After twelve years of diplomatic confrontation between Iran and the United States and its allies, the two sides have reached a historic agreement in Vienna, Austria. Iran and P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – announced that their intensive negotiations that began 20 months ago, shortly after Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, was elected president of Iran, have finally reached their conclusion. In return for Iran limiting its nuclear program for the next 10-15 years and making it far more transparent than ever before, the United States and its allies will lift their crippling economic sanctions against that country.
But the work is not finished yet. The opposition – the neoconservatives, Republicans, and Israel and Saudi Arabia lobbies and their supporters – has begun its counterattacks to derail the agreement and force Congress to reject it. The AIPAC has already formed a new group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, to oppose the agreement and to lobby the Congress. The lobby groups have been planting op-eds and commentaries in many mainstream media and major websites to demonize Iran and prevent approval of the agreement. Demonstrations were held in New York against the agreement. The same discredited pundits who advocated the illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq are being given ample airtime and space to repeat the same lies and exaggerations, this time against Iran.
Thus, antiwar, anti-foreign intervention groups have their work cut out for them. Rejection of the agreement will lead to another destructive war in the Middle East against Iran.
The most surprising aspect of the opposition to the nuclear agreement is ferocity of the attacks on it that, by any measure and when coupled with the lies, exaggerations, half-truths, and innuendos about Iran, has been completely unprecedented. This becomes clear when we consider similar events over the past four decades.
When Richard Nixon visited China in 1972 and began the process of normalizing U.S.-Chinese relations, even some of the harshest critics of communism did not object, because they saw it as an alliance against the Soviet Union, even though China had a small nuclear arsenal and was a harsh critic of the United States.
When Jimmy Carter re-established diplomatic relations with China in 1977, the move was applauded by the vast majority of the people and politicians.
When Ronald Reagan reached an agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union in December 1987 to cut back on the number of intermediate-range nuclear missiles – the same country that Reagan had called the “evil empire” – everyone but the far right understood that it was necessary to pull back the world from a dangerous state in which some at the Pentagon thought nuclear war was “winnable.”
When Bill Clinton restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995, the same nation that had defeated the United States 20 years earlier, there was no significant opposition to the move because the new relations were seen as a counterweight against rising China.
When Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Myanmar in 2012, there was no significant opposition to the move, even though that nation had been ruled for years by a ruthless military junta and one of the worst violators of human rights. The move was understood as an attempt by the United States to take Myanmar out of China’s sphere of influence.
When Obama announced last December that the United States and Cuba – a small nation that for over fifty years has been a thorn on the side of the United States – would restore diplomatic relations, only the usual anti-Castro crowd reacted negatively. The rest of the world applauded the move.
So, why is it that rapprochement between Iran and the United States is not seen as a positive step toward a more stable Middle East, or making Iran less dependent on China and Russia? The opposition has a long history, but it also has to do with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Ever since the 1979 Revolution in Iran and particularly since the hostage crisis of 1979-1981, there has been fierce opposition to rapprochement with that nation, both in the United States and by its allies in the Middle East. Some still consider negotiating with Iran as being tantamount to committing treason, or capitulation. The opposition led to U.S. support for Iraq during its war of aggression against Iran during the 1980s, and the most crippling economic sanctions in history imposed on Iran by the Obama administration.
Even when the administration of former reformist Iranian president Mohammad Khatami proposed a “grand bargain” to the United States in May 2003 for resolving all the issues between the two nations, including Iran’s then nascent nuclear program, but Dick Cheney dismissed the proposal and declared that the United States “will not talk to evil, we will defeat it.” The restrictions that the Khatami administration had proposed were even tighter than those that have been agreed upon in the nuclear agreement with P5+1.
Cheney and Bush rejected the “grand bargain” because, according to General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of the United States European Command, Iran was one of the seven countries that the Bush administration had planned to attack. During his entire presidency, George W. Bush threatened Iran with military attacks, making Iran a charter member of the infamous “axis of evil.” Cheney wanted to attack Iran, ordered drawing a plan to provoke a war with Iran, and recently even expressed regrets that the US did not invade Iran, instead of Iraq.
The opposition to lessening tension with Iran also has to do with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Over the past twenty five years, every single Israeli leader has tried to goad the United States to either attack Iran or, at the very least, impose total economic sanctions on it, and has been supported by the War Party. Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been beating the drums of war with Iran for years and during 2011-2012 he almost went to war with Iran with the hope of dragging the United States into the conflict, is only one in a long line of Israeli leaders who wanted war with Iran.
