The Iran Big Deal

For more than a decade, Iran's nuclear program has been near the top of the United States' Middle East agenda. To be more accurate, Iran has been near the top of the United States' Middle East agenda. That is to say, the nuclear issue has been vastly inflated -- in part as a logical extension of the prevailing view of the IRI as a rogue state driven by demonic impulse; in part, because it was crucial to an all-out campaign to crimp Iran, to deny it the normal prerogatives of a sovereign state, and ideally to topple the current regime. This view prevails to this day -- indeed, the representation of Tehran by Washington as the source of disorder in the region has intensified over time. The nuclear accord has changed nothing in the rhetoric of President Obama and his senior officials. In fact, he has taken several steps to align the United States with the Sunni cause against a purportedly Iranian-organized and directed Shi'ite bloc in Islam's incipient sectarian war. The most extreme, and logically unsupportable, example is participation in the Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis (and civilians) in Yemen.

There is ample evidence that the IRI never had a dedicated nuclear weapons program; its potential weapons-relevant activities ceased by 2003; its possible pondering of a nuclear option is no different than what every theoretically nuclear capable state has done since 1945. Iran's cardinal sin was in the nature of a technicality that placed it in violation of the NPT (a misdemeanor that several countries have committed, e.g. Brazil. Argentina, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan) -- like Al Capone's indictment for tax evasion when they really wanted him for bigger stuff. (In Iran's case, there has not in fact been bigger stuff beyond what every country does.) Bigger stuff would be attacking, invading and occupying another sovereign state without an enabling resolution from the UNSC or any other collective security body -- as the U.S. did in Iraq.

So, let's turn around the standard logic by posing six questions for Washington:

1. Will the United States recognize the convergence of interest between Tehran and Washington re: ISIL, al-Nusra-al-Qaeda, Yemen, avoiding a region-wide low-grade sectarian confrontation, and Afghanistan?

2. Will the Obama people begin to make independent judgments about these and related issues from the perspective of American national interests and cease deferring automatically to Jerusalem and Riyadh?

3. Will the White House realize that it is pursuing contradictory objectives by giving priority to cultivating "good will" in those capitals unrelated to the actual policies of Saudi Arabia and Israel?

4. Will the White House realize the contradiction between its crusade against Islamic terrorism and turning a blind eye to Sunni states' overt support for al-Nusra and covert sympathies for ISIL?

5. Will the White House realize the contradiction between pursuing the stated goal of achieving zero threat to American security originating in the Middle East and its actions (especially the kinetic ones) that have markedly reduced our national security?

The nuclear deal with Iran is to be welcomed -- mainly because Obama allowed himself to be trapped in a position where the only alternative was confrontation with the prospect for war. The strategic implications, if not accompanied by wider policy adjustments here and in the region, are marginal at best. This is another story of Obama digging himself a hole and then managing to dig himself out thanks to a shift in the calculations of other parties and a bit of luck.

In his characteristic fashion, he has adopted and then disseminated the thoughts of his far-right critics while offering himself as a pragmatist whose alternative can achieve the same results with less mayhem. Thus, the frame of understanding and analysis is slanted fully in the direction of the ultras. Consequently, the so-called debate that ensues is between two versions of the same story. The MSM lap it up since (1) that creates a "duel" with Congress, the GOP, Bibi, Trump and the cyber media universe; and 2) it absolves them of doing any deep thinking .