[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the sandstorm swirls around the historic framework that President Obama and our allies have hammered out with Iran to rein in its nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions, it’s become clear to me that if you want war, you’ll bash the deal. If you want peace, you’ll support it like your life depends on it—even if you live thousands of miles away from the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the jingoism, the saber rattling and the cynical pandering aimed at us here by Republicans and even Democrats in Congress, all to help Israel’s right-wing hawk, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, in his efforts to scuttle the negotiations, are only going to intensify before June 30 when the deal has to be finalized.
Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period.
Iran is a regime that openly calls for Israel’s destruction and openly and actively works towards that end.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 3, 2015
The alternative to this bad deal is standing firm, increasing the pressure on Iran until a good deal is achieved.
My connection to the issue is a little less tenuous than many of the commentators’. I’d been to Iran as a young college student while the Shah was in power, and later I got to meet the freed American hostages at a special reception that Mayor Ed Koch held for them after a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
It’s going to take a lot of clear-headed people rising above the maelstrom to keep their eyes on the prize: a more peaceful world.
“The framework is surprisingly comprehensive and offers the best potential for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” The New York Times said in its editorial headlined “Israel’s Unworkable Demands on Iran.”
Reading the increasingly rancid editorials in the Daily News praising Bibi at Obama’s expense and attacking the president’s deal, I wonder if that wily Republican casino-owning mega-mogul Sheldon Adelson, who already pulls the strings of Israel’s most pro-Bibi newspaper, has bought my favorite city tabloid under the cover of darkness. Or maybe he’s just annexed the editorial board.
Now that Bibi has won his re-election, his American supporters are going all out to torpedo the framework. If this deal survives their propaganda campaign, it will rank with the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and the Dayton Accords that ended hostilities among Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia.
Both historic achievements were achieved by Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter with the former, and Bill Clinton with the latter. Here, the framework is the handiwork of two top Democrats, President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, who also ran for president but lost to George W. Bush. He took us into what former CIA spy Valerie Plame recently reminded us was “the biggest, most tragic U.S. foreign policy debacle ever.”
As a Long Islander, it pains me to watch Democratic Congressman Steve Israel vying with Tea Party Republican Lee Zeldin to be Bibi’s BFF on LI. (I guess Reps. Peter King and Kathleen Rice are chopped liver.) Seeing U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York’s elder Democratic leader, sidling up to his Republican Senate colleagues, some of whom signed that ignominiously unconstitutional letter penned by Arkansas’ junior Sen. Tom Cotton to undermine our negotiations, is appalling. Fortunately, New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is sticking with the president…so far.
It’s truly heartening to hear that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opposes legislation empowering Congress to review the White House’s accord with Iran. She rightly said the proposal by Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would blow up the agreement as the talks are in their final stages. Now, Pelosi’s a Democrat, of course, but what does it say when her view shares common ground with a Republican hardliner like John Bolton, President Bush’s bellicose UN ambassador who’s now ensconced at the right-wing think tank the American Enterprise Institute?
“I don’t think it’s so important that the Senate actually gets a shot at this,” said Bolton, according to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank who heard him speak recently at an AEI event in DC. Bolton noted that at least 90 percent of international agreements since World War II have not been subject to Senate ratification. Clearly those pushing for Congressional oversight here are looking for cover to scuttle the deal. Bolton is not one of them. His approach is different.
In late March, The New York Times ran Bolton’s op-ed, headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” This screed came from a man who, as W’s under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, told the BBC, “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. We know how that worked out, but unfortunately our country will be paying the bill for that overconfidence for years to come—while our bridges, roads and tunnels will continue to crumble, to say the least.
If Iran is such a threat, why would Turkey’s pro-government paper, The Daily Sabah, be so sanguine? Its lead editorial recently said: “Iran remains one of the few stable countries in the Middle East, and by extension, a valuable partner for regional powers seeing to restore peace and stability.”
Turkey’s border with Iran is essentially what it’s been since 1639 after the Persian and Ottoman empires stopped slugging it out. If any pro-Western country would have a stake in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, wouldn’t it be its NATO-belonging neighbor? Yet the rhetoric from Istanbul is far less radioactive than the vitriol coming from Jerusalem—and Israel has had a nuclear weapons program since the late 1950s, thanks to French support.
When that secret came out, no politician at the time called for sanctions against France or Israel, as far as I can recall. The United States and our allies have tacitly accepted the presence of nuclear weapons in Israel as the status quo. Hypocrisy may help the diplomats keep a straight face, but it’s hard to see how it furthers the cause of peace. Why don’t they ’fess up, tell us how many centrifuges Israel has, and put this bargaining chip on the table, too? It might go a long way to changing the equation. Certainly it might improve our own reputation for posterity’s sake—after all, we dropped the nuclear bomb, not once, but twice.
