Sheldon Richman / Free Association & Gareth Porter / CounterPunch – 2015-07-16 00:25:28
Two Cheers for the Iran Agreement
Sheldon Richman / Free Association
(July 15, 2015) — The nuclear agreement with Iran is good for two reasons: it reduces the chance of war, and it promises relief from sanctions for the Iranian people.
Although American officials still say that war is an option, the chance has now shrunk. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that his military alone cannot deal a death blow to Iran. For that he needs America, and he’s far less likely to find a willing partner now.
That the Iranians will have sanctions lifted is something all humane people will welcome. President Obama says the sanctions “crippled the Iranian economy . . . Their economy has been cratering as a consequence of the sanctions.” But he is wrong. “Economy” is an abstraction; it cannot be crippled or cratered. What has been crippled and cratered are the lives of innocent Iranians, who have had a difficult time obtaining food and medicines. The sanctions regime is a form of warfare against noncombatants. Moreover, as Gareth Porter shows, it did not even achieve what Obama says it was intended to achieve. [See story below — EAW]
The good that will come out of this agreement cannot be overstated. The radically diminished prospect for war — which would set the Mideast aflame and inflict hardship on the rest of the world as well — and the improvement in the everyday lives decent Iranians are causes for rejoicing.
But the agreement has a significant downside too, in that it reinforces American hegemony. It does so by the very fact that the US government is regarded by the media and others as the legitimate prosecutor, judge, and probation officer of Iran’s government. The US government, of course, commands overwhelming military power, and in that respect alone it has the ability to impose demands on others. But that does not mean an American president has the moral authority to do so.
By what standard of a morality may a government make demands on others when it has wreaked death and destruction on countless societies with its military might, including:
* the dropping of two atomic bombs on innocent Japanese noncombatants;
* launched wars of aggression;
* supported some of the worst dictators in recent times;
* made possible the use of death squads and other forms of terror;
* tortured people;
voverthrown governments (including Iran’s in 1953) in order to install puppet regimes;
* underwritten aggressive wars (such as Iraq’s war, complete with chemical weapons, against Iran in the 1980s;
* Israel’s against Lebanon, which spawned Hezbollah;
* and now Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen);
* facilitated or waged covert, proxy, and cyber wars (e.g., against Iran);
* and backed the occupation of innocent people’s land (most relevantly, Israel’s occupation of Palestine through ethnic cleansing and military conquest, which spawned Hamas).
Iran never threatened the United States or Israel. It has not tried to build a nuclear bomb, and even if it were to do so, the weapon would be of no value except perhaps as a deterrent. Yet the nuclear-armed United States, and its ally Israel — the Mideast’s nuclear monopolist — haughtily presume to tell Iran what it may and may not do.
The system of state sovereignty we suffer under is illegitimate, but as long as it exists, the US government will only cause mayhem by violating the “sovereignty” of other nations. Under prevailing rules, Iran is a sovereign nation, so the US government should have no more authority to demand that Iran open itself to inspections of its military and scientific facilities than Iran has to make that demand of the US government. (Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.)
It’s especially outrageous for Israel, which has aggressed against its neighbors, to stand in judgment of Iran. Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and was subject to inspections before the latest negotiations. Israel will not sign the treaty. It won’t even admit what has long been known: that it has hundreds of nuclear weapons, which were built with smuggled components thanks to the connivance of law-breaking American officials and supporters. Israel, like the United States, also opposes making the Mideast a nuclear-free zone, which Iran supports.
So lift a glass to the agreement. But let’s not rest until the American hegemon is caged.
Sheldon Richman keeps the blog “Free Association” and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.
How a Weaker Iran Got the West to Lift Sanctions
Gareth Porter / CounterPunch
(July 15, 2015) — Now that Iran nuclear deal is completed, the attention of western news media and political commentators is predictably focused overwhelmingly on the opposition to the agreement within the US Congress and from Israel and the Saudi-led Sunni Arab coalition.
That media lens misses the real significance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is that Iran succeeded in negotiating an agreement with the United States that upheld its national right to a nuclear programme despite the obvious vast disparity in power between the two states.
That power disparity between the global hegemon and a militarily weak but politically influential regional “middle power” has shaped not just the negotiating strategies of the two sides during the negotiations but, more importantly, how they came about in the first place.
The news media have adopted the Obama administration’s view that negotiations were the result of Iran responding to international sanctions. The problem with that conventional view is not that Iran wasn’t eager to get the sanctions removed, but that it was motivated to do so long before the United States was willing to negotiate.
