By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Perhaps never in history has so much been written about a “deal”, particularly a “good deal” and a “bad deal.” Words lose their meaning when they are repeated again and again. Perhaps also never in history have there been so many photos of men in turbans smiling in international newspapers. How the world got to the point where people who spend most of their time trying to invent ways to ban women from watching volleyball have dominated the conversation is extraordinary. How a country that hangs people proudly and burns the flags of those it negotiates with has come to be so respected on the international stage is truly extraordinary. It is a testament to the soft racism of low expectations of the West. The West supports the very values at home it eschews abroad, it embraces the lowest of expectations for its adversaries because of its own arrogant belief that only the West can save the world from itself and that by not acting, the resulting “failure” will be the West’s fault as well. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” is the motto, so therefore the theory is “better to do.” Better to try and fail than never to have tried is the theory. Diplomacy is peace. Negotiations are progress. Agreements are success. Those are the watchwords of the powers that negotiated with Iran and came back with a “good deal.” The region that is most affected by Iran was not consulted. Saudi Arabia, the Syrian rebels, Iraqi Sunnis, the Gulf states, Israel or the Lebanese opposition were not asked about their view of Iran. Had they been, there would be no negotiations.
They see negotiations as profoundly hypocritical. The regime causing destruction and chaos across the region is playing peacemaker in Europe. “The Americans are miscalculating badly if they consider conflicts in the region, fueled by Iran’s behavior, to be minor aberrations. They have already made a critical error in judgment to reduce their involvement here,” writes Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi at Al-Arabiya. He asserts that “there is therefore an urgent need to curb Iran’s aggression and make sure it abides by international law and respects the sovereignty of other states.”
The Iran deal has led to much discussion in the international media; reams of opeds have been published. Those that support the deal, even those that oppose it, have advanced numerous myths about it. Here are some of them.
1) The deal would “prevent it [Iran] from obtaining a nuclear weapon” – US President Barack Obama. The main myth is that the deal will “prevent” Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It “shuts down all pathways to a nuclear bomb.” The deal does shut down all pathways to a nuclear bomb the way speed limit signs shut down all pathways for people to speed on a highway. The deal provides a framework that, when adhered to, does in theory shut down these pathways. Some people have theorized that Iran already has a nuclear device. This is unlikely. Others have claimed that Iran’s “break out” time to 2-3 months.
The agreement doesn’t block anything, it doesn’t prevent anything. Many people have pointed to historic agreements such as the “agreement” by North Korea not to develop nuclear weapons that was hailed by the Clinton administration in the 1990s; or the Munich agreement and Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time.” One doesn’t need to look so far; the fact is that most agreements by historically hostile powers whose people are not motivated to seek peace are not adhered to. This isn’t Europe in 1945 or Schengen of 1985. If, when Schengen was signed, in 1985 in Europe the Germans were burning French flags and shouting “death to France” and encouraged in their hatred by their leaders, and supporting several proxy wars throughout Europe, the agreement would never have meant anything. If anyone thinks the agreement blocks Iran’s advancement toward a nuclear weapon they are badly mistaken. Iran could probably have developed a nuclear weapon by now. Iran is using the threat of a nuclear weapon to blackmail the West into an agreement.
2) “Iran deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.” Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Blidt claimed that the “work of the Nobel committee just got easier” as if to imply that Iran or US President Barack Obama deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama already has one Peace prize. Giving Iran a peace prize, when it is supporting Assad’s bloody reign of terror in Syria, which has displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands, would be grotesque. It shows the shallowness of the West that a country that openly boasts of militarism, that celebrates militarism, that supports Shia militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria; and exports war throughout the region, is considered “peaceful.” There probably is no other country in the world involved in so many wars and supporting so much military actions as Iran. For Obama the peace prize is a self-fulfilling prophecy; create a deal in which Iran gets everything it wants and then claim that you made the world more “peaceful.” There is no more peace the day after the agreement than there was before it. In all likelihood the deal with embolden Iran to meddle in more countries in the region. After all, in Iran the deal is viewed as a “great victory,” legitimizing the “resistance”, “struggle” and “revolution.” It isn’t about peace, the deal in Iran is about showing off the muscular diplomacy of the country. The deal is a result of Obama’s need for a legacy, to give another peace prize for a non-legacy would be disastrous.