So, thanks to the negotiators in Switzerland, here’s a framework that doesn’t add to our deficit. Instead, it reduces the threat of war and encourages Iran’s middle class to go shopping.
And I know firsthand how Iranians like American goods. Or at least they did when I was traveling through Iran in 1975.
Coming back overland from India, there was no way around Iran. And so it was that I found myself leaving Afghanistan one hot afternoon and entering a building at the Iranian border. Mounted on a wall at the far end of the customs area was a billboard-sized poster that displayed the king, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, standing on top of a mountain peak looking like a corporate executive in his business suit, clouds swirling behind him as he gazed into the future. It was a little too Mussolini-ish to my taste, but it dwarfed anything the Afghan side had.
A few days later I was running low on cash in Tehran when I was told of a money-making scheme that would only cost me a pair of Levis, if I had any to spare. Fortunately, I did. I started to walk down a prominent boulevard downtown in the business district, holding my arm out to the street with a used pair of blue jeans draped over them. I’d been doing this for about a minute when suddenly a silver Mercedes-Benz swerved to the curb. The driver, a middle-aged Iranian man with a black mustache, rolled down the window and offered me 50 bucks for them. I gave him the jeans and he sped off. He never even looked at the waist size. Was that American imperialism?
By the time I’d taken a bus to the Turkish border, I was eager to put Iran behind me. I’d had enough conversations about the Shah with Iranians where it’d gotten to the point I had to pretend I was Canadian just to avoid having to defend our foreign policy—a policy I felt unfairly saddled with. I knew the Shah was disliked (if not despised), that the CIA had helped to overthrow Iran’s popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 after he’d nationalized the British-owned oil industry, and that the Shah continued to hold power through his hated U.S.-trained secret police, the SAVAK. I felt the country was ready to blow apart because the Shah’s fruits of westernization weren’t shared widely enough.
At a large roadside restaurant near Tabriz where my Turkey-bound bus had stopped for dinner, I was seated with Iranian students my age who insisted on practicing their “American English” and laughed at everything I said. All of a sudden an argument erupted between a customer and a cashier about 20 feet away from us. Everyone in the restaurant stood up to watch them. The next thing I knew, the two men had gone out the front entrance with a swarm of people all shouting and battling each other. I wanted to follow but my companions anxiously grabbed my sleeves, refusing to translate. A minute later, if that long, the fracas in the street ended, and everyone streamed back inside. I was told that the customer had complained that he was overcharged.
I didn’t think I’d ever have anything to do with Iran again, but I was wrong. In January 1981, Mayor Edward Koch threw a ticker-tape parade for the Iranian hostages. It was a big deal. They didn’t all show up—they’d only been free a couple of weeks since Inauguration Day when they were allowed to leave Iran—but after the parade they were invited to a special reception at City Hall. I was a lowly gopher for the New York Post back then, but I was sent to assist in the coverage, and soon wound up with nothing to do but socialize. So before the afternoon was over I was shaking hands gladly with Barry Rosen, the former press attaché at the embassy, and schmoozing with Moorhead Kennedy, one of the State Department’s economists based there. Liquor and good cheer were flowing in equal measures. It was a great day of jubilation, dimmed by my nagging thought that it didn’t have to happen.
If only Jimmy Carter hadn’t let the Shah into the United States for cancer treatment in October 1979, maybe these Americans might never have been held hostage for even one day in Tehran, let alone 444.
The Republicans had nominated Reagan, a former California governor, Bedtime for Bonzo comedy movie star and 20 Mule Team Borax cleanser TV spokesman. Reagan’s advisors were worried that the besieged incumbent, himself a former governor of Georgia and a peanut farmer, might pull off what they called an “October Surprise,” and turn what had become an albatross around his neck into a laurel wreath if he got Iran to release the hostages before Election Day. Stories have since come out that Reagan’s operatives may have worked behind the scenes overseas to undermine Carter’s negotiations with Iran and prolong the crisis to the Republican nominee’s advantage. From what we later learned about Reagan’s illegal Iran-Contra affair, it’s certainly plausible.
But hindsight only works in reverse. All I know as we await this fragile framework’s fate is that it offers the best hope in decades for a decent outcome between our countries that could benefit the world, Israel included. No one’s saying Iran is utopia. But Iranians are fighting ISIS too, aren’t they? Certainly the best thing we could do for those who don’t hold a grudge against the Great Satan is to let them have a chance to buy our stuff, play our music and wear our clothes.
Lift the sanctions and be smart. Don’t buy the bullshit.
Spencer Rumsey is the globe-trotting Senior Editor of the Long Island Press and author of its blog “Rumsey Punch.” To send him fanmail or inquire about his time in Nepal, Paris, or The Doors concert at the Philadelphia Arena in 1968, check out his extended bio below and write him at email@example.com.