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10 Apr

Sorry, you didn’t get your war

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Opinion

Sorry, you didn’t get your war

David Russell

The announcement of a deal with Iran takes the preventative war option off the table for the next 10 years and maybe longer. While that has to be a great disappointment for the foreign policy descendants of President George W. Bush, it’s good news for Americans.

Unspoken in the American press are several dots that need to be connected in order to understand the seminal importance of this emerging achievement. First, American diplomacy has taken into account difficult lessons learned from past failures in dealing with Iran. Second, a deal with Iran fits nicely into the matrix of foreign policy being pursued by the Obama administration, which may actually allow American military personnel to exit the battlefield. Third, if America can back away from its failed nation-building policies, Middle Eastern regional conflicts may eventually lead to a level of stability. Finally, the bitter opposition vocalized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally allowed the U.S. to distance itself from the prime minister’s intransigence that has thwarted all efforts to resolve Israel’s differences with its neighbors.

First, lessons learned: There appear to be no illusions on the part of Secretary of State John Kerry or his entourage — the Iranian leaders cannot be trusted and every element of the accord will require patience and performance tests with scrupulous verification. Americans recognize that Iran is a theocratic dictatorship with paranoid leaders who despise the West and that these leaders will be capricious and willful, and they will only be brought to heel with meaningful consequences for failure in compliance. The Iranian leaders are also egotistical blowhards for whom lying is simply a part of conversation. They have no use for international law, but see it only as a means of cheating Iran. They believe in grandstanding, political theater and flamboyant gestures. However, their deep distrust of the West has ample basis, the most prominent example of which is the fact the CIA was responsible for the overthrow of the only democratically elected government the country has known, a fact that is riveted in the minds of every Iranian diplomat.

Second, removing sanctions: Allowing Iran back into commerce and interaction with Western nations will enhance Iran’s ability to pursue its dominance in the region. You may see that as a threat. Certainly, the Saudis do, as evidenced by their recent bombing of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. But Saudi Arabia and Iran are simply the antagonists in a holy war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. To put it bluntly, we have no “dog in this fight.” Both regimes are tyrannical, oppressive and inhumane. Other than securing the flow of oil to our European allies and the tragedy of the carnage that will surely ensue, our best bet is to let them decide amongst themselves whether Mohammed really meant for a family member or an elected cleric to lead the flock.

Third, regional stability: In the short run, this is an oxymoron. Consider, however, that America’s policy of the oil era was to support whatever corrupt dictator would insure its availability. More recently with the George W. Bush policy of preventative wars and nation-building, America has disgraced itself and its ideals. President Obama seems to have realized that going forward, the only reasonable policy is what is being referred to as “offshore supremacy,” i.e., using America’s military power to secure trade lanes and shipping. There is no question that the resulting theocracy that comes from combat in the Middle East will pose a threat to the rest of the non-Muslim world. Its messianic zeal requires that all creatures on Earth revel in the glory of their religious conviction. But a policy of containment, which would include suppression of terrorists or “asymmetric threats,” is a great deal less costly than idiotic engagement that has no prospect of success. Then there is always the prospect that, like the Christians in the 17th century, killing all the nonbelievers will come to be viewed as an unviable recruiting tool.

Finally, Israel: There are two elements to the partisan separation that is emerging. Given the success of the conservative elements of the Israeli voting public, the U.S. can be certain that Israel will launch strikes against what are perceived to be existential threats. So, violation of the Iran agreement poses a credible threat to Iran, which it will test in hopes that support for Hamas or Hezbollah doesn’t tweak the nose of the bear enough to provoke retribution. It is in America’s interest that the threat exists. However, the conservative coalition that will govern Israel will be true to its word and never resolve its differences with the Palestinians. The breach with Netanyahu allows the U.S. to endorse a U.N. resolution declaring a two-state solution, recognize Palestine as a country and even remove the U.S. Security Council veto that has shielded Israel from charges of war crimes. It is what is known as “hoisting one on one’s own petard” for turning U.S.-Israeli relations into partisan politics.

This deal with Iran is a game-changer. It may actually allow President Obama to bring about a long-term solution for an entire region changing from a disastrous foreign policy legacy inherited from his predecessor — a policy that has defied resolution, embarrassed Americans and their ideals, and led to a litany of false starts, bad outcomes and mistaken loyalties. While it will be messy and undeniably offend humanitarian sensitivities, it may actually work.

Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.

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