3) The Iran Deal “reduces the chances of war” – New York Times. The Iran deal does not reduce the chances of war; in the opposite the deal legitimates Iran’s warmongering policy in the region. What were the chances of war between the US and Iran before the deal? None. The US wasn’t on the verge of bombing Iran. For years during the Bush administration there was chatter on bombing Iran, a concept that some Republicans still cling to. That was never going to happen. The only thing the Bush administration sought to do was isolate and contain Iran, a policy it failed miserably at. The Obama administration never wanted war; in the opposite it wanted to create a “reset” with Iran like it did with Russia and Cuba.
Since the chances of war were nill, the deal doesn’t “reduce” anything. Does it reduce the chances of war in the region? Iran is already at war with several countries in the region, so it can’t reduce that either. Since Sunnis in Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Lebanon were not invited to give their view, it means that they had no say in showing the true wounds of Iran’s policy. Many Arab commentators have already spoken out against the deal. One writes, “You’re reading the blog of a bitter and disillusioned man who once cheered for Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 war and believed that Tehran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’ was the region’s only hope. I changed my mind because Syrians were being murdered by the thousands.” Too bad no one wanted to listen to them in Vienna.
4) Netanyahu is to blame, if only some other Israeli leader had been in charge, it wouldn’t have happened. It “happened on his watch,” one Israeli politician said. A US official claimed “no one is listening to Netanyahu.” There is much celebrating on parts of the Israeli left over the “defeat” of Netanyahu in the Iran deal. For them Netanyahu’s blustering blowhard speeches have done nothing to help Israel. Many on the left oppose the deal, but they are happy to see Netanyahu frustrated. This is short-sighted. The fact is that Netanyahu is not to blame for the Iran deal. It is true that his attempts to persuade Congress has made Israel into a political football. It has put Israel in an awkward position of being used by the Republicans as a partisan tool against Obama. Netanyahu thinks he is using these Congressmen, but it is the other way around. Media opposed to Obama bring on Israelis in order to show how Obama is weak. If Netanyahu had never mentioned Iran, the deal would have gone through anyway. The Obama administrations “reset” policy in Russia and Cuba had nothing to do with Israel. The Persianist policy of the US State Department has been a long time coming.
5) “Israel is safer” – John Kerry. Israel is not safer under this deal. Iran may or may not continue its quest for nuclear weapons. The nukes were always just a red flag that Iran held up to distract the world from its real intention, which is regional dominance. Hezbollah is as much a threat as a nuclear weapon because the Iranians were never going to use a nuclear weapon against Israel. The nukes were just blackmail by Iran. Undermining Arab states and empowering violent militias threaten Israel. It has a blowback affect because chaos in Lebanon and Syria and the rise of ISIS, which was encouraged by Assad’s Iranian-backed crackdown that led to extremism, threaten Israel. Now Iran will crack down more, Sunnis will become more radical and Israel will continue to be threatened.
6) “A deal that verifiably blocks each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.” A deal with a Iran doesn’t verifiably block anything. Inspections can verify some things, but anyone who recalls the cat-and-mouse inspections of Iraq in the 1990s knows that it will become a long drawn out game with Iran; were the West plays into the Iranian “puzzle” of “exotic complex Iran” and achieves no verification.
7) It helps the “moderates.” There is no such thing as “moderate” Iranian leaders. Iran’s regime is split between the very-very extreme conservative right, and the very conservative extreme right. There is a myth of moderation. Under the “moderate” Rouhani Iran has increased its support for the Revolutionary Guard involvement in Iraq and Syria and dispatched its “plumber” General Qasem Suleimani to wage wars abroad. The “moderates” may seem to want a deal while “hardliners” don’t. But in reality there is little difference between them. They play the West by dispatching smiling Iranians like Zarif while the “bad cop” Iranians remain at home. Then the moderates claim they “need a deal to be bolstered.” It is as ridiculous as claiming that a “moderate” bully on the schoolyard needs your lunch money so that the “really mean bullies” won’t come beat you up. They are part of the same gang.
