Of all the U.S. foreign policy strategies in the Middle East that are at odds and need to be steadied, Iran is the one this administration is banking its legacy on. Whereas most presidents before him would hinge their legacies on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Mr. Obama has banked his political capital on Iran, since the outset.
Today, we are at crossroads, not only in American politics but in American minds, of our view of Iran. Do we forgive the transgressions of the past and forget the chants of Death bestowed upon the Great Satan, whose citizen were marched on television blindfolded and branded spies; or do we refuse to see a population that is consistently asking for less Islam in their government and more freedoms akin to the democracy we implement here at home?
To be sure, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East bumps up against many contradictions. Among them are whether we have placed our trust in the Kingdom of Saud deservingly, or whether they flout our ideals and flaunt their injustices while soaking in our money and laughing at the irony. Or if we've enabled movements like ISIS, or the Taliban before them, with our blind allegiances and mono faceted strategies in the region, where we swing the pendulum in a direction to our favor, but neglect to foresee how far it may swing back. Or whether in our dealing with Syria or Turkey, we aren't enabling the exact factions we are seeking to disable.
Chief among those contradictions is whether we engage with an old foe that has made few overtures to expect leniency, and extend to them a fig leaf in the form of a nuclear accord that would give them monetary relief from crippling sanctions while offering them a chance to save face and come clean; or do we maintain a tough stance anchored in the kind of belligerence that takes us on a slow march to war?
Today's national debate is just as much about politics and policy as it is about the psyche of an American populace that may or may not be ready to engage with a sworn enemy. The emotional reaction of most Americans to the word "Iran" is often a cringe, thanks to the sensational nature of modern media. The images people associate with Iranians are menacingly grainy black and white burly men, marching blindfolded hostages through hostile crowds chanting "death"! They are of bearded clerics, in robes not suits, sitting in parlors not similar to our own halls of power, devoid of women in the room. These are the images people conjure when we speak of an accord with the Iranians. These are not our friends. How can we shake hands?
Rarely do Americans see or learn of the thousands of Iranian-Americans who call this country their home, and contribute greatly to its accomplishments. They comprise of tech giants like Pierre Omidyar and Omid Kordestani who help Found corporations such as eBay and Google. They include philanthropists like Angela Nazarian and Bita Daryabari who fund initiatives for public good. They extend to mission commanders and scientists at NASA and JPL like Firouz Naderi and Bobak Ferdowsi, who oversee missions to Mars or beyond. They enumerate doctors and lawyers, writers and educators, Journalists and researchers, artists and performers, Nobel peace laureates and human rights activists -- all of whom live among us, dress unremarkably and speak eloquently in English as well as Farsi -- and have an undying allegiance to both. They identify culturally with an Iran of a bygone era. Yet they identify politically with a Democracy that has absorbed them and allowed them to be counted with a vote and a voice they've come to rely on. They are civically involved. They vote in great percentages and they have a heightened sense of appreciation for a system that separates religion and state anchored in a constitution that bestows upon them rights they have come to deem as unalienable. These American-Iranians believe that there are more of them in Iran, who hold fast to the ideal that they too deserve to live in a land that is presided over by a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
If American law makers and their constituents across 50 states could meet and greet Iranians that don't harbor the grimace of hate, but the embrace of assimilation, then perhaps this debate over the #IranDeal wouldn't be so rancorous, and the outcome so unsure. If American media would be as eager to focus on the formidable population of movers and achievers who could impress any critic, then perhaps the debate over the Congressional vote to approve or reject this administration's historic deal with Islamic Iran wouldn't be the PR battle that it is - it would simply be a vote for a good accord borne of compromise, mutual distrust and cautious optimism rooted in safety mechanisms.
In the final analysis, as we head into the September vote, do we look upon Iran as the axis of an evil we branded it with, or do we forgive their bygone ideology and trust that Iranians are looking to turn a corner with our help?