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A Student's Perspective on Iran

Roger McCormack ’14, Featured Columnist  

Iran and the U.S.’s recent deal on permissible nuclear enrichment-a six month freeze on Iran’s nuclear program and mild economic sanctions relief- presents the necessity of diplomacy, with the proviso that the West would do well to err on the side of prudence and caution in the proceeding mediations.

The diplomatic accord focuses on stopping Iran’s nuclear program for six months for the purposes of eventually reaching a holistic agreement. The New York Times reports that “Iran has asserted repeatedly that it has the right to enrich uranium, a necessary step in producing nuclear fuel both for power plants and, at a much higher level, for weapons. The issue appears central to Tehran’s insistence that any talks on initial constraints, like the talks in Geneva, also acknowledge an end state for Iran’s nuclear program.” The Obama administration has been wary of granting Iran the ‘right’ to enrich uranium, and the early stages of diplomacy have been arbitrated by modest relaxation of economic sanctions.

Hawks in both the Democratic and Republican party view the easing of sanctions as a mistake, given their success in pressuring Iran to come to the table to hash out a deal. Their skepticism of the deal is inspired by the unmitigated fanaticism and racist rhetoric emanating from the Ayatollah Khomeini (He recently referred to Israel as a ‘rabid dog’) and mullahs of Iran, whose government adheres to an iteration of fundamentalist Islam. Public executions, for instance, are meted out to adolescent girls for “immorality.”

Despite this, pressing forward with harsh economic sanctions emboldens hardliners and provides a useful propaganda tool for the regime. Jeffrey Goldberg notes the paradoxical nature of sanction relief: “If China and India (and South Korea and Japan) decide that the U.S. is uninterested in reaching a deal, this will actually make the American task of keeping the sanctions in place much more difficult. And Iran will be in a better position to wait out international opposition to its nuclear activities”. The accord allows only a negligible easing of sanctions, thereby keeping the Iranian economy mired in sloth. The policy leaves in place restrictions on Iranian oil- a product that, if able to be sold, would create a flourishing Iranian market. The Obama administration views moderate assuaging of sanctions as creating an enticement to Iran for forgoing aspects of its nuclear program to acquire further sanctions relief. The Times documents the prudence and realism of this strategy: “Mr. Obama and his aides have argued that unless they give President Hassan Rouhani and his Western-educated chief negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, something to take home and advertise as a victory from the first round of negotiations, there is little chance they will return to negotiate a second, permanent deal.”

Professor Padriac O’Hare of Merrimack College welcomes diplomacy: “I think the diplomatic effort to reduce and eventually halt Iran’s engagement in the kind of nuclear research that leads to possession of nuclear weapons is everything those of us who believed in Barack Obama have waited for. As James Carroll writes in the November 25 GLOBE, “John Kerry has firmly restored diplomacy to its rightful place as the referred way to resolve conflict…” This said, those of us who are passionate in support of the security needs of the State of Israel are vigilant, even while we – or at least I – reject the tired, reactive and uncreative policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Perceived American obstinacy on sanctions relief weakens the support of the international community and, in broadcasting stubbornness to even mild relief, creates an insular and anxious Iran. By leading the public’s scrutiny from the mullahs to perceived conspiracies of the U.S., Iran’s leaders are able to construe the country’s problems as the consequences of “imperialism,” thereby removing responsibility from a corrupt government. Tom Friedman of the Times notes, “Iran has lied and cheated its way to the precipice of building a bomb, and without tough economic sanctions — sanctions that President Obama engineered but which Netanyahu and the Arab states played a key role in driving — Iran would not be at the negotiating table.”

Consequently, wariness should dominate the diplomatic process, refusing to allow the slightest semblance of a ruse in the enrichment program. This would entail a provision for a rigorous inspection under the auspices of the United Nations, providing a guard against a regime that has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, as well as the “other” inhabitants of Samaria.

The cruel and foolish past involvement of the U.S. in Iranian affairs lead to a 1953 coup installing the Western backed Shah, whose repression inspired the later revolution of 1979. The latter revolution enshrined doctrinaire Islamic principles, values fostered by the ravages of the Shah’s years. Growing quickly disillusioned with the puritanical and despotic Khomeini, courageous Iranian dissidents denounced the regime and have grown to be an immense diaspora group, with five million Iranians living abroad. Examples of the reasons for the exodus abound: the most prominent, of course, being the radical principles of the ’79 revolution. The morbid sending of children to their deaths in Iran’s war against Iraq, under the guidance of decrepit and cowardly clerics, is merely another example among numerous (These clerics chose not to follow the children to their depraved and squalid fate).

The words of former National Security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski (under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter respectively), fortunately carried the day: “Additional sanctions now against Iran with the view to extracting even more concessions in the negotiations will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations. More sanctions now as these unprecedented negotiations are just getting underway would reconfirm Iranians in their belief that the U.S. is not prepared to make any agreement with the current government of Iran. We call on all Americans and the U.S .Congress to stand firmly with the President in the difficult but historic negotiations with Iran.” Scowcroft, a member of a swiftly dying breed, the astute Republican realist, exhibits the need of avoiding the belligerence found among neoconservatives. This requires discerning diplomacy, diplomacy that could grant a historic accord, provided U.S. policy continues to be vigilant. However, the words of a young female Iranian dissident should not go unheeded:

“After 25 years of silence and oppression do the Iranian people only have the choice between the Savak(the Shah’s secret police) and religious fanaticism?…. Many Iranians like me are confused and in despair at the idea of an Islamic government. (These Iranians) know what they are talking about…. Often in countries like Tunisia, Pakistan and Indonesia, and in my own county, Islam, unfortunately, is the only means of expression for a muzzled people. The Liberal Left in the West should realise what a dead weight Islamic law can be for a society that is desirous of change, and ought not to be seduced by a cure that is worse than the disease.”

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