The brouhaha over the proposed Iran nuclear agreement has been ongoing since early this year, when the framework for a final agreement was first announced. It is bound to keep percolating into the fall, and reach a crescendo when Congress votes yea or nay in September. If things go as expected, Congress will vote to kill the deal, President Obama will exercise his veto, and the key vote will be whether the president has the votes in Congress to sustain his veto. I am in favor of this agreement; I think it gives the world its best chance of preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, if the opponents of this deal have a viable alternative, I haven’t heard it yet. There are plenty of people out there on both sides shouting the pros and cons, so I won’t focus on those arguments here. Instead, I’ll talk about two interesting (at least to me) aspects of the proposed agreement and its ratification (or not) that I haven’t seen mentioned all that often.
First off, many of the agreement’s opponents are against it because “we just can’t trust Iran”. I would like to flip this around and ask a question that no one seems to be asking in this country: Can Iran trust us? There are two reasons that Iran has to distrust us, the first of which deals with our system of government and current political situation. Suppose Congress upholds President Obama’s veto and the deal goes through. Suppose further that pursuant to the deal, Iran starts dismantling large segments of its nuclear program. Now imagine that a Republican wins the White House in 2016. Most of the Republican candidates have expressed their vehement opposition to the agreement. Governor Scott Walker has said he would abrogate the agreement on his first day in office as President. This would leave Iran with a degraded nuclear program while the United States re-imposes severe sanctions. So if Iran takes the actions that the agreement requires of them, they will do so knowing that they cannot trust that the next American president will abide by the agreement’s terms, based on the candidates’ own words.
Iran also has historical reasons to mistrust us. Remember, in 1951 the Iranian people democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh as their Prime Minister. American and British oil companies feared that he might nationalize the Iranian oil industry, and so at their behest the C.I.A., with help from British Intelligence, engineered a coup and subsequently installed the Shah as leader of Iran, who presided over a repressive police state until he was ousted in 1979. Not exactly the kind of thing that builds trust between peoples. Then in 1988, a U.S. warship shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, resulting in the death of 290 innocents, including 66 children. Now I firmly believe that this was a tragic accident, but let me ask you: if it had been an Iranian ship that had shot down an American airliner, would the American people have believed them if they said it was an accident? Also in the1980’s, we supported Saddam Hussein and Iraq when they started a brutal war with Iran. When we received concrete intelligence that Iraq was using chemical weapons against the Iranians, we did nothing. We did not demand, publicly or privately, that they stop, nor did we did we end our support for Iraq, which included providing them with vital intelligence. Now the Iranians are hardly angels themselves. Their country is decidedly un-free, and their democracy is mostly a sham. Furthermore, they have provided weapons to both Hamas and Hezbollah, knowing full well that these weapons would be aimed intentionally at civilians. My point is that the lack of trust that opponents frequently cite in arguing against the agreement actually cuts both ways. We both have reasons to distrust the other, that’s why deals such as this are made in the first place; to allow parties that distrust each other to reach some common ground.
My other interesting tidbit concerning this proposed agreement concerns a country that is not even a party to the deal: North Korea. It seems that everyone, even the deal’s proponents, agree that Iran must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. In truth, I don’t want them to get one either. However, I think that Iran, whatever its numerous faults, is led by rational (if at times very unpleasant) people, who would not launch a nuclear attack on Israel knowing full well that Israel has over 100 nuclear warheads of its own with which they could hit Iran from land, air, or sea. But I don’t think the same is true of North Korea. From all appearances, its leadership is genuinely crazy, and therefore all the more dangerous. And yet we live with North Korea’s nukes. No one is currently saying “We must never allow North Korea to get a nuclear bomb”. Of course, that horse has already left the barn. But why is it imperative that Iran never get a nuclear bomb, but okay that North Korea, which is a much more dangerous country due to its irrationality, already has one? Yes, Israel is an important ally of ours, and an Iranian bomb would put it in danger. But aren’t South Korea and Japan also important allies of ours, and aren’t they already in danger from a North Korean nuke? (By the way, it is almost 1,000 miles from Tehran to Tel Aviv, but only 800 miles from Pyonyang to Tokyo, and a mere 120 miles from Pyonyang to Seoul). Why then is all the attention focused on Iran, while we seemingly ignore the danger from North Korea? As the vote grows near and the debate intensifies, I think these are important points to consider.