The Republicans have just finished their first debate, and all of the presidential candidates are trying to beat each other with respect to who is most convincing in tearing apart president Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor, would terminate the Iran deal on day one of his presidency, and he would push Congress to impose “even more crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas says that he would “cancel the Iran deal”. Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky rejected the deal, though he favors negotiations from a “position of strength” (whatever that means). Trump claimed that “What’s happened [with] Iran is a disgrace.” (Quoted from Wong 2015)
The right-wing punditry, AIPAC, the right-wing Jewish lobby and the defense contractors were jumping up in celebration in response to these announcements. For right-wing, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Iran agreement was a “historic mistake for the world”. Netanyahu and his other right-wing allies believe that if the West made significant concessions to Tehran, it would allow them to build nuclear weapons within a few weeks (Mitnick 2015).
But what does it mean to leave the negotiating table, and applying more sanctions on Iran? Of course, it means war. Before one can argue that it would be a good idea to increase pressure against Iran, it is relevant to lay out the details of the agreement: the nuclear agreement with Iran would curb Iran’s nuclear program, whereby it has to give up most of its centrifuges, convert a weapons facility into a research facility. The agreement obliges Iran to let foreign inspectors into the country at any moment. In return, Iran will continue to be allowed to enrich uranium, which it will use for peaceful, civilian purposes. The economic sanctions against the country are also lifted, which allows foreign corporations to sell their wares in Iran again (Peralta 2015).
This is precisely what companies like Mercedes-Benz, Total and Hewlett Packard have done. Iran provides a significant market for foreign corporations. It has an educated population, containing 81 million people, and has high demand for Western products. Iran has the second highest natural gas and fourth highest oil reserves in the world. There is a lot of potential to tap into the energy, mining and manufacturing sector, which have not been fully developed yet (Dorell 2015). From an economic viewpoint, there is no reason to continue sanctions, and business leaders are right in applying pressures against their governments to repeal the sanctions as quickly as possible.
Back to the deal: is the outcome really so bad for the West, and especially for Israel? Will Isreal be nuked because the Iran agreement went into effect? No and no. One might argue to the contrary that it is when the US provokes a war with Iran over imaginary nuclear weapons, it will lead to a further destabilization of the Middle East, which will also result in a destabilization of Israel’s security outlook (remember the Scud rockets fired by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein against Israel during the Second Gulf War?).
There is an unholy alliance between right-wing factions in the US and in Israel that want to start a war against Iran, and have absolutely no interest in re-establishing economic relations with Iran. President Obama now has to send the agreement through Congress, but he will likely apply a veto against Congress rejection of the deal. Obama does not mind to take any further political heat, because he is approaching the last year of his presidency. Facing the ire of the right-wing lobby, he didn’t push strongly for the agreement early on in his administration. The Iranian hardliner regime of Ahmadinejad, which was not deposed until 2013, also made an agreement quite complicated.
Now is the opportunity to complete an agreement with Iran, and put the discord behind us. The US is certainly not doing it for purely altruistic reasons, though it helps that we don’t have neocons running the administration. The US has massively lost the political capital, that George W. Bush thought that we could spend. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have economically and politically bankrupted the country, and the conquest and expansion of ISIS on formerly US-controlled areas of Iraq serve as painful reminders of the misguided and criminal foreign policy initiated under the Bush administration.
The rise of ISIS shifted the power balance in favor of Iran, which is the Shi’a bulwark against the toppling of the thoroughly corrupt and ineffective (yet pro-US) regime in Baghdad. The Ukraine feud with Russia has triggered a realignment in international relations, whereby the Russians forge closer links with Beijing and Tehran, which by definition weakens the hand of the US. The US has also involved itself in the regional “rebalancing” effort or “pivot to Asia”, which is a sophisticated way of stating that military resources should be concentrated in Asia to contain the growing Chinese military strength (and foolishly risk provocation and war). It would be too much asked to focus again all economic and military resources in the Middle East region, which had received enough US-induced turmoil.
Finally, despite all claims to the contrary, I think that unrivaled US economic power in the form of the dollar as a reserve currency is waning. Yes, every crisis in Europe or elsewhere results in another run on the dollar, which drives up the dollar value, and cheapens the cost of importing foreign goods into the US without ever having to repay the full value of the US debt claims owed to foreigners. But the global minotaur (Varoufakis 2011) is weakening, and can no longer pull up the global economy to the same extent as was possible before.
On a more humiliating note, among all the powerful US allies, only Japan had so far refused to sign up to the China-led development bank, while Britain, France and Germany, along with Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa have no problem in signing up as founding members of the development bank, as all of these countries realize where the international winds of commerce are blowing. The US and Japan ridiculously hold out against joining the bank for “lack of transparency” (Obe and Taylor 2015). Washington is really displeased about the challenge to the World Bank led-regime.
Declining empires can either allow their air to deflate, pull out of all forms of international conflicts, invite other actors to participate in the world police game, and hope that the transition to a more genuine multilateral system happens without much strife and conflict, or they can double down with promoting war, exacting more tribute from others, and thereby gaining temporary advantages against others, though at great cost to all of us. It should surprise nobody that the neocons believe in the latter strategy.
I do not predict that the dollar will be toppled as a reserve currency in the immediate future, but I do think that Obama’s relatively soft approach in the final years of his presidency is linked with a weakening global minotaur, and the realization that driving more military conflicts across the world can not address the real economic and social challenges that plague the world today. The successful completion of a nuclear agreement with Iran paves the way forward for future US foreign policy actions (as did the normalization of relations with Cuba).