Thursday, April 2, 2015, Iran agreed to the framework of a nuclear settlement with the P5+1 that defines Iran’s future permitted nuclear activity — that to which it is legally and fully entitled as a Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory.
Upon announcement of the framework (with final terms of an agreement to be worked out by June 30 through negotiations between American MIT-educated scientists and Iranian MIT-educated scientists) Republicans, Tea-Partiers, assorted right-wing military adventurists, FoxNews-inspired know-nothings and discredited cheerleaders for war in Iraq erupted in unison as though the Apocalypse was upon us.
A party that had already yielded to forces of ignorance on climate-change, evolution and race-relations succumbed to xenophobia and fear of the Other to condemn a plan still 90 days away from completion — a plan which offers hope and opportunity of stepping away from the precipice of war while containing a potentially destabilizing nuclear program.
Sojourners’ Jim Wallis wrote, “The worst thing we could do is make the Iran nuclear deal a partisan affair. House Speaker John Boehner recently said this about the broader instability in the Middle East: ‘The world is starving for American leadership. But America has an anti-war president.’ In the context of our faith — or even in the context of conservative ideals — is leadership that prevents war something to be maligned? Does the Republican Party now identify as just one of war? And will they allow a diplomatic deal that prevents a nuclear Iran to fail simply because of partisan disagreements with the Obama administration?”
Partisan it is: Republicans refuse to recognize that an agreement which places upon Iran longer, more intrusive and humiliating safeguards and inspections — more than has ever been imposed upon another nation — has the potential to defuse one aspect of Middle East conflict.
What has become increasingly clear is that the conflict between Obama and the Republicans wasn’t just about Iran – It was about different worldviews.
On one side is an America led by an Hawaiian-born African-American who had been educated as a child in Asia who, together with a Secretary of State, John Kerry, who was broadly educated at nearby St. Paul’s School, believe that knowing about and engaging the world can make us safer — a world that had been broken almost beyond repair by the previous administration with its WMD delusions.
In opposition are the hoary strategists of the Cold War, peopled not just by the dangerous Dr. Strangelove-ian John Boltons, Josh Blocks and John McCains but also by pundits like David Brooks (NYT) and Henry Kissinger and George Schultz (WSJ) writing about a post Cold War era that they don’t recognize.
Today, this Republican refusal to see the world of the Other is dangerous, and distorts GOP perceptions of Iran beyond reality.
These hyper-partisan opponents of nearly everything Obama advances can’t understand why it’s important for America to know, as our President says, “part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable.”
Iranians know well, as I’m sure Obama and Kerry know, that on April 19, 1909, in the Persian village of Tabriz, Princeton graduate, young American missionary Howard Baskerville, 24, was killed, shot dead by a sniper as he fought alongside nationalist forces, some of whom were his students.
Iranians know well, too, that on Aug. 19, 1953 American CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt Jr., engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and restored the Shah to power, beginning a reign of despotism over the Iranian people, supported with American arms and training, that continued until 1979.
Iranians know well, too, as I’m sure Obama and Kerry know, that in May 2003, Iran sent Washington a letter offering both concessions and cooperation with the Americans on issues ranging from terrorism to nuclear power [at which time Iran had only 164 centrifuges!], including an offer “… to accept much tighter controls by the IAEA in exchange for ‘full access to peaceful nuclear technology.'”
They know, too, that the Bush Administration rejected the advance.
What matters today is what is written into the final agreement and how the agreement is enforced. It’s Iran’s right to be anti-Western, Islamic and if it wishes, to hate us, points ignored by David Brooks this week who railed about the Ayatollah’s hateful and inflammatory rhetoric, ignoring the possibility that the Ayatollah’s words were as much for his domestic consumption as Senator Tom Cotton’s letter was for his.
There is much to dislike, and sometimes fear about Iran: suppression of dissent, suppression of the rights of women and artists and homosexuals, support of Hezbollah and Hamas and their Holocaust denial.
But that’s not what this agreement is about. It’s about the ongoing Iranian nuclear program, initially supported by America under the Shah, and NPT enforcement, and America must distinguish between the rhetoric and ideology of its ruling elites and the fears of a people who have seen America overthrow Mosaddegh, install the Shah and now threatens to bomb them.
The P5+1 recognize that Iran lives in a tough neighborhood. Surrounded by nuclear powers in Israel, China, Pakistan and India it is perhaps understandable they might seek a nuclear deterrent.
Keeping that from happening is what this agreement is about.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis executed 70 years ago this past Thursday, wrote, “Being free means ‘being free for the other,’ because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”
Iranian, American; Palestinian, Israeli; Obama, Boehner; Muslim, Jew, Christian; Shiite, Sunni; Black, White…
Only in relationship with the Other are we free.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.