A lot of discussion has been made about the details of the Iranian nuclear deal and whether or not it will work and whether it will produce a safer world.
I have seen almost no discussion of a historical nature that puts this deal in the context of the past 60 year history between Iran and the US.
Is there a reason for Iran to distrust us? Yes.
Is there a reason that Iran calls the US the Great Satan? Yes.
Is there a reason that the world has to be careful in trusting President Obama? Yes.
And is there a reason that the US doesn’t trust Iran? Yes.
Let me tackle President Obama first. No country can deal with Obama as President without studying past US presidential history. As the US Congress so aptly stated, “the next President can totally undo what Obama has done.”
Every country dealing with the US must study our past history in order to make predictions as to what to expect from the US in the future. (These days, countries also need to predict what politics Fox News will try to sell.) It would be nice if the presidential candidates could recognize that effective US foreign policy requires policy continuity between different administrations.
Now let’s address the US Iranian history. In 1953, the US orchestrated a coup that replaced a democratically elected government with a dictatorship led by the Shah. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown. The new revolutionary government had to accomplish at least three main tasks: neutralize the Shah’s armed forces, replace the secular government loyal to the Shah, and remove the threat of a US organized counter revolution.
The armed forces were secured in their barracks and replaced by the Revolutionary Guard. The secular government was replaced by the only available stable organization, the religious institutions. The Shah’s nerve center and most dangerous entity, the US embassy, was isolated and made hostage. I assume that Iran felt that its revolution was secure by the time Reagan became president and the US embassy hostages were released.
In the 1980s, the US demonstrated its danger to Iran by supporting the Iraq government led by Saddam Hussein in a brutal war against Iran that resulted in huge Iranian causalities. In the first George W. Bush term, it is my understanding that, we came close to a nuclear deal with Iran which died as a result of our President’s “Axis of Evil” speech.
On a positive note, Iran appears to be transitioning from a sectarian to a more moderate secular government. Extremist statements made by religious leaders in Iran are not conducive to establishing trust in the US for Iran. However, in the context of past history between Iran and the US, it is not clear how to react to those remarks. I still remember Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the UN and telling the US “we will bury you.”
Future events were not consistent with that statement. We know that there will be presidential candidates that will have to take back their extreme statements if they will have a chance to be elected in the general election.
As amply demonstrated by members of congress, what you say for political consumption can be very different than how you vote in congress for the good of the country. I find it remarkable that, considering past history, an agreement has been reached with Iran to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in the next 15 years.
Considering the past history between the US and Iran, this agreement could only be reached by the inclusion of China, Russia, Germany, Britain, and France, all having a less onerous history with Iran. The agreement provides 15 years for Iran to continue its march to a secular and less radical government without outside interference and to normalize its relations with the rest of the world and especially the US.
There will still be many complicated issues that will have to be addressed in the Middle East, but you have to start somewhere. Compared to religious issues, which have yet to be resolved after a couple of thousand years, the nuclear issue might be the easiest to deal with, and might be a good starting place to finally achieve some peace and stability.
With this nuclear agreement, we will have 15 years to establish trust among the various protagonists.