Marking two years since the Iran nuclear deal, we would be sorely mistaken to assume that the architects of former US President Barack Obama’s policy of giving Tehran the keys to the Middle East feel any regret. Obama’s cabal, which gave Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) carte blanche throughout the Middle East, is quite happy with what it has achieved, despite admitting that Tehran’s behavior in the region has not improved.
The other day, leading cabal member Robert Malley tweeted an article co-written by fellow member Philip Gordon and Richard Nephew — a researcher and expert who dealt with Iran’s nuclear file between 2011 and 2013 — in The Atlantic magazine. Malley, a “progressive” admirer of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s rulers who detests Arab “conservatives,” tweeted: “Why the Iran deal has worked, and why its critics have it wrong.”
Gordon and Nephew titled their article: “The ‘Worst Deal Ever’ That Actually Wasn’t.” They indirectly criticized opposition to the nuclear deal from US President Donald Trump and leading Republicans.
“In fact, the deal is doing exactly what it was supposed to do: Prevent Iran from acquiring enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, demonstrate to the Iranian public the benefits of cooperation with the international community, and buy time for potential changes in Iranian politics and foreign policy,” they wrote.
“Anyone who thought a deal would immediately change Iran’s regional agenda or who maintains that, if only America and its partners had insisted on such changes in the talks they would have materialized, has a misguided sense of what sanctions and diplomatic pressure can accomplish. Having been deeply involved in the negotiations, we think it’s important to be clear about the purpose, enduring benefits, and inevitable limitations of the agreement.”
The co-writers then argued that “what the deal has done, at least for the next decade, is deter any realistic threat of a near-term Iranian nuclear weapon. The United States should use that decade wisely: Standing up to and imposing costs on Iranian transgressions, supporting US allies in the region, making clear to the Iranian public that the West is not an enemy, and preparing for the day when some of the deal’s restrictions will no longer apply.
“If, by 2030, Iran has not demonstrated that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and that it is willing to live in peace with its neighbors, the United States and its international partners will have difficult decisions to make about how to handle the issue going forward.”
The whole Middle East has paid, and is still paying, a heavy price for the ‘decade’ the nuclear deal has gifted Iran. This price is being paid even by ordinary Iranians, who have been deprived by the mullahs, zealots and the IRGC of their social safety net and welfare opportunities for future generations.
Eyad Abu Shakra
They concluded: “But since there is a chance that Iran will have different leaders or policies by then — the current Supreme Leader will almost certainly be gone, and a new generation may have come to power — why make those difficult decisions now? The Iran deal has bought valuable time. Squandering that time without a better plan would be foolish.”
An important point to keep in mind as one reads those arguments is whether Malley and Gordon — both very close to Obama and Hillary Clinton — ever expected the Democrats to lose last year’s election to Trump. Most opinion polls showed the contrary, and Gordon was expected to be a member of Clinton’s team had she won.
Another question is whether the Democrats under Obama were simply postponing the crisis past the incoming Democratic administration, in order to entangle the next Republican president with its complex ramifications and consequences.
Since the nuclear deal, “liberal” Democrats have fought strongly to defend it. Those “liberals” may be divided into two camps: “Progressive apologists,” led by Obama, who tacitly admire Tehran’s “revolutionary” rhetoric against “militaristic” and “conservative” Arab regimes; and trusted friends of Israel who believe that civil and sectarian wars within and between its neighboring states would best guarantee Israel’s safety and security.
Giving Tehran the benefit of the doubt has been very much on the mind of Obama, who once said they were not “suicidal.” And of course Israel’s interests have been a strategic policy of every US administration.
But Arab countries’ fate was never a high priority for Obama, who reneged on almost everything he promised in his “historic” 2009 Cairo speech. Things hit an all-time low after the collapse of his “red line” regarding the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people.
Since the nuclear deal, many things have changed throughout the Middle East except in Iran, which is now convinced it has carte blanche to do as it pleases. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry was frank when he said negotiations were restricted to the nuclear file and never touched on other regional issues.
But it was well known that among those regional issues was the IRGC’s occupation of four Arab capitals, its destruction of cities in Syria and Iraq, and its displacement of tens of millions of Syrians and Iraqis, most of them Sunni Arabs.
Furthermore, most of the region’s crises were relegated to the shadows of the war on Daesh, that artificial terrorist phantom that was nurtured and built up — if not created and given its raison d’etre — by the policies of Tehran, Moscow and Obama’s Washington during three years of the Syrian uprising.
Daesh’s presence has been the perfect excuse to redraw the boundaries of the “new Middle East,” and the much-sought-after factor to justify bringing down everything, leaving only failed states, sectarian animosities, ignorance, intolerance, and systematic destruction of institutions, landmarks of civilizations and cultural heritage.
The whole Middle East has paid, and is still paying, a heavy price for the “decade” the nuclear deal has gifted Iran. This price is being paid even by ordinary Iranians, who have been deprived by the mullahs, zealots and the IRGC of their social safety net and welfare opportunities for future generations.
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.