Mike Zucker: Defusing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions
“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
The echoes of that plea from President John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961 resonate poignantly these days in the wake of the nuclear deal announced last week in Vienna.
The agreement was the product of years of intense negotiations seeking to draw the U.S., Iran and many other nations in Europe and the Middle East, back from an accelerating path to military conflict. If it can be implemented, which is by no means assured due to palpable resistance in the U.S. Congress and by radical fundamentalists inside Iran, it might lead to more constructive relations between Washington and Tehran after more than 36 years of mistrust and hostility.
Such a development would be reminiscent of the seeds of détente planted in October 1962, when President Kennedy pursued a diplomatic resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Like Obama today, Kennedy had to resist conservatives in Congress who were pressing him to destroy the missile sites with massive bombing that carried the concomitant risk of nuclear war.
Like Kennedy’s, Obama’s diplomatic offensive seeks to de-escalate the biggest world conflict of his presidency. While guarantees of success are nonexistent, failures are auguries for catastrophic consequences. Scuttling the Iran deal would fuel today’s Middle East disarray, endanger Israel’s security and further exacerbate tensions between Iran and the U.S. That’s what the deal’s vociferous critics miss.
The agreement is an astonishing accomplishment because it’s been approved not just by American and Iranian negotiators, but by the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the European Union. It passed 15-0 in the full Council.
Yet this vital moment that the president seized is threatened by widespread isolationist sentiment in Congress, much of it ideological, and by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all of whom pounced on it with hyperbolic scorn.
A few of their summary complaints:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said “it will make everything worse; … we have set in motion a decade of chaos.”
“This is delusional and dangerous,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain.
House Speaker John Boehner called it a “bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for our country.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu, who called the agreement “a stunning historic mistake,” has questionable credibility. AlterNet compiled a lengthy narrative that covered 20 years of his erroneous predictions about Iran’s imminent acquisition of a nuclear weapon. In February, they reported that Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, privately contradicted his 2012 claim at the United Nations that Iran was just “weeks” away from producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb.
It’s noteworthy that all these war hawks’ scornful statements were not reasoned critiques or judgments. They hadn’t yet read the 169-page deal!
Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and more than 50 other national security professionals from Democratic and Republican administrations, formally urged Congress to support the agreement. Said Cirincione, “The consequences of rejection are grave … (including) U.S. responsibility for the collapse of the agreement, and a possible development of an Iranian nuclear weapon under significantly reduced or no inspections. A rejection of the agreement could leave the U.S. with the only alternative of having to use military force unilaterally in the future.”
Last week President Obama correctly reminded us that in this debate “we’re hearing the echoes of some of the same policies and mind-sets that failed us in the past. And some of the same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran`s nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq and said it would take a few months … Sending our sons and daughters into harm`s way must always be a last resort and that before we put their lives on the line, we should exhaust every alternative. That`s what we owe our troops.”
If Iran cheats, the deal authorizes the sanctions’ resumption. But if the 24/7 inspections that it orders confirms Tehran’s compliance, there’s a chance for improved relations. Bottom line, we’re no worse off than we are today. Maybe, just maybe, it will work.
In that same Inauguration Day address more than 54 years ago, JFK told us “Civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.”
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