Good news out of the Middle East is rare indeed, so we should savor and celebrate for a moment the agreement reached April 2 to flesh out a framework that has a chance of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Now comes the hard part.
The proponents of this deal in both Iran and the United States will have to convince hardliners at home not to scuttle it before it can be finalized and implemented.
This will be a challenge in Iran. How many times can you shout “Death to America” before you foreclose completely the option to say, “OK, let’s negotiate”?
Since 1979 the power in Iran has been in the hands of a theocratic regime that is, generalizing a bit, anti-American, anti-modern and anti-Semitic. Regimes like Iran’s sustain their power by invoking outside threats. That would be us.
Admittedly we’ve played the part well during the last century, more than once subverting genuine impulses toward democracy in Iran in favor of the shahs, father and son. We saw their reigns as more friendly to our main interest — oil — and as a barrier against the spread of communism.
But that’s history. So are the hundreds of thousands of troops that we maintained threateningly for more than a decade to the east of Iran, in Afghanistan, and to the west, in Iraq. No longer is our nation’s leader publicly calling for regime change in Iran, and he’s not lumping Iran into an overly simplified category like the Axis of Evil.
In fact, President Barack Obama has worked hard to negotiate reasonably the gap between something that we want — a non-nuclear Iran — and something that Iran wants, sanctions relief and reintegration into the international community.
Hardliners in Iran will have to balance their genuine longtime grievances and the usefulness of an external “Great Satan” against the pressure of a very young population with powerful inclinations toward modernity and the West. Time and demography are against the hardliners.
Unfortunately, persuading the hardliners in the United States to give the nuke deal a chance may be an even bigger challenge than it is in Iran.
For many, any chance for a fair consideration of this deal is compromised by a devoted, 6-year determination to ensure that Obama doesn’t achieve anything, foreign or domestic, that looks like success.
That aside, other concerns are justified. “Death to America” and “Great Satan” are mere name-calling and should be ignored. But it’s harder to ignore Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas and its disruptive influence in Syria and Yemen.
On the other hand, Iran’s current interference in Iraq serves our interests. Above all, Iran is an essential player in the region, and its regime’s manipulations are complicated elements of a Sunni-Shiite conflict that shows signs of breaking out into real war.
We have no control over this conflict. We’re not likely to even understand it, much less influence it. About the best we can do is protect Israel, make sure that we don’t get on the wrong side of the fighting and hope that it’s non-nuclear. The proposed deal with Iran probably provides the best chance for that.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton says that the only acceptable deal with Iran would require its complete abandonment of its nuclear program.
This is unrealistic. Any deal that doesn’t allow Iran’s regime to find a way to save face simply isn’t feasible. In fact, any negotiation that doesn’t take Iran’s pride in its long history and its legitimate grievances against the U.S. into account is doomed to failure.
But that’s the value of negotiating from a position of strength. Our power, economic and military and cultural, should give us the luxury of factoring out emotions and false dignity. Who cares if the mullahs call us “The Great Satan”? Our strength should give us the courage to negotiate, to make concessions, to take our time, to even take chances, as long as we get what we want in the end.
The proposed nuke deal deserves a chance to make this happen.