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Should the United States pass an Iranian nuclear agreement?

On April 2nd, world leaders assembled in Lausanne, Switzerland announced that they had reached an historic agreement on a framework for a new deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear activities. Of course, for Congress’s 301 self-appointed Republican Secretaries of State, the fact that this deal included comprehensive restrictions and unprecedented international supervisory standards on Iran’s nuclear plan didn’t matter much. As long as such a deal could be taken as a victory for the Obama administration, it goes without saying that their opposition to it was a foregone conclusion.

Hence the inevitable masquerade of ill-conceived efforts to undercut the agreement through hazy objections related to constitutional powers or a perceived lack of concessions by the other side. From Tom Cotton’s open letter to Benjamin Netanyahu’s unsurprising turn to fear-mongering, the Right’s approach to this obviously beneficial deal has been to ignore the facts, their constituents, and the world at large in the name of political posturing. But the Right’s potential success in blocking the deal would do more than waste John Kerry’s time; it would make the world measurably less safe, ensure that those looking to collaborate would miss out on an unparalleled opportunity to do so, and pointlessly leave the Iranian people to continue to be crushed by the weight of international sanctions.

The deal’s potential to meaningfully improve the world’s safety is apparent in its provisions. The Congressional Research Service explains that the deal is based on “requirements that Iran freeze, in effect, its production of … the form of enriched uranium in [its] stockpile that has caused the most concern; dilute [its more refined uranium] to other forms that would take time to reverse; … and provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with additional information about its nuclear program, as well as access to some nuclear-related facilities which are not covered by Iran’s IAEA safeguards agreement.” In laymen’s terms, the agreement would comprehensively halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, implement an unprecedented level of transparency, and allow the Iranian people to escape the staggering starvation-laden pain of international sanctions.

Though a final settlement isn’t expected until June, leaders in science, diplomacy, and international security have already applauded this preliminary framework as a “vitally important step forward” for the world and those that live in it. Fifty former diplomats, defense officials, and political leaders from across the globe signed a separate statement pledging their agreement to the existing deal, imploring Congress to “take no action that would impede further progress or undermine the American negotiators’ efforts,” as they added their voice to a growing chorus of foreign relations veterans who support the agreement.

Why, then, have so many Congressional Republicans opposed the deal so vehemently? The general sense of the conservative media seems to be that the deal was, to quote the National Review, a form of “Surrender to Tehran.” The Review explains, “[Iran] will get complete sanctions relief and U.N. legitimacy all at once, while keeping thousands of centrifuges, multiple nuclear sites, [and] the right to develop new, more advanced enrichment equipment … The White House says the deal pushes the time it would take Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon to a year, but widely respected arms-control experts have said… that this is not enough.”

Each point here, of course, is either categorically false or completely misrepresented. Indeed, Iran will get sanctions relief, but it won’t come for free; they’ll be forced to drastically cut into their number of centrifuges, and the “thousands” that they will be able to keep will be under a historically never-before-seen level of international scrutiny. The same goes for their “multiple nuclear sites” and “new, more advanced enrichment equipment.” As for the “widely respected arms-control experts” who see the agreement as not being far-reaching enough, it’s surely no accident that no citation is given in the article. The experts in question are likely either too obscure to be of note or nonexistent to begin with. The scientific community has spoken unambiguously; this deal may not be perfect, but it is an absolutely massive step forward for the entire world that we simply can’t afford not to take.

It should be no surprise that the public sees through these thinly veiled games. Americans support the deal two to one, and even Israeli press outlets such as the Jerusalem Post have openly questioned whether Bibi Netanyahu’s warnings of nuclear armageddon amount to him “putting his own interests ahead of his country.” But Americans should give even more scrutiny to the situation they’ll be left in if the agreement fails. While the deal’s sunset clause limits the world’s ability to rest easy to about ten years, snubbing the agreement as a whole would bring us to a situation much worse than the one we entered negotiations at in the first place. The framework’s mandated breakout time of 12 months isn’t ideal, but we stand now at about two, and the anti-American sentiment that would boil over as sanctions continue to starve out average Iranians would surely not serve to slow down the wheels of nuclear proliferation.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Republicans can put politics aside, take the advice of experts and acknowledge the deal’s value, and allow the United States to be a responsible leader in international diplomacy. Or they can continue to put gamesmanship ahead of international security, block the world’s agreement, and leave us to see where the cards fall. Hopefully, they won’t land on nuclear winter.

