As diplomats from the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany move closer to reaching a historic deal with Iran that would temporarily block it from pursuing certain nuclear ambitions in exchange for relaxation of sanctions, Republicans are vowing to do all they can to scuttle the deal. It’s remarkable that, at a time when the first modern meaningful international agreement between the US and Iran is about to go through, Republicans are rattling sabers as aggressively as ever.
Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker called the deal “one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.” “Instead of making the world safer,” Walker alleges, “this deal will likely lead to a nuclear arms race in the world’s most dangerous region.” In keeping with the lockstep obstructionism that has defined the GOP throughout Obama’s presidency, other Republicans have protested the deal, citing Iran’s untrustworthiness and existential threat to world peace.
For years, Washington and the news media have portrayed Iran as the most dangerous national power on the planet. That opinion is not widely shared by the global community, however, which by a significant margin places the United States at the top of a list of the biggest threats to world peace. Despite the abundance of negative public opinion on Iran in the US, the question of what exactly makes the country such a threat is rarely meaningfully explored.
A brief history of US/Iranian relations reveals everything about who should be distrustful of who.
In 1953, the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government and installed the Shah, a brutal dictator who proceeded to establish one of the worst human rights records of the era. Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which deposed the Shah, Washington turned its favor to another brutal dictator in the region: Saddam Hussein, who received US aid throughout the Iran-Iraq War. Ever since the revolution, the US has imposed various sanctions on Iran. And most recently, we launched major military operations in two of Iran’s neighboring states, further destabilizing the region and threatening Iran’s own safety.
But in the eyes of US commentary, Iran remains the supreme evil. It’s instructive, for instance, that without any irony or self-awareness we charge Iran with interfering in the Iraq War – a war we instigated from the other side of the world, against massive international protest, on Iran’s doorstep. Actually, Iran’s involvement in the Iraq conflict has necessarily increased with the growing threat of ISIS, a group that only exists because of the immense power vacuum and destabilization caused by the US invasion.
With all the trouble Washington causes in and around Iranian borders, it’s a wonder Tehran has as much restraint as it does. Iran has launched zero invasions in modern history. Its alleged support for terrorism mostly concerns the aid it provides to secure its regional interests and to Hamas and Hezbollah, groups which emerged as resistance against Israeli aggression in Lebanon and the West Bank.
Even more fuss is made in Western commentary over Ayatollah Khomeini and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged threats to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” As historian and prominent Middle Eastern commentator Juan Cole clarifies, such a literal threat was never made. “The actual quote,” Cole writes, “does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all… [Ahmadinejad] quoted Khomeini that ‘the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.’ It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.”
It would be nothing short of suicidal for Iran to make such a threat. But Israeli/Iranian tensions are real, and nuclear weapons are part of the problem. Three states within three or fewer borders of Iran possess nuclear weapons: Israel, Pakistan and India. Unlike Iran, none of them have signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Also unlike Iran, all three are US allies.
Not only has Israel not signed the NPT, it doesn’t even admit it has nuclear weapons – though it’s arsenal is one of the world’s worst-kept secrets. Meanwhile, even US intelligence indicates Iran has not tried to develop a nuclear weapon. Our fear of terrorists getting hold of a nuclear bomb via Iran is borderline hysterical, but the far more realistic possibility that they might acquire one through our ally Pakistan is hardly ever brought up.
Whether or not support for terrorism is justified also depends on who’s doing it. The US gives tremendous support to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two of the leading sponsors of terror in the region. What it all boils down to is very simple: Washington-approved clients are allowed to possess nuclear weapons and support terror; others may not.
Iran is not without its blemishes. It restricts the freedoms of its people in myriad ways and exercises capital punishment liberally. Nothing it does is any worse – and probably a great deal less extreme – than US allies like Saudi Arabia, but it’s far from perfect. Nor is the nuclear deal perfect: for one thing, it frees Iran to ramp up its oil production at a time when the burning of fossil fuels is known to have put the world’s ecology on the brink of collapse.
But it’s hard to argue that curtailing nuclear weapons proliferation and opening up a dialogue are bad things. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction – if, that is, peace and stability are the direction we want to go. For American warmongers, it apparently isn’t. The idea that Republicans would invade Iran over, of all things, being amenable and making a deal – a deal that forces them to make a great deal of concessions that regional US allies like Israel would never make – is unconscionable, particularly in light of our own crimes and unethical sponsorships in the region.