With Barack Obama’s approval ratings getting dragged down by a floundering foreign policy, we might miss one of his biggest successes in a place no one expected—Iran. Whether we extend the interim anti-nuke deal or reach a longer-term agreement to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Obama has backed our enemy into a corner. But fans of cynicism, failure, and partisanship should take heart, because there’s still time for congress to turn what should be a win-win for the United States into yet another loss.
What we call “the free world” agrees that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. What we disagree on is how to stop them. The Dick Cheneys and John McCains of the world believe belligerence, saber rattling, and bombings are the wisest course of action, while liberals prefer economic sanctions and diplomacy. And as much as negotiating with Iran seems foolishly naive, it seems to be working.
I’ve got a confession to make. I didn’t think it was going to work, either. Because of the hostage crisis, I grew up hating Iran even more than the Yankees. Later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s insane claim that Israel must be “wiped off the map” convinced me that the only thing that would bring that country to its senses was a crash course in smart bombs.
That’s why I was among those Democrats who quietly thought Obama was foolish about foreign policy when he was running for president. It was one thing to want to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when he said he would meet with rogue states including Iran “without precondition,” his reasoning came across like the lofty logic of an ivory-tower egghead with no chance of success in the real world.
“And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them - which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous,” said Obama.
Still, I wanted him to win, especially since John McCain was wrong about Iran, Afghanistan, the economy, and just about everything else. But I shut my pie hole even though I feared McCain was dead-on about Iran.
“Senator Obama’s desire to meet unconditionally in his first year at the presidential level with Iranian leaders” was “reckless, and demonstrates poor judgment that will make the world more dangerous,” said McCain.
Since that election, Obama has been proven right. Last year, United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany signed a first-step agreement with Iran to put their nuke program on hold while they negotiated a permanent treaty. Conservatives, including McCain, howled. How can we trust Iran? This won’t stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons? And dumbest of all, Negotiating with mullahs shows that Obama is weak!
Poppycock. During the interim, Iran has destroyed its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, stopped building new centrifuges, halted work on its heavy water plutonium reactor at Arak, and granted full access to the International Atomic Energy Agency for video surveillance and surprise inspections. In exchange, we let them have access to their frozen accounts in London banks and lifted some sanctions.
How good was that deal? It would be like Jack making a trade for magic beans in exchange for letting the old man keep his own cow.
Now that six-month interim deal is set to expire on July 20, but before Republicans start rooting for failure, know this: America can’t lose. Either we get a long-term deal that keeps Iran from developing nuclear weapons permanently, or we keep the interim deal in place. Heads we win the game, tails we keep Iran’s nuclear program on deep freeze.
No one, including me, thought there was any point in talking to Iran, much less prospects of success in taking the diplomatic route that has led us here. But a treaty requires Senate approval, which means McCain—not to mention Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and others—could still screw this up. Demanding new sanctions or engaging in mindless partisan obstruction could fumble a diplomatic victory I never thought was possible. Let’s take this win.
(Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.)