For years Saudi Arabia too has urged the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exhorted the George W. Bush administration to “cut off head of the snake,” meaning Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Syria and Bahrain after Arab Spring spread to those two nations, and its attacks on Yemen since last March are all meant to counter Iran’s influence in the region. The Saudis have a tacit alliance with Israel against Iran, which is becoming increasingly more official.
All other Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, as well as other US allies in the Middle East, including Jordan and Egypt, have been opposed to any thaw in the U.S.-Iran relations. The reason is clear: Strategically, none of these nations, including the most two important ones, namely, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, can compete with Iran’s size, natural resources, strategic location, young, dynamic, and well-educated population, and its economy with a GNP that is over $1.2 trillion. They will lose their strategic significance to the United States, if it begins working with Iran to address the complex and bloody issues in the Middle East. So, all their propaganda about Iran destabilizing the region and dominating it is just that: propaganda.
The nuclear agreement will block the path to a destructive war against Iran. The war would spread to the entire Middle East and beyond, making the present wars in the region child’s play, and would cause the collapse of the world economy.
The author has been opposed to the United States policy toward the Middle East for decades and, more generally, military intervention of any country in another country. The United States should leave the people of the Middle East alone to decide their fate on their own, and stop supporting Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians’ lands. But, the fact is, despite all the problems that the Iranian regime has, ranging from violating the rights of its citizens, to political repression and vast economic corruption, as well as its anti-American rhetoric, not only is Iran the most open Islamic nation in the Middle East and North Africa, but also, whenever the Iranian leaders have thought that working with the United States would help Iran’s national security, they have done so.
Iran played a major role in helping the US forces to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. In fact, it was Iran-backed Northern Alliance, an Afghan opposition group, which entered Kabul before US forces did and overthrew the Taliban regime. Iran also played a fundamental role in the formation of the Afghan national unity government in December of 2001.
Iran is at forefront of fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq. In fact, many experts believe that without Iran the Islamic State cannot be defeated.
There can be no end to the war in Syria without Iran participation.
And, as Khatami proposed in his “grand bargain,” only Iran can transform the Lebanese Hezbollah to a purely political/social organization.
Compare these with what Saudi Arabia and Israel have done. By refusing to accept and implement the “two-state solution” and allowing the Palestinians to have their own independent viable state, Israel has contributed mightily to instability in the Middle East, giving radical Islamic groups a rallying cry. And, now, Israel is even supporting the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.
Most, if not all, the Sunni terrorist groups are ideological adherents of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative and reactionary Sunni school of thought that has bestowed legitimacy upon the Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia’s citizens, as well as those of its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf make the largest group of fighters among the Sunni terrorist groups, from the perpetrator of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, to al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And, wealthy citizens of Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies are the most important financial backers of the Sunni terrorist groups.
The losers of the nuclear agreement with Iran are all such regimes that want a war with Iran, as well as the hawks in Washington and Tehran.
The winners of the nuclear agreement are the people of Iran, the Middle East and the United States, as well the true national interests of their nations.
The lives of tens of millions of ordinary Iranians who had no control over or say in the nuclear policy of their leaders have been disrupted by the crippling sanctions imposed on their country. Once the sanctions are lifted, not only will Iran’s economy begin to expand and improve, but also those who are struggling for democracy in Iran – human rights advocates, labor leaders, reformists, the Green Movement, and similar groups – will have breathing room, because the shadow of war will be lifted from their nation. No struggle for democracy can succeed when there is a threat against national security and territorial integrity of any nation, let alone Iran, a nation in the most turbulent region of the world.
The people of the Middle East are also winner because another destructive war, which would have been far more destructive than any of the current wars, has been averted. If the nuclear agreement is implemented, the region may move toward stopping the bloody wars in the Middle East.
And, after the disasters of invading Iraq, attacking Libya, supporting the opposition in Syria, and the rise of the ISIS, the people of the United States are also a winner. The crisis over Iran’s nuclear program was a manufactured one. If it ends, so will also the possibility of a new illegal war in the Middle East that would have ruined the fragile economy of the United States, and would have sent thousands of young people of this country to their deaths.
Unfortunately, to placate Israel, President Obama has been ratcheting up his rhetoric against Iran, calling Iran “anti-Semitic.” As journalist Akbar Ganji has demonstrated in an excellent six-part series, the accusation, which both the President and Netanyahu have been making, is baseless.
Thus, the work to implement the nuclear agreement with Iran is not finished yet. It must continue against the counterattacks of the opposition and their outrageous lies. At the very least, the opposition must be forced to declare explicitly that it wants war with Iran. Then, let an honest debate begin, if the opposition is capable of such a debate, it is doubtful though.