By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
You can oppose the Iran deal and be pro-peace, in fact the best reason to oppose the deal is because you believe in peace. Many articles have tried to turn the deal into an issue of “warmongers” versus those who support diplomacy and peace. US President Barack Obama plays perfectly to this narrative, arguing that the deal makes the region more peaceful and puts off the chances of war for decades. He is thus given credit for “bravely” opposing warmongers and pushing forward. At Newsweek Stephen Cook claims “It is also based on a hunch—yes, a bet; a wager that Iranian politics in 2025 will be vastly different from what it is today.”
The primary way the pro-deal lobby is turned into a pro-peace lobby is by portraying Republicans as pro-war. This is relatively easy because the Republican party plays into the narrative of being hawkish on security. Thus when Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on July 21 he hit all those notes. “Instead of rushing into another conflict, I believe that sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way must always be a last resort,” he said. He portrayed those who oppose the deal as being the same group that argued for war in Iraq, “In the debate over this deal, we’re hearing the echoes of some of the same policies and mindset that failed us in the past. 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.” It is interesting that Obama presents the Iran deal as one of having a deal or going to war. Thus he notes, “now, if Iran tries to get a bomb despite this agreement –10 years from now, or 20 years from now — the American President will be in a stronger position to take whatever additional steps are necessary, including any option of military action, to prevent that from happening.” That is particularly interesting. He views military action as a necessity. That means in essence he believes war is the only option to not having a deal.
That’s where the pro-peace view should be heard. The only option to a deal is not war, but a focus on peace and a focus on rolling back Iranian militarism. The deal guarantees Iran billions in trade that will inflame the Middle East, enrich the Revolutionary Guard, encourage the Syrian regime to force millions more into refugee camps and wet the appetite of Assad by giving him a blank check to kill civilians. With the ink barely dry in Vienna Syria was already killing people in Aleppo. Syria sees that the world is focused on ISIS and this emboldens the Shia militias, such as Hezbollah and Hashed al-Shaabi. Everyone, especially in the West, have forgotten about Assad. Whereas in 2013 the US and UK were on the verge of bombing Syria for its use of chemical weapons, now the rebel groups are abandoned. This is forcing extremist Islamist groups together, such as Jayish al-Islam and Jubhat al-Nusra in their alliance against the power of Assad and Hezbollah and their Iranian backing. The emergence of ISIS has given Iran an excuse to extend its influence and the Iran deal is a blank check for Iran to continue its meddling.
So who are the warmongers? Iran is the warmongering power. Ayatollah ali-Khamenei never preaches peace. He preaches war. Iran openly celebrates war at every turn. It never endows universities or cultural institutions, it only endows more militia groups. Iran’s role in Iraq has not made Iraq more independent and made it stronger. It has only radicalized Iraq and it has only led to a failed military state. Iran’s role in Lebanon has de-stabilized the country and prevented the election of a president. Lebanese politicians have repeatedly called on the US to use their pressure against Iran and the power of Hezbollah, but instead this deal abandoned Lebanon to increased Iranian interference. Hezbollah had been so weakened of late that it was recruiting Christians and Druze and even abusing Shia to force them to fight in Syria. Now Iran will begin to open the spigot again and increase Hezbollah’s power. The chances of bringing the Houthis to the table in Yemen and ending that war, which Saudi and the Gulf embarked on months ago, will decrease as well.
Opposing the deal is pro-peace because it means that the chances of finding solutions in Syria and Iraq could begin now, instead of 10 or 20 years from now. The damage and destruction done in Syria and Iraq have turned those states into pro-state-like situations of total chaos. Emboldening Iran means undermining the Kurdish struggle for rights, sending more Sunnis into the arms of ISIS and empowering those who do not want to ever see Syria or Iraq as strong powers again. Furthermore Bahrain will be de-stabilized, that will harm the Gulf and it will also mean troubles in Qatif in Saudi Arabia and the likely overflow of the Syria conflict into Turkey and Jordan. How long can millions of refugees sit in Jordan or Turkey before those states are undermined? The recent bombing of the socialist students in Turkey shows how the Syrian bloodbath is seeping over the border. Iran’s leaders smile at every turn. They want Turkey weakened. They want Bahrain overthrown. They want Jordan de-stabilized. They want Lebanon held hostage. They want Iraq and Syria to disappear. This is part of their overall plan for regional hegemony. Iran’s leaders have never endowed institutions or exported culture. They seek to export revolution and “armed struggle.” They export religious fanaticism, chauvinism and militarism. They have had 36 years to do differently. Instead they brought terror to numerous continents, supporting terror operations in South Asia, in South America and Europe.
Pro-peace means opposing Iran’s militarism and demanding that Iran’s people have their aspirations listened to. The Iranian regime’s real victims are in Tehran, not in Tel Aviv or Washington. The fact is that they need support now more than ever. And the regime will now have more power to clamp down on them. Pro-peace means demanding Iran end support for Shia militias and that it build up institutions in Syria, rather than tear them down.
Those who support the deal in the Middle East enable Assad’s legions and encourage sectarianism. Those who oppose the deal can demand a third way, not war, but a discussion about lowering sectarian tensions and rebuilding the Middle East. Some people want to turn the Iran deal into a political game of left versus right or Republican versus Democrat or try to make it about Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But those who concentrate on those aspects are ignoring the suffering millions in Syria and the region. The deal is not a litmus test on Obama or Netanyahu, it isn’t about Israel or US diplomacy. It is about the Iranian people and the people in the region. They should be listened to and respected. And focusing on them will reveal the degree to which the deal is pro-war. It sets up a situation of war in 10-20 years between the US and Iran and plunges the region into greater uncertainty.