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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Two Cheers for the Iran Agreement

The nuclear agreement with Iran is good for two reasons: it reduces the chance of war, and it promises relief from sanctions for the Iranian people.

Although American officials still say that war is an option, the chance has now shrunk. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that his military alone cannot deal a death blow to Iran. For that he needs America, and he’s far less likely to find a willing partner now.

That the Iranians will have sanctions lifted is something all humane people will welcome. President Obama says the sanctions “crippled the Iranian economy…. Their economy has been cratering as a consequence of the sanctions.” But he is wrong. “Economy” is an abstraction; it cannot be crippled or cratered. What has been crippled and cratered are the lives of innocent Iranians, who have had a difficult time obtaining food and medicines. The sanctions regime is a form of warfare against noncombatants. Moreover, as Gareth Porter shows, it did not even achieve what Obama says it was intended to achieve.

The good that will come out of this agreement cannot be overstated. The radically diminished prospect for war -- which would set the Mideast aflame and inflict hardship on the rest of the world as well -- and the improvement in the everyday lives decent Iranians are causes for rejoicing.

But the agreement has a significant downside too, in that it reinforces American hegemony. It does so by the very fact that the U.S. government is regarded by the media and others as the legitimate prosecutor, judge, and probation officer of Iran's government. The U.S. government, of course, commands overwhelming military power, and in that respect alone it has the ability to impose demands on others. But that does not mean an American president has the moral authority to do so.

By what standard of a morality may a government make demands on others when it has wreaked death and destruction on countless societies with its military might, including the dropping of two atomic bombs on innocent Japanese noncombatants; launched wars of aggression; supported some of the worst dictators in recent times; made possible the use of death squads and other forms of terror; tortured people; overthrown governments (including Iran’s in 1953) in order to install puppet regimes; underwritten aggressive wars (such as Iraq’s war, complete with chemical weapons, against Iran in the 1980s; Israel's against Lebanon, which spawned Hezbollah; and now Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen); facilitated or waged covert, proxy, and cyber wars (e.g., against Iran); and backed the occupation of innocent people’s land (most relevantly, Israel’s occupation of Palestine through ethnic cleansing and military conquest, which spawned Hamas)?

Iran never threatened the United States or Israel. It has not tried to build a nuclear bomb, and even if it were to do so, the weapon would be of no value except perhaps as a deterrent. Yet the nuclear-armed United States, and its ally Israel -- the Mideast’s nuclear monopolist -- haughtily presume to tell Iran what it may and may not do. The system of state sovereignty we suffer under is illegitimate, but as long as it exists, the U.S. government will only cause mayhem by violating the “sovereignty” of other nations. Under prevailing rules, Iran is a sovereign nation, so the U.S. government should have no more authority to demand that Iran open itself to inspections of its military and scientific facilities than Iran has to make that demand of the U.S. government. (Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

It’s especially outrageous for Israel, which has aggressed against its neighbors, to stand in judgment of Iran. Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and was subject to inspections before the latest negotiations. Israel will not sign the treaty. It won’t even admit what has long been known: that it has hundreds of nuclear weapons, which were built with smuggled components thanks to the connivance of law-breaking American officials and supporters. Israel, like the United States, also opposes making the Mideast a nuclear-free zone, which Iran supports.

So lift a glass to the agreement. But let's not rest until the American hegemon is caged.

[Related articles: My "Can Iran Trust the United States?"; Richard Lachman, Michael Schwartz, and Kevin Young, "Why They Hate the Deal with Iran."]

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog "Free Association" and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society. Become a patron today!


Thomas L. Knapp said...

I don't think the agreement "reinforces American hegemony" so much as it "temporarily rescues the illusion of American hegemony."

At least three of the P5+1 -- Russia, China and France -- seemed likely to conclude a separate deal with Iran even if the US, Germany and the UK kicked out. It's not unlikely that they privately communicated that intent to the US.

That left the US the choice of running to the front of the parade to pretend to "lead" it, or getting left in the parade's dust.

If it had done the latter, insult might have been added to injury if the parties had taken the deal to the UN General Assembly, rather than to the Security Council (on which the US has veto power), for international acceptance. If that had happened, the US would have had to choose between abiding by the deal it had refused to make in the first place -- ending sanctions, returning frozen assets, etc. -- or going up on the "rogue nations" wall itself.

Sheldon Richman said...

Interesting point. I'm not sure.

Joe Cobb said...

An agreement like this treaty with Iran was ever only to be "enforced" by some process of "public opinion," and hopefully censure-ship. How are treaties supposed to be "enforced"?

Unless it can be demonstrated that the Iranian signature on the deal is just taqiyya, and Obama joins Neville Chamberlain in the history books ... Clearly Kerry and Obama have delivered a good message of cooperation and relaxed tensions.

Perhaps reports of liberalization among the young people in Iran can have some more development if their economy recovers. Nobody doubts the dangers from Believers (particularly 12er Shia), who with a bomb might just think He Will Return if they blow up all the non-believers.

Thomas L. Knapp said...


You write:

"Unless it can be demonstrated that the Iranian signature on the deal is just taqiyya"

Taqiyya doesn't mean what you seem to think it means.

It is not some kind of general "license for Muslims to lie."

It is a license for Muslims to lie ABOUT BEING MUSLIMS, when admitting to being Muslims would expose them to physical danger.

That's not to discount the possibility of dishonesty on the part of Iranian politicians and negotiators, of course, but if they're being dishonest it's because they're politicians, not because they're Muslims.

Sheldon Richman said...

... politicians who have shown a clear preference for self- and regime-preservation.

William Udy said...

Well stated points in your article, Sheldon, especially the point about world hegemony.

Paul Craig Roberts makes this point too. He states that the nuclear deal is not the real issue, Iran's independence is. Even if the deal succeeds, Iran will remain a target as long as it remains independent and refuses to become Washington's vassal

Anonymous said...

I applaud President Obama for his work and Iran for this agreement, it is a hope to wish for continued positive relations between the U.S. and the rest of the Mid-East. Sectarian warfare between the Shia and Sunni is a major problem that is not likely going to ease.The distrust of Israel and its neighbors remains and is so very complicated. I say give peace a chance as you can always go to war! We as a nation have always been to quick to pull the trigger.

tsisageya said...

Any time anyone 'excuses' or 'applauds' PRESIDENT OBAMA it makes me want to VOMIT.

Are you kidding me?

tsisageya said...

I may be coming at it from the wrong angle. Correct me if you please.

Sheldon Richman said...

If Obama has reduced the chance for war, and I think he did, then I applaud. Why wouldn't you?

Sheldon Richman said...

tsisageya, you've done nothing to get banned. In fact, I've never banned anyone, though I have deleted bigoted comments. I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. At any rate, I would not say that "Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth." Iranian leaders have not said that either. What they've said is that the "regime that occupies Jerusalem" will disappear in time. I hope all states fall and that the people flourish.

Sheldon Richman said...

No they did not.

Sheldon Richman said...

See this.