Only two weeks have passed since the United States and Iran reached a deal over the latter's nuclear program and already tensions are churning between Tehran and Washington. While much of the world expressed relief that Iran and the United States agreed to rein in Iran's nuclear aspirations in return for billions of dollars in relief from crushing international sanctions, the nations are now exchanging political jabs over questionable statements by U.S. officials.
The agreement's basic points are easy to comprehend: In return for Iran's agreement to limit its nuclear activities (and with exhaustive verification), it will receive some $100 billion in relief from international sanctions, some of which have lasted a decade. Yet the agreement has proven controversial not only in some Western capitals but also throughout the Middle East. In the United States, Congress has already made clear its intention to reject the deal. Expect a political showdown deluxe between our legislative and executive branches.
Result: The rest of the world can once again consider how badly divided our government is. All this thwarts any chance for the United States to reverse its declining prominence on the world stage.
Military option: Despite reaching this deal to limit Iran's ability to acquire the bomb, U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter say a military option regarding Iran remains on the table to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. Is issuance of such a statement meant for domestic consumption only? Is this to mollify Tel Aviv, Riyadh and the Gulf monarchies who voice extreme doubts about any deal with Iran? Or is this pure Washington stupidity?
Engaging in idle threats does not serve U.S. interests in the long term. As we should have learned with Syria, threats we fail to aggressively pursue demonstrate political paralysis, confusion and weakness. And it is exactly this failure of deterrence that makes the United States look impotent and indecisive. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the "uselessness of such empty threats" by the United States and has said they should be consigned to the last century.
He might even be right if we fail to deliver on them.
In a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last month, members from both political parties seemed to forget that this agreement was not reached between the United States and Iran alone. It also involved such influential players as China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany. In short, the United States may well walk away from the deal, but its partners will remain -- and could profit greatly through the lifting of sanctions by pursuing economic opportunities with Iran, a nation of more than 77 million people.
Germany has already dispatched to Tehran a large delegation headed by trade minister Rainer Brüderle. France's foreign affairs minister, Laurent Fabius, is taking similar steps. And China is eyeing Iran for major economic ventures in the energy sector.
What the war hawks in Washington need to understand -- assuming they don't already -- is that if the deal is rejected, the diplomatic support the United States has garnered in recent years might cease to exist. Hardliners need to consider the welfare of our country first rather than scoring political points. Worst alternative: yet another senseless, costly, lengthy and bloody war.
Geopolitical implications: Make no mistake, this painstakingly negotiated agreement will have significant geopolitical implications at all levels -- economically, militarily and ideologically. It could prove a game-changer when it comes to geopolitics in the Middle East. China, Russia and some European countries will likely formulate their upcoming economic and diplomatic policies based on the new political landscape in the region. Oil prices, for instance, already have dropped in the international market. Expect to see $2-a-gallon gasoline in the United States by year's end.
Even without trade, will U.S. and Iran's interests converge? There is a strong possibility given both countries' desire to defeat ISIS.
Another point merits emphasis: The political debt that Iran owes Russia and China cannot be paid only in economic matters (energy contracts) but also in strategic vision. The possibility exists of Iran entering into a military treaty of some sort, clearing the way for China and Russia to establish military and naval bases on Iranian soil, similar to arrangements the United States has with Bahrain. However, it does not strike me as wise policy. China, for instance, wants to wait till the dust settles in this latest major shift to better assess the situation.
In the final analysis, President Obama's deal helping Iran integrate into the international community could be as significant as President Nixon's diplomacy was in bringing China out of the shadows in the 1970s. Only time will tell for sure.
History also has taught us that four countries -- Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea -- that followed Iran's nuclear strategy subsequently refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Will Iran, which signed the treaty in 1970, decide similarly if the deal is cancelled and the sanctions are not lifted? Once again, only time will tell.
Whether the Iran nuclear agreement is a welcome opportunity or a mistake of historical proportions, no one knows. What's certain, however, is that this agreement will definitely move Iran from isolation into global integration -- and further complicate regional politics for decades to come.