A friend recently asked me for my thoughts on the agreement President Obama recently negotiated with Iran to ease sanctions. What follows is my response to his inquiry:
I don’t know the details about the deal President Obama entered into with Iran, so I’m not able to say whether or not it’s a good deal. However, I do think there are many reasons why we need to end the sanctions and to begin moving towards a more normalized relationship with Iran.
First and foremost, the existing economic sanctions simply haven’t worked. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. An economic embargo lasting 60 years didn’t work with Cuba. We have imposed sanctions on Iran for more than 35 years without any measurable success other than impeding the growth of the middle class in Iran, which is against our interests, as I will discuss later.
Furthermore, the United States faces the very real possibility that continuing the sanctions would create isolation for the United States. The Soviet Union, along with several other nations, recently indicated that they would no longer go along with sanctions. Thus, our ability to economically isolate Iran, in what is now a global economy, is weakening.
I recognize that my view on Iran is somewhat different than found in the United States mainstream and within the Jewish community. I do not see Iran as being the uncontrollable threat that it is often portrayed as. Granted, they have a fundamentalist religious government, but I feel that a lot of that is our own fault. We rarely speak about the very complex and questionable history the United States has with Iran. Historically, the United States put cheap oil before democracy in Iran by working to over-throw a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 for the purpose of ensuring American oil companies could access Iranian oil. The United States installed the Shah, a notoriously cruel puppet dictator who ruled until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which was when the hostage crisis occurred that still resonates loudly in the minds of many Americans.
However, I think it’s important to point out that the Hostage Crisis, while humiliating for the United States, ended peacefully. The Iranians did not kill their hostages in the manner that we see groups such as the Islamic State doing today.
Despite the difficult history and the religiously based government, I think a relationship between Iran and the United States has the potential to be mutually beneficial. Iran is not a backwards nation. Despite having a religiously fundamentalist government, most Iranians are not fundamentalists. Iran is a nation with a high literacy rate. Iran has built several major universities that are producing scientists who are involved in cutting-edge research. There is an expanding middle class that is not religiously fundamentalist. I believe it’s this expanding middle class that is the future to a secure Iran. However, the existing sanctions have greatly impeded the growth of the Iranian middle class. I believe that it is the emerging Iranian middle class that provides the greatest hope for political reforms in Iran and for long-term peace and stability in the area. A nation with a growing middle class along with expanding education is unlikely to start an unnecessary war.
Much of the political discourse is focused upon atomic weapons. I think we have to keep in mind that the technology that gives rise to atomic weapons is now nearly 70 years old. The United States built atomic bombs in the 1940’s without the use of even the simplest computers. The genie is out of the bottle on this one and we need to give a lot of thought to how do we discourage the proliferation of such weapons and defend against the eventual, and I feel inevitable, situation where an atomic weapon falls into the hands of a terrorist organization. We need to consider how do regimes change, including our own government, without the loss or use of such weapons. Additionally, we need to consider what message do we send by having such overwhelming conventional firepower, yet we still maintain the world’s largest arsenal of atomic weapons and have built more atomic weapons that all other nations in the world combined. Additionally, we are the only nation to have ever used an atomic weapon against an enemy. I think this makes it challenging for the United States to speak with persuasive authority, where we ask another nation to abstain from a form of weaponry that forms the backbone of our own military strategy.
Lastly, Israel understandably feels very vulnerable by any prospect of atomic weapons in Iranian hands. Israel has faces a very real threat from Hezbollah, which obtains a great deal of its funding from Iran. However, I continue to believe that the solution to this problem is an expanding Iranian middle class and the changes I believe would occur in the Iranian political landscape with middle class expansion. In essence, my argument at its very core is “open Iran to the world and see what happens”. We know isolation doesn’t create good things, let’s see what engagement creates.