Make no mistake: President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is a historic victory for reason. On July 14, the Obama administration accomplished what no previous U.S. administration had the capacity, tact, or patience to do: create a peaceful resolution that halts Iran’s ability to be a nuclear threat by developing what Obama deems, “the most intrusive inspection regime ever.”
In the days ahead, as Obama and his team mount a sixty-day campaign to sway Republican lawmakers into analyzing the terms of the deal before vowing to destroy it, many facts will be contorted, baseless comments will be carelessly tossed into the news cycle, lessons from history will be forgotten, and false parallels will be made. In judging this deal, one must not operate from a position of fear, hatred, pessimism, or blinding anti-Iranian bigotry. Major media outlets will develop worst case scenarios, lament that even a bit of Iran’s nuclear abilities remain, and even accuse President Obama of financing state-sponsored terrorism. These arguments have their place, but I urge humanists to think beyond these emotional and pessimistic stances and weigh what is shown and not shown by history.
After thirty-six years of suffocating sanctions, Iran has grown desperate and is willing to negotiate a new nuclear status quo.
That Iran would come to the table and agree to the most intrusive inspection regime ever imposed on a sovereign nation is clear evidence that the present sanctions are, in fact, working. In January 2001 Iran’s oil minister acknowledged that they are losing between four and eight billion dollars each month as a result of UN and EU sanctions. But beyond the Iranian economy, these sanctions have truly damaged Iranian civil society; four out of five Iranians report that the sanctions personally hurt their livelihood. Additionally, sanctions against Iranian banks have affected Iran’s ability to fund its healthcare system, which hurts the forty percent of Iranians who live in poverty and are unable to get basic services and medical solutions for cancer and HIV/AIDS.
Further, calls for increased sanctions into perpetuity have no logical grounds—they may even make the situation worse. The Iranian government has only increased its anti-U.S. rhetoric over time, and the sanctions themselves, after nearly forty years, seem to have no impact on whether or not Iran funds terrorism. Moreover, the Iranian people have only become more adamant in their support of their government’s nuclear program—though it’s important to note that less than half of the population wants to use that program militarily.
Every fair agreement between two sovereign states will require a mutual leap of faith, especially when there’s a history of distrust.
America’s addiction to imperialist displays of power has been hard to shake. It seems that many remain blind to the lessons of history. The staunch anti-American sentiment of Iranians, their government, and the Middle East at large is not some nascent idea that simply exists because we exist as a free liberal nation. That anti-Americanism, like most anti-American sentiment, is a result of our unashamed willingness to operate with impunity within the borders of sovereign nations. Just two years ago, the CIA formally acknowledged its role in the 1953 Iranian coup de’état, which deposed a democratically elected leader in Iran in order to create a client state, which then secured would-be nationalized oil for British petroleum. The corrupt dictator we propped up for twenty-six years sought to impose a harsh secular society upon a very religious one. This led to the religious backlash movement that was the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which in turn caused the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the current authoritarian theocracy that we see today. This is just a sample of the sort of tactless meddling in Iran’s government that America has been engaging in since the end of World War II—all it has wrought is fear and hatred on both sides.
I explain all this to demonstrate that, from a reasonable point of view, distrust is equally justifiable from both the Iranian and US government.
This deal was the sole goal of the repeated sanctions imposed by the international community over the last two decades.
After the International Atomic Energy Agency’s discovery in 2002 of Iranian secret uranium-enrichment plants, and with Iran’s further unwillingness to destroy those facilities in the following years, the UN and EU installed the sanctions.
We must understand that we are never going to get Iran to completely stop its uranium enrichment program, and we can’t erase their knowledge of how to make one. As mentioned earlier, the populace is adamant in support of the operation. Further, there are legitimate energy and medical benefits in uranium enrichment that any country, if securely and safely able to, should have the right to pursue.
The New York Times has created a simple, streamlined account of the agreement. It’s clear that the deal is based upon reason, not faith. It is a complete bottom-up inspection of Iranian nuclear development starting with the uranium ore mines. It includes as many safeguards as possible, like the possibility of renewed sanctions if Iran, upon request, does not open itself up for complete inspection in a timely manner.
This deal is what the sanctions were put in place for. To ignore Iran’s willingness to significantly limit uranium enrichment is not logical. It would only further radicalize Iran by showing that America is not willing to negotiate.
There is no other peaceful alternative.
Given Iran’s inclination not to trust us, and given the fact that they have lasted half a lifetime under the most excruciating sanctions ever imposed on a country, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no other peaceful alternative to the deal. As humanists we must approach people with an understanding of the basic human dignity that resides in them. If we continue to treat Iran like a petulant child placed in time-out from the rest of the world, they’ll continue to act as such until they are completely unreachable diplomatically. Instead of this, let’s all be brave enough to come to the negotiating table and to treat each other like functioning adults.