In fact, Iran had long viewed its nuclear programme not only in terms of energy and scientific advancement but also as a way of inducing the United States to negotiate an end to the extraordinary legal status in which Iran has been placed for so long. Even during the Bill Clinton administration Iranian strategists wanted to get the United States to move toward more normal relations, but Clinton was determined to be the most pro-Israeli administration in US history, and instead imposed a complete trade embargo on Iran.
Clinton eventually offered a “dialogue” with Iran but made it clear that he had no intention of giving up the sanctions against Iran. The lesson that Iranian strategists, including then secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and now President Hassan Rouhani, learned from the Clinton years was that the United States would only negotiate the end of its sanctions against Iran if was convinced that the cost and risk of refusing to negotiate was too high.
It was during the second Clinton administration that Iranian strategists began to discuss the idea that Iran’s nuclear programme was its main hope for engaging the hegemonic power.
Iranian political scientist Jalil Roshandel, who worked on a research project for the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s think tank in 1997-1998, recalled in an interview with this writer that influential figures (including an adviser to veteran Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati) had told him during that period that they believed a uranium enrichment programme would provide leverage in negotiating a removal of the sanctions.
Iran tried to use what it assumed was US and European concern about its enrichment programme — which had not yet begun enriching uranium — to gain more leverage in negotiations with the British, French and German governments from November 2003 to spring 2005.
But those negotiations were fruitless, mainly because the Bush administration was interested in regime change in Iran and therefore disdained the idea of actual negotiations over its nuclear programme. The Bush administration ordered its European allies not to respond to a March 2005 Iranian proposal that offered to limit the Iranian programme to a minimum.
The problem was that the Bush administration still didn’t take the Iranian nuclear programme seriously, so the power disparity between Washington and Tehran was still too great.
And it wasn’t only the neoconservative-influenced Bush administration that believed it was so powerful that it need not reach a compromise with Iran. We now know that President Barack Obama relied on efforts to coerce Iran rather than negotiating with it during his first four years in office.
He approved a plan for an unprecedented cyber-attack on Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility in 2009 as the first move in a strategy of pressure on Iran aimed at forcing the Islamic republic to give up its enrichment programme.
For the Obama administration, intrusive financial sanctions were not originally conceived as a way to bring about a negotiated agreement with Iran. In fact Clinton publicly presented the “diplomatic path” with Iran as a way to “gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and crippling as we want it to be”. In other words, diplomacy was actually a gimmick to achieve the administration’s real goal of coercion.
In 2012, when Obama was offering talks on Iran’s nuclear programme for the first time, he was still committed to the same strategy of coercion. The effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table was accompanied by yet another US cyber-attack — this time on the Iranian oil and gas industry.
Only in 2013, during his second term, did Obama’s administration give up the aim of forcing Iran to end enrichment entirely and agree to actually negotiate with Iran on the nuclear issue.
That decision came only after Iran had increased the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to more than 9,000, with another 9,000 centrifuges installed but never connected, accumulated a large stockpile of low enriched uranium, and — even more alarming to the United States — began enriching uranium to 20 percent.
So the main backstory of the nuclear agreement is that it was Iranian counter-pressure on the United States through its nuclear programme that finally compelled the Obama administration to change its strategy of relying mainly on coercion and begin the negotiations that Iran had wanted for more than two decades.
The most important story of the agreement itself, moreover, is how the Obama administration, supported by its European allies, tried to maintain the sanctions for long as possible in the implementation process.
But in the end US negotiators finally gave up that objective, even though, as Iranian diplomats told me in Vienna, they found the American “emotional attachment” to sanctions still manifesting itself in the last days of negotiations in the language of the UN Security Council resolution.
The basic inequality of power of the two main protagonists, which would normally have allowed the United States to prevail on the issue, had been reduced dramatically by two factors: the lifting of sanctions was so central to Iranian interests that its negotiators would undoubtedly have walked away from the talks if the United States had not relented, and the Obama administration had become committed to completing the negotiations simply by virtue of having made such an agreement its central foreign policy initiative.
The Iran nuclear agreement thus illustrates the elemental importance of the distribution of power but also the possibility of a weaker state achieving its vital interests in negotiations with the hegemonic power against what might appear to be very long odds by exploiting their source of leverage to the maximum with patience, courage and careful calculation.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
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