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The nuclear deal with Iran has been debated like crazy in American politics. The Republicans say that the American side gave up too much without getting anything in return because it still allows Iran to have a finger in the development of nuclear technology and slowly undoes sanctions against Iran. So what does it mean to say that “we” gave Iran what it wanted and “we” got nothing in return? Obviously, the American leaders who negotiated this deal thought they got something because they concluded it. In any agreement, you give up something and you get something. So what did the US get?
Iran’s position before negotiations was that its nuclear project is a matter of its national sovereignty; it is complying with international agreements, so there is nothing to negotiate. America then lead a sanctions regime against Iran, waging war by economic means instead of military. Iran then said it would agree to talk. “Talking” means negotiating Iran’s sovereignty over what it can and can’t do. This was already a political victory for the USA.
The sanctions can now be removed because they had their effect: they brought about an end to Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program was internationally legal and to the possibility of Iran producing high grade uranium. Iran has now agreed, on the basis of sanctions, to a 15 year pause in the development of fissionable material. Of course, the US might have gotten more, but it was already a huge blow to Iran that it has put its sovereignty up for negotiation with the Great Satan.
The Ayatollah demanded that Iran’s parliament debate and pass the treaty – this is similar to the American system in the sense that they don’t want this to be just a matter agreed to by heads of state, but by representatives of the people. Another victory for the US: Iran has to somehow sell this as a good thing for Iran because it can be back in the world market with its money, when Iran has capitulated to US demands in every way.
Iran’s self-mythology is that it is a kind of anti-western alternative state. The Ayatollahs, the moral force against the hated US-client state under the Shah, set up a state with veto power in the upper levels of the clergy. Other than that, its a normal state interested in wealth and influence. However, it isn’t making territorial claims; it wants power over parts of Iraq because Iraq invaded it in the 1980s with Israeli and Saudi support. It doesn’t represent itself as the leader of Islam like Saudi Arabia, but as the most steadfast enemy of Israel; part of this claim is its support for the Syrian state, or what’s left of it, and the Islamic part of Lebanon. This has a defensive aspect.
From the Iranian point of view, years of sanctions and sabotage and the destruction of its Syrian ally having taken their toll; not being attacked militarily starts looking like a positive thing. Its like somebody sticking a gun in your belly, taking your money, putting the gun away, and calling it even.
From the Republican point of view, America got nothing from the deal because America is in all-out war with Iran, so only the complete capitulation of the Islamic Republic would be an acceptable outcome. An enemy state has to be destroyed; removing sanctions is “giving in” to Iran, as if the normal state of affairs is to use whatever means it takes to destroy it. Good Republicans don’t negotiate with enemies of America; they just bomb them.
The Obama administration has decided not to destroy Iran, but to nibble away at its sovereignty. Obama says there is no urgency to destroy Iran and, besides, the US doesn’t need to because, ultimately, Iran should be useful for the US. This means it should use its sovereignty for America’s benefit.
The Republicans say that Obama showed “weakness” by negotiating with Iran at all, instead of using war to make demands. But this is actually the opposite of weakness. It is the strength of a state that it can decide when war is worth it. The US is in the luxurious position of deciding: should we go to war or not? The whole nation is invited to take part in this debate. What are the chances to win? What will we win? In a war that is about defending a state under attack, nobody has these questions. They just rally round. These are wars of choice, not wars about the existence of the nation. Iran can’t do this; the basis of its power is at stake and it is weak in relation to America.
The US can also pick the means that it wants to use for extending its reach in the Middle East. Obama says that its better to have allied states do its dirty work, support subversion, and hold negotiations. Obama’s diplomatic triumph is showed by the make-up of the negotiating committee: the European Union (with Germany recognized as a special interest), Russia, and China. Obama has gotten the whole world together by using “hotspots” to organize competing interests under America’s umbrella. Obama wants to make a world order by gathering countries together to isolate another country and getting concessions.
It is a peculiarity of the USA that it takes positions on the weaponry of the rest of the world. It installs itself as the superpower referee who defines which weapons are legitimate or illegitimate, as if America is a power above conflicts. This suits its goal to be the world’s superpower without challenge. That’s not how it looks to most Americans; they see the whole world as a place for the US to judge whether there is war or peace, and a recalcitrant state is by definition a disturbance of the peace.
The press has hailed the deal with Iran as a victory for diplomacy over force because Obama is sparing the USA from another un-won war. Many people think that diplomacy has to something do with non-violence because diplomats don’t carry guns. But what kinds of demands are being raised in diplomatic negotiations? The same demands that lead to war. The basis of all diplomacy between states is the threat they can bring to bear; and America uses all the means at its disposal, diplomatic as well as military.
The carrot is that a state can enter into the capitalist world market and try its luck there; the stick is American intransigence at all places. If anyone thinks that Obama is a peacenik because he offers a carrot to those in conflict with the US, it should be remembered that this only leads to an American-defined peace if the other side agrees to concede.
The nuclear agreement with Iran changes nothing in the basic hostility between the USA and Iran except that this is a victory for the US and for Obama’s strategy. Obama is using the occasion of the deal to make even more demands on Iran. Its should be clear that this is not going to end until the Iranian state turns into something that America finds agreeable.