Hard-liners in both Iran and the United States reflexively oppose the landmark agreement that was just reached to put a tight hold on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. On the Iranian side, the militants do not want to give up their drive to build nuclear weaponry and are appalled that their country’s representatives have been talking with the Great Satan, the U.S.A. On the American side, the militants apparently would rather risk war than give their Great Satan, President Obama, a diplomatic victory that may validate the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded back in 2009.
As soon as the agreement was announced, Republican members of Congress, as well as the horde of GOP presidential candidates and former Vice President Dick Cheney, rushed to the microphones to issues doomsaying denunciations and declare that Obama has sold out Israel.
The reality is that the fruit of these long negotiations looks pretty solid, establishing very extensive and open-ended inspections of every aspect of the Iranian nuclear program. The deal avoids a military confrontation and possible war between the U.S. and Iran and, like President Nixon’s opening to China and President Reagan’s nuclear weapons deal with the Soviet Union, it may be a first step toward normalized relations with a country that has been on the American enemies list since 1979.
Of course, reality does not always count for much in the testosterone-driven politics of the Republican Party. On top of their knee-jerk opposition to anything the president proposes, GOP politicians all feel the need to prove they are tougher than the next guy. As a result, blustering about the use of military force seems more manly than trusting diplomacy to handle a challenge.
There is a vast library of Hollywood movies about tough guys jumping out of airplanes, blowing stuff up and gunning down bad guys; not so many — any? — about negotiators striking deals that avoid anyone getting killed. Americans rightly, but sometimes excessively, celebrate every person in uniform as a hero, but seldom honor the difficult and often dangerous work being done day after day by members of our diplomatic corps. Warriors capture the popular imagination more easily than peacemakers.
Unfortunately, that bias colors our political choices and too often drives policy. The Iraq war is now widely seen as a huge mistake that cost the country thousands of lives and trillions of dollars and that, after more than a decade of fighting and a false end, made things worse instead of better. Yet most of the country was gung-ho back when the troops were rolling into Baghdad and the embedded media were cheering them on. It was all so thrilling, like a good war movie. After Sept. 11, it felt great to see an Arab bad guy taken down, even if it was the wrong bad guy.
Our vision of war is probably too influenced by the biggest one of all, World War II, where the forces of evil were so unambiguous and so relentless that there was no choice but to commit to total war and to demand unconditional surrender. Seldom, though, is it quite that clear cut. We went to war against Ho Chi Minh because he was a commie, having failed to discern, early on, that he was an admirer of the United States with whom we might have struck a deal. Now, all these years later, the heirs of Ho Chi Minh are fast becoming our allies. A lot of horror and pain could have been avoided if we had gotten to that place decades sooner.
Who knows where we will end up with Iran? There are still plenty of antagonisms to overcome (although we do find ourselves on the same side in opposition to the indisputably and grotesquely odious Islamic State). The nuclear deal, though, seems to be a solid start toward a different relationship.
Iran is not Afghanistan, an out-of-the-way country with a populace that is largely stuck in a backward, tribal world. There are 80 million Iranians. They are not a nation of goat herders; especially in Tehran and other cities, they are a modern and well-educated people, many of whom long to make connections with the West -- and the United States in particular. Yes, their country is in the grip of a repressive, fundamentalist regime, but change can come and it does not have to result from military force.
In current polls, majorities of Americans ranging from 60% to 77% support engagement with Iran, despite the fearmongering of Republican politicians. And, across the world in Tehran on the evening after the nuclear agreement was announced, young Iranians took to the streets to demonstrate. Television cameras caught them chanting, but it wasn’t the old chant of “Death to America.” No, this time they were chanting a phrase that should be a universal sentiment: “Death to no one! Long live life!”