If I had one single reason for supporting Obama in the last election, it was that he and he alone had the strategy and perseverance to end the Cold War with Iran. He hasn’t done that yet – but he has, with remarkable global unity, started down a diplomatic path that could liberate the forces for moderation and democracy in that country, and unwind a dangerous ratchet toward war. That was always his larger promise from the get-go: not just to end the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; not just to end the torture regime that made a war criminal of the president and ruined both our moral authority and the integrity of our intelligence-gathering; but to begin to defuse the deeper forces of polarization and conflict that seemed only likely to intensify after 9/11. I have always seen Obama as the antidote to Bush. This weekend, he fully inhabited the role.
For this blog, the question of Iran has particular resonance. Patrick, Chris and I truly soldered our partnership in the heady days of the Green Revolution, as we became immersed in every tweet, every gesture and every tragedy of that great awakening. I know Dish readers were glued to those events as well – and feel the relief and exhilaration of this partial but still real breakthrough.
Which is why we should make this clear: this blog favors this agreement primarily because of our love of and admiration for the people of Iran. We saw them in June 2009 dare to believe that their long nightmare of isolation, extremism and theocratic rule might end one day. And there are times when commentary on all of this too easily misses their central place in this diplomacy. We are doing this not just because it is in the interests of the United States for there to be peace and non-proliferation in the Middle East; but because it as an act of basic respect toward the people of Iran. They were the ones who risked their lives and fortunes to fight against theocracy in 2009 and they are the ones who recently elected the most moderate leaders allowed. And we owe it to them to reciprocate their courage and perseverance. To be sure, Rouhani is not all of the regime, but he is very much a part of it, and has the sole democratic legitimacy. Not to engage this newly elected leader’s diplomatic outreach would be to turn our back on fledgling democracy in the Middle East – and kindling those democratic forces was and is the best response to the polarization unleashed in the crime of September 11, 2001.
Now consider this: in the past few months, Obama has both begun to remove the threat of WMDs in Syria through diplomacy and found a way to ensure that Iran’s irrevocable nuclear know-how will be verifiably channeled into peaceful, civilian use. These two acts of diplomacy compound one another to make the world a much more peaceful place. Yes, there remains a risk. Of course there does.
But there was also a risk in reaching out to Gorbachev in the 1980s, and yet two Cold Warriors, Reagan and Thatcher, chose to do business with him. And they were right to. As with the Soviets and the arms race, there comes a point when the pain inflicted on the other party by sanctions is so great you have maximal external leverage for reform. Too much and the sanctions would be counter-productive; not enough and we would only have military power as a lever. It takes judgment to know if the time is ripe to take yes for an answer. But, in my view, Reagan was as right to embrace Gorbachev as Obama is to reward Rouhani.
Reagan’s pragmatism and genuine horror of nuclear weapons have not been replicated in today’s Republican right. But those qualities defined him and his legacy just as much as his ideological fervor did. Obama is today acting on exactly those principles – as well as those of president George H W Bush, and Dwight Eisenhower. He is, in other words, the corrective to the second Bush and the neoconservative propensity for both utopianism and war (always a deadly combination). He is, yes, fulfilling his initial promise – to bring about the change we can still believe in and to rekindle the hope that region so desperately needs.
Update from a reader:
Hearing news of the deal with Iran makes me incredibly happy. I am a first-generation Persian and have lived happily in the United States all my life and have never truly understood our country’s issues with Iran. Understandably, there is the tumultuous political history for the past 40 years, but it’s even weirder that it took so long for this deal to come around. My family’s immersion into American life, along with thousands of other Iranians, has left me wondering why Iranians and Americans can get along but Iran and America can’t.
But really the problem was that the two countries just won’t – or at least it used to be that way. And it wasn’t until each leader decided to seize upon the opportunity to talk again. You highlighted the Green Revolution extensively and always showed an enormous amount of respect towards Iranians. You remained skeptical of the mullahs and the Ayatollah while always seeing the best in the people. Not everyone dedicated daily attention to their marches for freedom and the impact of bringing them back into the international community. So it’s with Obama and Rouhani (with the Ayatollah’s backing or permission we don’t know) that finally found a way to make it happen.
I’ve never thought of myself out of place in the US and adore the Stars and Stripes, so I can’t tell you how great it is that my ancestral home and my home are finally moving towards peace.
(Photos: Getty Images)