Contact Ben Kaufman at bkauf614 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

The history of Iran’s nuclear program and the rest of the world’s subsequent attempt to curb it is as infamous as it is worrying. It seems like every few years another report pops up that details hidden underground centrifuges or missiles being modified to carry nuclear warheads, or another failure to meet any of the items on that long list of propositions they’re supposed to adhere to. These most recent discussions are a resigned effort in futility. Yes, the victory and subsequent outreach of President Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 elections gave the international community some hope for a permanent solution. However, the unique government in Iran (a combination of theocracy and parliamentary democracy, both under the rule of a Supreme Leader) means that our old friend Ali Khamenei has final say as head of the country’s military.

This is a man who has never embraced the United States’ concerns for the future of his country’s nuclear program and is perfectly happy to endure our sanctions to satisfy his hidden goals. Thus, the futility. No doubt in Washington the questions being raised deal with compromise, with exchange. What restrictions might we have to lift? What concessions might we have to make? But the main issue is being dodged. If this were another country; Britain, say, or India, or even perhaps China, the international community wouldn’t be quite so alarmed. They’re developing nukes, we might say. So what? Everyone needs to feel safe at night. We’ve got a few stashed away somewhere. What sets Iran apart? And asking that one last question leads to the most important of them all.

Why don’t we trust them?

Not Iran in particular, but rather the culture of absolute, unquestioning theocratic rule that governs their region. It’s the one question at the center of the Iran nuclear debate that no one really wants to ask or answer. In the past century the pinnacle of the Cold War taught our world that nothing can justify the widespread slaughter of innocents. Mankind had come to the brink of self-annihilation and stepped back from the edge, and from then on we could surely only recover as a single, unified race. But 9/11 exposed our world to a form of evil so unlike anything we had ever seen before, an evil perfectly at ease killing its loyal servants and a few thousand besides so that all else would bow down before the fear it wielded over them.

If this evil (or at least, the symptoms of strong hatred it has bred) were universally acknowledged by those with the power to act upon their realization, this latest nuclear deal might be approached with appropriate levels of wariness and caution rather than an eagerness born of desperation. But it isn’t; all that manifests in the hearts and minds of our politicians is the vague haziness of distrust. It’s a distrust that now has years of solid historical evidence to back it up, distrust built on refused inspections and concealed plants and broken promises. But it’s also built upon other things, on audiences chanting “Death to America!” and on YouTubed beheadings proudly recorded in HD.  We just don’t trust Iran–indeed, any Islamic state governed by sharia law–with any sort of nuclear program, however small.

But we want to trust them.

We want to believe that, deep down, followers of radical Islam and the countries that serve them are just like us. That they want the same things we do, and that if given the chance they’d choose fireworks over mushroom clouds. And since we are the United States and occasionally let our good intentions lead us down the thorny path, we extend time and time again the hand of friendship, often with another concession attached. It doesn’t matter that they keep slamming the door on us, we reason; eventually, they’ll come around. After all, surely they don’t want nuclear holocaust either? Perhaps they simply wish to be given the respect any country with a Big Red Button deserves. But there is a fine line between respect and subservience, and the culture of Iran is a culture that routinely confuses the two of them. Again, we just don’t trust them.

A failure to realize this is only one of the many disconnects in this particular administration. Currently there’s a battle of stubbornness being waged in Washington between executive and legislative branches (though we could simply call it between left-leaning Democrats and everyone else). Compromise is extremely difficult given such a polarized situation, and as a result each side has engaged in acts which in another time would be unthinkable.

For instance, the president’s recent slew of Executive Orders, each designed with the purpose of circumventing Congressional authority in passing what amounts to law. Not quite outside the scope of his powers, but the point is certainly open to judicial interpretation. On the other side can be seen a Congress so uneasy with their president’s ability as an effective leader that they take it upon themselves to pen a letter, somewhat forthright in its wording and scope, to Iran’s administration. There’s nothing technically wrong with such an action, but normally that sort of thing is the president’s job. Nowadays, though, it seems they trust him about as much as they trust Mr. Khomeini.

And this is most worrying. Our leaders in each branch of government are elected to represent America’s interests, and hers alone, in all they do. This is especially true when dealing with unfriendly powers and nuclear weapons, and in their actions they must present a strong and united front. While lifting sanctions for Iran may at some point benefit both our countries, if the cost involves allowing a hostile regime of rebellion and cruelty to move one step closer to nuclear capabilities, that cost is far too high. It’s not far from committing a kind of suicide, and there’s far enough of that in this war already.

Contact Wyatt Smitherman at wtsmith ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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