Iran's Nuclear Accord: An Opportunity, Too Much Noise, or a Strategic Mistake?

Prepare yourself for some post-Fourth of July fireworks. While much of the world expressed relief that Iran and several nations led by the United States last week reached a historic deal to rein in Iran's nuclear program in return for billions of dollars in relief from crushing international sanctions, the spotlight has already shifted to the U.S. Capitol and a showdown that may say more about us as a nation than whether Iran can really be trusted or not.

The 100-plus page agreement was met worldwide with a mixture of joy and rebuke. The varied responses demonstrated strong divisions in the international community about this deal. Even in the United States, Congress already has made clear its intention to amend certain clauses of the agreement. Now comes a political showdown between the legislative and executive branches of the American government. The much-anticipated spat regarding this agreement inside the beltway shows the rest of the world how divided our government is. Further, it thwarts any chance for the US to reverse its leadership decline on the world stage.

Members of Congress have made clear they will amend certain clauses of this agreement, thus paving the way for a political showdown between our legislative and executive branches. In the process, another much-anticipated spat inside the Beltway will showcase just how divided our government is. Sadly, it will dash any chance for the United States to reverse its gradual decline in prominence and respect on the world stage.

Most of the world welcomed last week's news, which hopefully will pave the way to end hostilities between the United States and Iran that have lasted for decades. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, welcomed the new agreement and called for Iran to join the international community in a fight against terrorism.

Make no mistake. This painstakingly negotiated agreement will have significant geopolitical implications at all levels -- economically, militarily and ideologically. Yet skepticism remains strong, particularly in Tel Aviv, Riyadh and the Gulf monarchies. And, of course, hardliners in both Washington and Tehran will maintain the deal is a strategic mistake. The Iran ambassador's lambasting of the United States after the U.N. Security Council's unanimous support of the deal this week didn't help matters.

Granted, the possibility things could go south exists: for instance, discovery of covert facilities in Iran that might continue the enrichment of uranium in defiance of any treaty; the possibility of
increasing the production of plutonium; or Iran's frustration at the slow-moving process for lifting economic sanctions and an arms embargo.

On the other hand, the agreement could prove a game-changer when it comes to geopolitics in the Middle East. China, Russia and some European countries will likely rush to secure lucrative energy contracts and seal major arms deals with Iran. Further, the lifting of economic sanctions
will allow Iran to increase its oil output in the international market, pushing prices down.

The West has legitimate concerns involving lifting of the arms embargo: Release of $100 billion to Iran would allow it to further support the Syrian government; Yemen's Huthi rebels fighting Saudi Arabia; and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and other nongovernmental actors opposing America's presence in the Middle East.

The agreement between the West and Iran over the latter's nuclear program will have a profound impact on the Middle East political landscape. The United States could even benefit from this deal mainly in defeating a common enemy. ISIS, which Iran has committed to defeating, has come within 25 miles of Iran's borders. It is this threat to Iran that will define its priorities, especially if both Iran and the United States agree to join forces against it.

Another point merits emphasis: The political debt Iran owes Russia and China cannot be paid only in economic (energy contracts) but also strategic vision. The possibility exists of Iran entering into a military agreement of some sort clearing the way for China and Russia to establish military and naval bases on Iranian soil, similar to the arrangement the United States has with Bahrain. However, it does not strike me as a wise policy. China, for instance, wants to wait till the dust settles in this latest major shift in regional geopolitics to better assess the situation and its next calculated move.

So is it a good deal or not? It might be months if not years before we get an answer to that question. What's certain is that the outcome of these marathon negotiations will change dynamics throughout the Middle East and beyond, some of it for the better.

Amidst all this, Washington's squabbling over this deal and anything else between Republicans and Democrats will present a political circus for the world to ponder. But for President Obama, reaching this deal with Iran will go down in history as one of his foreign policy legacies.

How significant might President Obama's deal be? Let's use American presidential history to frame the question. Would reaching a deal with Iran help it to integrate into the international community as China did in the 1970s after the Nixon administration made its historical overture toward China? Only time will tell. History has taught us that four countries (Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea) hat followed the same nuclear strategy Iran did ended up not signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Will Iran decide similarly? Once again, only time will tell.

It's up to you to decide whether this deal is a historic opportunity or a mistake of historic proportions. What's certain, however, is that this agreement will definitely end Iran's regional isolation on the global stage -- and further complicate regional politics.