15 July 2015
The problem with the Iran deal.
This was the time to do something more ambitious. The Middle East needs to get its shit together and deal with the self-styled Islamic State, which seems to be a threat to every other player in the region. What the region needs is a grand coalition, with U.S. and Russian backing, to wipe out the Daesh. Iran should be for this because the IS threatens their friends in Iraq and Syria. The Saudis should want it because, for all the rumors of conservative Sunni backing for the Daesh, the proclamation of a caliphate is an implicit threat to the guardians of Mecca and Medina. Yet the IS remains in a position to exploit every dispute among the regional powers and their superpower backers. What is the major malfunction? You can't just blame it on the U.S. and Israel anymore, although their distrust of Muslims remains very relevant, because the whole Sunni-Shiite thing is getting out of hand. Iran has a lot to do with that, of course, but what do they want? Why do countries other than Israel and the U.S. fear them getting a bomb? They are the largely self-appointed defenders of Shiite rights -- and, in Syria, the rights of other Muslim minorities -- but is their objective Shiite equality with Sunnis in Iraq or Yemen, or Shiite supremacy? A conference negotiating Iran's right to develop nuclear power should have been as much concerned with addressing the reasons, legitimate or otherwise, why other countries fear a nuclear Iran, as this one was with establishing rules and regulations. If Iran is sincerely interested in developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes, they should have been willing to address and quiet the fears of the Saudis and other Sunnis, not to mention the Israelis and Americans. We can criticize the knee-jerk reactions of the Israeli government, the Republican party and many Sunnis, but we can also ask what Iran has done, or is now willing to do, to earn the trust that so many withhold from them. Can it really be that everyone is unreasonably paranoid about Iran? That's no more likely than that Iran has absolutely no legitimate grievances of their own or on behalf of the region's Shiites. But however legitimate their grievances may be, Iran still has an obligation to reassure the rest of the region that they are not after Shiite regional hegemony nor the destruction of Israel, just as Sunnis have an obligation to respect Shiite rights and the U.S. and Israel have an obligation to respect the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. This is absolutely the wrong time for the world to whine about Iran's repressive political practices. In fact, diplomacy is never the time for that sort of posturing, whether it's labeling us Iran an evil empire or Iran railing against imperialism, Zionism or Sunni chauvinism. All these people have a common enemy in the IS, and unless they're all crazy -- which we can't rule out -- they have to see how their common enemy benefits from their conflicts. Joining forces to defeat the Daesh would seem to be a good first step toward region-wide reconciliation, but too many people seem to think of the IS as no more than a distraction from their real, permanent feuds with each other. As a result, if the IS wins anywhere, everyone will be to blame.