A Done Deal: Diplomacy Drowns Out Drums of War

Iran has fulfilled all obligations required by the P5+1 nuclear deal, paving the way for immediate implementation, including the lifting of crippling nuclear linked sanctions. No surprise however that a deal of such historic proportions, with no shots being fired,has failed to satisfy electioneering Republicans. 

Late last year after the nuclear deal between the world’s six major powers and Iran had been signed, Republican Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio wrote in Foreign Affairs that the world is safest when America is at its strongest and dealing with Iran has shown America to be weak.

He contended that Iran, a nation with “little intrinsic leverage” won many concessions because President Obama “took off the table the largest advantage our nation had entering into the negotiations: military strength”.

As the 2016 Presidential race in the United States enters, finally, its election year, Republican hopefuls queue in order to ride the bucking bull of war chants longer and louder than any other.

Cartoonishly they clamber over each other, desperate to be considered the biggest and the bravest warrior, determined to convince Americans that war beats jaw, and strength is measured in the acquiescence of all others to America’s will.

Contrary to logic, these candidates don’t believe negotiation is a practice entered into with one’s enemies.

The collective amnesia with respect to US meddling in the Middle East is breathtaking, and as is often said in such situations, would be funny if it wasn’t so serious/dangerous/stupid/embarrassing - all of the above.

Rubio wrote that Obama “sacrificed any option that could have conceivably raised the stakes and forced the mullahs into making major concessions”.

He then blithely conjured up the Iran-Iraq War in a manner which suggested Iran was the instigator - “its war with Iraq” -  when in fact it was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (armed by the US) whose territorial ambitions saw him declare war on neighbouring Iran.

Fast forward to the last few days and Rubio and his ilk remain steadfast in refusing to concede the now implemented nuclear deal actually lengthens by at least ten months, the time Iran needs if it was to break out and develop a nuclear weapon - the action the deal is designed to prohibit.

The deal has also, amongst a long list of demands, required severe cuts to Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile, cut and capped its capacity to enrich uranium, radically modified the Arak heavy water reactor to block its ability to produce plutonium (filled it with cement) and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) extensive and intrusive monitoring of enrichment activities at Natanz and Fordo facilities and centrifuge production, the likes of which no other nuclear sovereign state would ever tolerate.

This past weekend the IAEA verified Iran has met all requirements made of it, and so the deal hit implementation, and UN, EU and US sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear activities were immediately lifted.

While claims to the contrary have been made, it is difficult to divorce from the implementation achievement the exchange of five American citizens held in Iranian prisons for seven Iranians held by the US. 

Also forever associated with the deal will be the prompt release of the ten US sailors arrested for straying into Iran’s territory.

Iran was probably not acting out of generosity, but for a regime that with proven cause lives with suspicion of foreign interference, its handing over of those it deems to be spies is a big deal.

Calculating perhaps, but for the sake of the diplomacy shown by the more pragmatic amongst the country’s leaders, goodwill should not be dismissed outright.  

President Obama has hailed the long hard work of those involved in these negotiations as the fruit of strong diplomacy. “Diplomacy, not war, led to the historic success”.

John Kerry hailed it as “the first day of a safer world...I think we have also proven once again why diplomacy has to always be our first choice and war our last resort”.

The naysayers - the US Republican party and the man it seems to respect above President Obama, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, refuse to consider that anyone knows better than they do, and have dismissed the British, Germans, French, Russians, Chinese, and American scientists, diplomats and negotiators as being hoodwinked by Iran.

There is also a palpable incapacity to consider Iran’s President Rouhani as a politician capable of such deep understanding of the modern world alongside the institutions of his own Islamic Republic that he has been able to finesse the process to the point of bringing Ayatollah Khomeini to seal a deal with ‘the Great Satan’, amongst others.

That is no mean feat for a cleric who doesn’t really want integration, and is effectively in the throes of an identity crisis for his Islamic revolutionary state and the protection of his own legacy.     

Unsubstantiated objection to this deal plays directly into the narrative Iran has lived by since 1979.

However for American politicians in election year, the theory, which given Trump’s, Cruz’s and Rubio’s fortunes is so far holding, is that if you can scare the populous and then talk big and tough in order to shoot down your own straw man, it translates into votes.

But as political scientist Kenneth Waltz and many other scholars of Iran hold, while some Iranian leaders have indulged in “inflammatory and hateful rhetoric” the country is not run by a bunch of “mad mullahs” with a propensity for self destruction.

Indeed assuming the leaders of Iran are anything but sane and quite keen to survive and prosper, is a foolish and potentially dangerous calculation.

It is particularly incendiary when the lone, unchecked nuclear state in the region is Israel, not Iran.

Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, knows that one step out of line and the ‘snap back’ provision of the deal will see economic sanctions immediately reimposed, and potentially, military consequences.

Iran has much to risk.

It is a country of 80 million with the world’s fourth latest proved oil reserves and the second-largest proven natural gas reserves.

Its population is young, highly literate and well educated, amongst the highest in the world for graduates in science, engineering and maths, but under the sanctioned regime unemployment is rampant and savings are low.

With restored access to foreign assets, higher oil production and lower trade and financial transaction costs the IMF expects real GDP to this year lift to around 4 - 4.5% and bring inflation down to single digits.

Iran needs to win friends, its own diaspora and capital, and play by the rules to ensure this is a nuclear deal too big to fail.