Dante's Inferno and Obama's Iran Deal

David Sanger, writing in yesterday's New York Times cover story on the Iran deal, called it President Obama's "leap of faith," a gamble that the negotiated agreement will alleviate tensions in the Middle-East rather than exacerbate them. Dante's writing in "The Inferno" may be even more apt in describing a president caught between the throes of staying the course with existing sanctions or giving them up (though minor ones may stay in place) in the hope that Iran's promise of abating nuclear arms development may take us to a better place.

In Canto VI of "The Inferno," Dante writes:
"I see new torments and new souls in pain
about me everywhere.
Wherever I turn away from grief I turn to grief again"

At his press conference yesterday the President hinted, albeit lightly, at the torment of turning from one grief - a nuclear armed Iran - to another, the prospect of Iran awash with more than hundred billion dollars from the unfreezing of frozen assets, free to use that new gain to better arm Hezbollah and Hamas and its other terror proxies in the Middle East. That other grief, whose consequences are feared more by many in the region, could, the president suggested, be stemmed by better intelligence sharing and cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Israel.

First ring of hell: delusion. What help can Israel or Saudi Arabia really offer in monitoring and controlling the flow of cash- the oxygen lifeline of terrorist organizations (so labelled by Obama's State Department) - that takes place within Iran? All that can be hoped for is, in reality, but a hope: that Iran, in getting immediately back as much as $150 billion in frozen asset would not use it to sow terror in Israel or spur hegemonic ambitions elsewhere. It's a little like giving a dagger back to the killer who owns it without any assurance that he has renounced his intention to use it. Thus, although the latest official annual US State Department report makes clear that Iran remains the world's number one state sponsor and exporter of terrorism (responsible for the loss of more American lives than any other state), Iran was apparently never asked to renounce its support of terrorism, or its fixation on wiping Israel off the map. Or, if asked, it refused to comply with that request.

Second ring of hell: the belief that there is an easy way out from reliance on the threat of the use force and continued application of sanctions to move to Iran to ever change its support for terrorism and regional hegemony. This brings to mind Dante's Canto XXVIII: "In duty and in love, I bare my brain divided from its source within this trunk; and walk here where my evil turns to pain, an eye for an eye to all eternity: thus is the law of Hell observed in me."

Obama would break this law of Hell as our earthly lot, let loose the reigns on Iranian misconduct, in exchange for assurances that Iran's development of Hell's ultimate instrument- the nuclear bomb - could be stalled if not stopped. In the process, long-standing US policy is cast aside, presumably as futile. So too is US allegiance to core principles embodied in the UN Charter that all member states commit themselves to non-use of force, other than in self-defense, by renouncing aggression and terrorism as an instrument of policy.

Were Iran to affirm these basic principles of civilized international life, who could take issue with President Obama's leap of faith? Perhaps good will and monitoring may yet succeed in eliminating the shadow of Hell that lurks in Iran's unchecked development of nuclear weapons. But what of those in the region, most directly affected, who view with more concern Iran's non-nuclear threat being strengthened through the flow of released massive amounts of funds? What if any effort has been made to seek Iran's assurances on this front? None, as far as we can tell; or at least none that proved successful. And so we are left with the anomaly that not only those directly affected by the nuclear deal feel most uncomfortable with it, but also by the fact that under US law an individual who gives a nickel to Iran faces a fifteen year jail sentence for assisting terrorism while the Obama administration fills Iran's coffers with new wealth. And, without any correlated change in the Iranian behavior that first prompted adoption of sanctions.

President Obama falls back on the argument that pragmatism must prevail where angels fear to tread. We are told that even attenuated multilateral sanctions will not hold without a nuclear deal, that the other states imposing them have already lost their resolve, and that therefore we must abandon course.

Recall Dante' words in Canto VI: "Nor am I just in this alone; all these you see about you in this painful death have wallowed in the same indecencies." Politicians embellish the truth, brighten it and darken it to meet their needs. These are indecencies we can live with it, but there comes a point where embellishment comes up against the integrity of what we say and do as a nation. We cannot pretend that we have the power, absent sanctions and the credible threat of force, to ward off the enormous risk that those most directly affected in the region see looming: unbearable losses attributed to Iran's entrenched and enriched terrorist proxies coupled with Iran's unbridled hegemonic ambitions.

Better to simply state the truth: the rings of Hell are everywhere, yet we place our faith in this leap: that stalling nuclear development is a safer course than stemming terrorism and regional aggression.