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Opinion

Iran nuclear deal may deny neoconservatives their next war

The six-month nuclear deal with Iran is causing much gnashing of teeth in the cloistered offices of neoconservative think tanks. The hawkish intellectuals who spin the geopolitical theories that lead to young Americans being sent to war cannot abide President Obama’s penchant for talking with adversaries and avoiding conflict. 

That preference for peace over war threatens to take away from the neocons their top candidate for a future battlefield -- Iran. After years of sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy, and after an election that brought a more moderate leader to power in Tehran, the Obama administration decided to seek a diplomatic solution to the challenge of Iran’s drive toward building nuclear weapons. With the deal forged in talks involving the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China, Germany and Iran, a significant step has been taken toward bringing Iran back into the circle of rational actors on the world stage.

Of course the neocons and many members of Congress do not believe rationality is an attribute of which Iranians are capable. Given the history of the last 30 years, the extremism of Islamic militants and the theocratic dictatorship that rules the country, skepticism is not unreasonable.

But it is also true that Iran is a complex nation with a large class of educated, sophisticated citizens and an advanced economy. Even Iran’s mullahs cannot forever ignore political pressure from within and economic pressure from without. The election of President Hassan Rouhani marked a sharp shift away from the wacky radicalism of his predecessor. Both Rouhani and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have given clear signals they want to end the debilitating standoff with the international community.

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The tough sanctions were meant to soften Iran’s hard line. With that goal apparently achieved, there is nothing unwise about exploring the possibility of real change. The provisional deal drops some sanctions in exchange for measures that will curtail the Iranian nuclear program and open it up to inspections. In the six months to come, a tougher task has yet to be accomplished: a permanent agreement to end Iran’s quest for the bomb. 

It is entirely possible it may not work, but giving diplomacy a try is certainly preferable to a mad march to war.

“We cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems,” Obama said as he spoke about the deal with Iran. With the Iraq war over, the war in Afghanistan terminating, negotiations in the works in Syria and now a potential ratcheting down of antagonism with Iran, the president has moved far from the neoconservative militarism that dominated American foreign policy in the George W. Bush years.

If the Iran deal pays off, not only will the president finally earn the Nobel Peace Prize he won so prematurely in 2009, but the neocons will find themselves bereft of any new battlefields.

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