Anyone who hoped that Iran’s nuclear agreement with the United States and other powers portended a new era of openness with the West has been jolted with a series of increasingly rude awakenings over the past few weeks.
Damn straight. This would be a devastating finding, if it weren’t literally less than four months since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed, and if you could find any non-dolt who genuinely believed that America and Iran would be bestest pals this soon after signing the deal. But you can’t.
It’s late on a Friday, so I’m just going to do the lazy thing and speak from personal experience, but in the months before the JCPOA was concluded I read a lot of commentary from deal supporters and listened to a lot of deal supporters giving a lot of speeches and doing a lot of panel discussions all over DC (it is seriously ridiculous how much people in this town like to hold panel discussions), and I can’t point you to a single one of them who argued that relations between the US and Iran were going to dramatically improve within four months of signing the deal. Many of them believe that the deal opens the door to a gradual improvement in those relations, but only in the medium to long term, not overnight, and only if an infinite number of other things go right in the meantime. And yes, there was/is some expectation that the US and Iran would/will start pulling in the same direction on areas of shared interest in the Middle East, which hasn’t really happened yet, but, again, we’re less than four freaking months from the day the deal was signed.
Complicating a grand reconciliation further is the fact that Iran is approaching a very important couple of elections next year in which the country’s hardliners are desperate to cut moderates and reformers off at the knees. For that reason alone, there were a number of deal supporters who cautioned that relations between the US and Iran were likely to take a step backwards in the short term. Yet despite all of that, we’ve reached the point in the process when the Times editorial board looks up, sees that Ayatollah Khamenei isn’t feeding hand-peeled grapes one by one to a lounging Benjamin Netanyahu in the Dome of the Rock, and screams “WHERE’S YOUR PRECIOUS NUCLEAR DEAL NOW, HIPPIES?”
The occasion for Erdbrink’s Real Truth is the arrest of yet another couple of US citizens by the Iranians, this time a Lebanese-American businessman named Nizar Zakka and an Iranian-American consultant named Siamak Namazi. These arrests, as well as the earlier arrests of three other US citizens (and the recent conviction of one of them, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, on trumped up charges) are terrible. They should be condemned universally, and the US government would be right to use any means at its disposal to leverage their release. If the Obama administration were to test its freedom to impose new non-nuclear sanctions on Tehran over these cases, I’m not sure you could argue against them for it (though they probably figure at this point that negotiation stands a better chance of getting these guys out of prison). But the arrests are not evidence that the nuclear deal has somehow failed. It was, after all, a nuclear deal, not a “get our citizens out of Iranian prison” deal, and I don’t say that to make light of what those prisoners are going through, but simply to point out an obvious fact.
When the NYT starts jumping on the “the deal has failed” wagon, you can be sure that desperate right-wingers will be right behind. So it is with former Bush 43 Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who wants you to know that “the Iran deal is on the President.” I’ve been trying not to say that former Bush administration flunkies should just shut the hell up about the Middle East, because it’s lazy to dismiss them like that, but really, sometimes former Bush administration flunkies should just shut the hell up about the Middle East. I doubt there’s anybody in the administration who isn’t acutely aware that the deal is on them, least of all Obama, and I’m pretty sure they’re still OK with that. Because, here’s the thing: the measure of this deal, parts of which are supposed to last 25 years or more, can’t actually be taken within its first four months. Check back with us again in a decade or so, and you know what? Even then, if the US and Iran still hate each other’s guts, but Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons, then this deal, which was entirely about preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, will have been a success.
And when that day comes, guys like Jack Goldsmith will say “Wait, you can’t declare the deal a success! It’s supposed to make sure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon! Ten years isn’t long enough to judge it!” And they’ll be right! Just like I’m right to point out that you can’t judge the deal a failure because Mohammad Zarif and John Kerry aren’t doing Secret Santa this year! This deal wasn’t ever supposed to work that way!
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