8) Not having a deal “emboldens conservatives”: The reverse of the coin of the “moderates” is that the West must do the deal to help the moderates and not “force” Iran to become more extreme. How can it become more extreme? Can it hang more homosexuals and send more money and arms to Shia militias and put more women in prison for going to volleyball games or dancing? It can’t become more extreme.
9) It makes the region more peaceful: The emboldening of Iran through the deal will make the region more chaotic, war-torn and weaken the Sunni Arab states. The Sunni Arab states wonder why they couldn’t have had a nuclear program, now that Iran has been rewarded. Syria is being subjected to ‘Iranification.” This will all have blowback. It will embolden Sunni states, encourage more radicalism and regional wars and a regional arms race.
10) The Economist claims: ensuring that even as its nuclear programme starts to expand again it will do so under conditions of far greater transparency than in the past. As long as future American presidents remain committed to preventing Iran from ever having a bomb and will use force if necessary to prevent it, deterrence should be maintained…Judged by more pragmatic standards, the deal, while not perfect, appears much better than any of the plausible alternatives.” There is a concept that this deal will lead to transparency. If Iran wanted to be transparent it could have before. It could have adhered to all the West’s demands a decade ago and never had sanctions put on it in the first place. It could have preached peace and built universities rather than bankroll Hezbollah.
11) “Iran will lead the fight against ISIS.” – Ian Bremmer. Iran’s involvement in Syria and propping up Assad created the fertile ground for ISIS. Iran in fact fuels ISIS by supporting Shia militias that force Sunnis into the arms of ISIS. Iran helped create ISIS and now it then is empowered in fighting against ISIS. This was the Iran plan for Iraq all along, a totally Shia dominated Iraq. It worked hard to achieve this under Maliki and now has had its way. The deal is only one part of that plan.
12) “It is good because it bring Iran into international community.” Iran exiled itself from the international community through its extremist behavior. No one forced Iran to have Ayatollahs and suppress democracy in 2009 and hang people. No one forces it to spend more time burning flags than hosting cultural expos. The concept that it is “better to have it in the tent pissing out” might be logical if it wasn’t so busy trying to take over part of the tent.
13) “Trust but verify.” This mantra neglects to realize that the “verify” portion of this enters an Iranian swamp of “mystery” and will result in years of inspections being frustrated.
14) “It’s better than no deal at all.” When you get to this view it means the deal is a sunk cost. There is no such thing as “something is better than nothing.” The something in this case is Iran winning and Iran being emboldened. It is not better than “no deal” because there is nothing in it for the region or the West. This isn’t a “deal”, it is an Iran victory plan.
15) Israel is the only real victim: Some people don’t care because they think falsely that “only” Israel opposes the deal. Actually the Arab states are the main opposers as Syria congratulates Iran; its not about Israel, it is about Iranification of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
16) “Israel has nuclear weapons, so it’s time to talk about that.” The concept that Israel’s nuclear program is the real issue is just distraction. If the region and international community wanted to deal with Israel over its apparent nuclear program, then why not deal with Israel? That can be done without empowering Iran.
17) “This is a responsible deal and Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way,” Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The concept that Israel was “mean” and “not nice” in its critique is just diplomatic cover. Israel has been outspoken, as it should to a deal that harms its security interests. The only tragedy is the Arab regimes have not been more outspoken.
18) “15 years versus next year. We got the best of all dismal possiblities.”- JJ Goldberg. The concept that we “won” because it will take 15 years for Iran to make a nuclear weapon is nonsensical. It’s like wanting to be the last person eaten by the crocodile. It is incredibly irresponsible for Obama and the West to sacrifice the region and the world in 15 years, as opposed to confronting Iran now. Postponing extremism doesn’t actually help anyone.
19) Business relationships and sanctions snap back: Once the $100 billion benefit to Iran through sanctions relief is put in place by the deal it will be impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Companies and countries will become vested in doing business and lobby against a “snap back.” There is no real snap back. This is the end of sanctions. The only question is how to prevent Iranian meddling in the region.
20) This was a good deal: It was not a good deal. Iran is being bribed to not build nukes. Iran got what it wanted. It played the West. Zarif should be ‘person of the year’ for his performance.