Irate over Iran

Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Capitol Hill jointly opposed to any progress with Iran

Body Politic

How fun that members of a Senate that recently required a nuclear option to resuscitate itself are the chiders-in-chief of the breakthrough deal with Iran. Or that the only country to engage in nuclear warfare and that kept its nuclear launch codes set to “00000000" for 20 years leads world discussions on nuclear responsibility.

But hypocrisy in international relations is a field as fertile as any Afghan pomegranate orchard (with just as many land mines).

In the end, world peace is predicated on nuclear nonproliferation at a minimum and—most optimally—strategic arms reductions from existing nuclear powers. Consequently, the six-month Geneva accord between Iran and six world powers that makes it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon by neutralizing its stockpile of uranium enriched at the 20 percent level, halting construction of its heavy water plant at Arak, and instituting regular IAEA inspections should be drawing considerable praise.

Not so. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the accord as a “historic mistake.” Saudi Arabia petulantly declined a coveted seat on the UN Security Council last month and has been fulminating ever since the palpable thaw in U.S.-Iran relations after its election of the moderate President Hassan Rouhani. That’s not surprising—the presence of the Persian arch nemesis has been vital to the political success of Likud and the steady American support for King Abdullah.

Stateside, Senator Charles Schumer is pushing to levy additional sanctions against Iran—just to ensure that any tangible progress be immediately bulldozed. Schumer noted, “It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table.” Well, yes. That sanctions incentivize desired actions by pulling on purse strings rather than heartstrings is a near tautological truth that should not come as an earth-shattering revelation to the good senator. The entire purpose of the sanctions is precisely to bring Iran to the negotiating table and move it away from developing a nuclear weapon—not to ensure the Iranian people’s perpetual languishment under severe economic sanctions.

At the very least, the Geneva accord brought about by unprecedented high-level contact between the Americans and Iranians—from a personal phone call between President Obama and President Rouhani in September to secret meetings in Oman mediated by Sultan Qaboos—is an improvement from the days when President Clinton had to wait around the UN building to chance a face-to-face meet with President Khatami, like a dejected high school suitor.

Iran has already begun allowing inspections of its heavy water production plant—and all signs indicate that the Islamic Republic has been acting in good faith. Then from where does all this tiger-footed rage come?

I’ve given up on the task of ascribing a rational basis to the congressional culture of counterproductivity—Peter’s Principle and Moore’s Law are the supreme laws of our supreme law-giving body. But the Saudi and Israeli histrionics reflect a more realistic anxiety over Middle East hegemony.

Straightforwardly, Iran’s reentry into the global financial system would stabilize its free-falling currency, inflation, and unemployment rates. And an Iran fully able to capitalize on its oil reserves would strengthen its position as the Shi’ite counter to the Sunni eminence pushed by Saudi, Qatari, and Emirati dollars.

But more saliently the Saudi fury signals a fear of the end of the world’s tolerance for Arab autocracies. Much of the objections to Iran revolve around words like “totalitarian” and “dictatorship” in describing the country’s government. And it’s true that the presidential elections are at best semi-democratic given the pre-approval required for presidential candidates by the powerful Guardian Council—to say nothing of the plenary power of the Supreme Leader. Granted, none of that might have happened had the United States not deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favor of the autocratic shah—but why not let bygones be bygones?

But the other side can’t make an especially compelling claim to democratic intent either. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel made no such complaints with the long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and certainly have not embraced the Arab Spring with the open arms that supposed stalwarts of democracy would be expected to.

No—the Saudi fear is that the crumbling concept of the Axis of Evil will no longer leave it open to operate its autocratic monarchy with impunity. With the world’s eye no longer distracted by apocalyptic designs emanating from Tehran, Riyadh starts to pall before Western powers that must countenance the checkered Saudi human rights record with their stated goals of liberal democracies.

So don’t believe the hyperventilation over Iran. It is a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Idrees M. Kahloon ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is an applied math concentrator in Dunster House. Follow him on Twitter @ikahloon.

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