The Iran Enigma: Implicit Complicity

On July 18, the Associated Press reported the existence of a secret document within the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, revealing a lesser limit on Iran's nuclear work than had been initially announced and believed.

This disturbing revelation only increased the skepticism of many, especially among Iran's neighbors, that the deal will ever unfold as promised. However the good intentions of the negotiators seem unquestionable: avoiding military confrontation and reducing nuclear capability.

My purpose here is to evaluate the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal in a historical context. This reflection is about ethics and has no political ambition for two reasons.

First, it has become practically impossible, today, to have an intelligent, civil and open-minded conversation on any political subjects. Second, the U.S. media have succumbed to the overwhelming compulsion to treat all international news through the lens of American presidential politics.

This media practice includes covering developments which are tragic and hugely consequential to the destiny of entire regions of the world. It betrays a degree of national self-obsession that has become utterly embarrassing.

History offers a multitude of striking examples of attempts to accommodate thoroughly unjust and immoral regimes and demagogues in order to avoid escalating tensions. The intentions are good but the consequences can turn out catastrophic.

On July 20, 1933, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli signed, on behalf of Pope Pius XI, a treaty with the recently formed Nazi regime. Pacelli became Pope Pius XII in 1939 and the so-called "Reichkonkordat" is still in force today.

The content of the agreement is not widely criticized but historians have argued convincingly that it played a crucial role in the history of the third Reich. Most significantly, it gave "legitimacy" to a very evil regime and completely neutralized the Catholic opposition to it, which, to that point, had been constant, fierce and highly effective.

The role of Pius XII during WWII is, in my opinion, considerably more nuanced than the crude caricature initially made of it. Although frequently covert, his active opposition to Hitler is becoming clearer to a growing number of researchers.

The damage, however, had already been done by the 1933 treaty. On hindsight, it remains particularly challenging to defend it as anything else than an enormous historic blunder.

Paul von Hindenburg, the president of the Weimar Republic, appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. With the institution of the first concentration camp (March 1933), the young Nazi regime had shown, by the time of the Konkordat, abundant signs of recklessness and ruthlessness. However, most of what we consider evil about it came later.

The unveiling of the true identity of the regime follows an immensely dark progression defined by the total elimination of political opposition and the resulting dictatorship (1934), the Nuremberg Racial Laws (1935) Kristallnacht (1938), etc.

In 1933, very few, truly, saw where the Nazis were going to take Europe and the rest of the world.

No such excuse can be afforded by the signatories of the latest agreement with Iran. To suggest naivety is untenable. The repeated threats to exterminate an entire nation, the human rights violations, the religious persecutions, the discrimination of women and the support of international terrorism are all very well-documented and widely reported.

Apple and other American corporations have threatened to boycott North Carolina and Indiana because of bias. But, following the nuclear deal, some of the same enterprises have apparently no reservation about doing business in Iran where gays are punished by imprisonment, corporal punishment and even execution. A little consistency would be nice!

The same applies to our government. Only consistency credibly argues for principle and sincerity. Without it, a particular position is only a form of sophistry that reflects political opportunism.

My father and I went to the same public elementary school in a quiet neighborhood of Paris: Ecole Saint Ferdinand. About a dozen years ago, on the rather cheerless façade of the building, a somber black marble plaque was placed. The central message can be translated like this "On the night of July 16, 1942, 37 Jewish children who attended this school were arrested , held in inhuman conditions, deported and murdered in Auschwitz,"... Then comes the haunting conclusion "...with the complicity of French people."

Nothing confronts a dark past more bitterly than the writing on the wall of a childhood memory. But horrors of this magnitude do not take place in a vacuum. They are the outcome of many people making terrible moral choices over a period of time. The bad choices may lead to unforeseen or, at least, unintended consequences. But sufficient awareness of the viciousness of a regime forbids absolution for the implicit complicity in their crimes.

Many view the 1933 Konkordat as one these terrible choices with horrific results. I fear that the recent Iran Nuclear Deal is exposed to the same kind of criticism of complicity in legitimizing and emboldening a dangerous and blatantly racist regime and suppressing its opposition.

I do not expect the judgment of History to be any kinder with the 2015 agreement than with the one from 1933. When the lives of so many innocent people are at stake, History is reliably unforgiving.