Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Peace A Chance

The interim agreement with Iran to shut down its nuclear program took a long time to get done.  As Dafna Linzer at MSNBC notes, it could have been done a lot sooner had we not had a certain president in office.

The sad truth of Sunday’s nuclear agreement with Iran is that it could have come 10 years earlier and with far fewer costs.

It took a Mideast war, an accelerating nuclear program, a crisis with U.N. inspectors and crippling sanctions before the sides started talking.

More importantly, it was the election of President Obama and the return of the reformist leadership in Tehran that made an historic deal between the United States and Iran even possible.


When the United States was attacked by Al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001, it was by a terrorist organization that was no friend to Iran.

Acting from inside Afghanistan and Pakistan – two nations that border Iran – al-Qaeda’s actions destabilized the region and brought on a swift counterattack by U.S. forces who remain in the region.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda members streamed across Iran’s borders. Many were caught and identified. The most dangerous, including Osama bin Laden’s relatives, were imprisoned. Low-level fighters were returned to their home countries – but not before Zarif secretly shared their identities, finger prints, passports and other information with the U.S. government.

There was other quiet but vital cooperation along the Iranian-Afghan border to stop al-Qaeda,  the heroin trade and warlords from smuggling weapons and goods out of Afghanistan.

The Bush administration benefited greatly from all of it but that’s not the impression it conveyed to the American public or the Iranian people.

Iran’s leaders, working through a Swiss diplomatic channel, sent the State Department a lengthy proposal for embarking on negotiations. Tehran’s leaders sought a “grand bargain,” with everything on the table, including restoring relations with Israel, and giving up any interest in pursing nuclear capabilities that could be used for weapons.

If only they had been greeted with silence. Instead, Bush used his 2003 State of the Union address to enlist Iran into what he deemed an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea.

So rather than find a way to peace and possible reconciliation that could have prevented war, civil unrest, and a winding down nuclear threats, we spent ten years rattling our sabres and stuffing a sock in our flight suit to prove that American exceptionalism is da bomb… literally.  We spent ten years being told by draft-dodgers that war is the answer to all our problems and great for the bottom line at Halliburton and BP.  Instead we got death and the permanent enmity of an entire segment of the world’s population.

Obama and Rouhani must sell this deal at home, and it will tough for both. The American public still carries the scars of a lengthy hostage crisis that followed Iran’s political and religious revolution and are reluctant to trust a new and possibly vulnerable leadership. Rouhani is under pressure from those very same revolutionary guards who see Washington as the root of Iran’s corrupt past.

Failure going forward would certainly embolden the hardliners on all sides, and push toward conflict, not resolution.

But if the deal sticks – a big if – Rouhani will be the first Iranian leader in more than 30 years who unclenched his fist – delivering his people back into the global fold. Obama may well be remembered as the Nobel laureate who removed the threat of nuclear war through the promise of extending his hand.

It’s long past time that we matured to the point where we realize how incredibly insane it is to think that the only way to achieve peace is through war.