure, and now declares his extreme readiness to sell weapon systems to Iran. Putin has become Obama’s nemesis, because he has been forced to. And the fact of the matter is that the US needs Russian and Chinese cooperation in order to achieve a more peaceful world.

The unipolar era is gone, but American neo-isolationism is certainly not the answer. However, neither is an American order built on a strict containment of Russia and China. What the hawks in both political parties fail to understand is that the American people don’t want to continue to squander money on military adventures that simply are not successful. America is too poor for such a go-it-alone foreign policy where Washington always plays the role of the world’s policeman.

But Obama and the Democratic Party can’t have it both ways; they can’t play the isolationist card while disregarding the vacuum they’ve created in the Middle East. They can’t pivot to Asia through trade deals, and hope that such a pivot will not impact closer Chinese-Russian relations. They can’t move NATO eastward toward Moscow without a Russian push-back. And they can’t sign a nuclear deal with Iran without both the Russians and the Chinese initiating counter moves throughout the entire region.

The deadlock in Vienna over the Iranian conventional arms embargo proves that, without international cooperation among the big three (the US, Russia and China), nothing of any value on this planet can get done. The world’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Putin has placed Obama’s Middle East plans in check. If Washington concedes to the Iranian demand to lift the UN conventional arms embargo, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states, along with Egypt, might just bolt toward Russia in an attempt to hold off Tehran.

Israel would be at a loss without a strategy or a strategic partner it can count on. However, I’m nearly certain that Obama would not have the political support within his own party to make such a move. Nor do I think he even wants to. So unless the Supreme leader of Iran makes the necessary concession on the arms embargo, the nuclear negotiations appear to be deadlocked.

So what is the alternative? A whole new American foreign policy, directed toward Europe, directed toward Asia, and especially directed toward a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Genuine peace can be the only answer to nuclear proliferation and potential superpower conflict. The age of regional empires has outlived its historic usefulness, as the planetary ecological crisis and its extreme economic limitations hold humanity ransom in search of the greater good.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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