Iran and the US: Friends at Last?

In a period of pretty much unrelenting geopolitical gloom in the Middle East, the deal reached between Iran and the 5+1 countries is a positive development for various reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, it lays the basis – however tentatively – for the diplomatic resolution of   a festering and extremely dangerous confrontation that has threatened for more than a decade to turn into an all-out regional war,   whose destructive consequences would have been absolutely horrific for Iranians, and which   would almost certainly have sucked a number of countries into a vortex of violence of incalculable proportions.

Many powerful states have wanted this outcome for some time; Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.   A rancid collection of neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’, and American Likudniks have also called repeatedly for ‘the West’ to blast Iran or ‘the Mullahs’ – with the usual sigh of resignation at the inevitable deaths of alien dark-skinned folk that would have resulted from their noble intentions.

But then, as Niall Ferguson and Melanie Phillips and so many others have argued, you couldn’t just allow an irrational state motivated by nothing less than a desire for collective religious suicide/martyrdom to acquire nuclear weapons, just so its entire population could blow themselves up in order to get to heaven.

Yes, these crazed arguments were seriously made, with the same level of intellectual gravitas with which Netanyahu equated Iran’s nuclear program with preparations for Holocaust II ie. none at all.

Now, as a result of this deal,   the people who would have died as a consequence of lies and idiotic fantasies like this will now live, and the people who wanted to see them dead will have to gnaw their own hands and batter their keyboards with rantings about ‘appeasement’ and why-Obama-is-Neville Chamberlain op eds.

And this represents a major defeat for Israel and Saudi Arabia,   both of whom have been conniving and manipulating to push the world’s only superpower into whacking Iran for them.     Even worse, from their point of view,   it now turns out that Iran and the US have been secretly negotiating with each other for months.

The fact that the United States has chosen to talk to a leading member of the ‘axis of evil’ is also something of a turn around.   Following Obama’s rediscovery of diplomacy in Syria, the deal may well represent a recognition, however unacknowledged, that the US military simply cannot afford to fight another major war that will wreck yet another Muslim country in order to save it, even if some sections of its foreign policy establishment would still like to.

So all this is good.     But it isn’t a time for jubilation.   The deal could unravel, and you can bet than there many people who will be seeking to make sure that it does, in Tel Aviv and Riyadh and beyond.

It’s also worth remembering what was done in order to force Iran to do this.     The sanctions regime imposed by the United States since the Clinton years and subsequently widened over the nuclear issue, have inflicted huge damage on the Iranian economy.

Despite the usual insistence from its architects that these measures were intended to target the Iranian government not the Iranian people, ordinary Iranians, as always, have borne the brunt of them.

Unemployment in Iran is now as high as 35 percent, mainly because factories have been forced to close because they can’t import raw materials and vital parts.   Inflation is at least 22 percent.     The cost of food, water, fuel and electricity has hit ordinary Iranians who are least able to afford it.     The price of vegetables has risen by 100 percent.

According to the International Affairs Review, ‘ blue collar workers in downtown Tehran can barely afford meat, while luxury cars are ubiquitous in the neighborhoods of North Tehran’.   In addition, lack of spare parts has resulted in numerous plane crashes, in which as many as 1, 700 people may have died.  

The 5+1 countries are perfectly aware of these consequences, despite the customary references to ‘humanitarian’ exceptions to sanctions.     The  ‘White House Fact Sheet’ on the Geneva deal   will now allow ‘License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines’, among other things, so hopefully passenger planes will stop crashing.

But most sanctions will remain in place, such as the prohibitions on buying Iranian oil that have reduced Iran’s oil output from 2.5 millions barrels per day at the beginning of 2012 to 1.5 million – a ‘ loss of $80 billion that Iran will never be able to recoup’ as the report puts it.

That is a prohibition   that Saudi Arabia will be particularly keen to keep in place.   But most of the sanctions will remain in effect to ensure Iran’s compliance with the Geneva conditions, such as US restrictions on trade, which will continue to deprive Iran of ‘ access to virtually all dealings with the world’s biggest economy.’

Then there are the   ‘   targeted sanctions related to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict, and its abysmal human rights record, among other concerns,’ which will also remain in place.

Excuse me?   Iran’s destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict?   That Iran and Hezbollah have helped Assad is one thing – but to call this ‘destabilizing’ given the role played by the West and its Gulf allies in Syria is really, let’s just say, a highly subjective interpretation of what has gone on these last few years.

So hypocrisy and dishonesty remain the nature of the game here, such as the White House’s declared intention to ‘ facilitate transactions for medical expenses incurred abroad.   We will establish this channel for the benefit of the Iranian people.’

Very generous, and no doubt working class Iranians will now be rushing off to hospitals all over the world to take advantage of this dispensation.

And then there is the following:

The American people prefer a peaceful and enduring resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and strengthens the global non-proliferation regime.   This solution has the potential to achieve that.   Through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do its part for greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.

Just to recap: there is no evidence that Iran was seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon,   and there is nothing illegal about its desire to acquire nuclear energy.     The sanctions were an arbitrary measure imposed by a handful of powerful states for purely geostrategic purposes.

If   ‘global non-proliferation’ was really is the object of all this, then Israel would long ago have been called for its own possession of nuclear weapons.   But it never has and it’s difficult to imagine that it ever will be

So there is nothing ‘principled’ about US diplomacy, and nothing principled about the sanctions.   And as for ‘greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations’, don’t get me started.

But at least, for the time being, the tide of war has receded and the warmongers have been thwarted.

And given the events of the last decade, that can only be reason for cautious optimism.