Originally published in The Daily Progress
By R.K. Ramazani
Honorary AIC Board Member and University of Virginia Professor
In the title of a March 12 editorial, The New York Times was right to deplore what it called "Republican Idiocy on Iran." By writing an astonishing letter directly to Iran without President Obama's knowledge, 47 senators attempted to sabotage the deal being negotiated between Iran and the 5+1 powers (U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany) to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
I believe that the congressional invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a joint meeting of Congress was misguided, since he was totally unaware of the ideological outlook of Iran and ignorant of Iran's conflict with the forces of ISIS. His talk was sheer propaganda about Iran. He said that "Iran's founding document pledges death, tyranny and the pursuit of jihad.”
Ideologically, the Iranian regime has been the most obvious proponent of any effort that undercuts ISIS. Eight years ago, I wrote in The Daily Progress that Iran and the United States both rejected the maiming and beheading of innocent people.
The most vociferous expression of the Iranian regime’s attitude came in the wake of the savage attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001. Within hours of the attack, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami condemned it as an “assault on human dignity and rights” and later called the attackers “a cult of fanatics” who communicate with their opponents only “through carnage and devastation.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was the first Muslim cleric in the world to declare holy war (jihad) against terrorism as a “global scourge.”
Abu Musa al- Zarqawi, the late al-Qaida leader, responsible for decapitation of Americans and other captives in Iraq, railed against Shia Iran, heir to the 16th-century Shia Safavid. He branded Iran a “lurking snake” and a “malicious scorpion,” and saw Iran as an “insurmountable obstacle” to al-Qaida’s global plan.
In terms of actual practice, Iran has always participated in the fight against ISIS. According to some sources, 80 percent of the Iraqi forces, or two-thirds of them, are mainly Shia militia known as popular mobilization forces. The American air strikes, 1,431 in Iraq and 1,093 in Syria, have helped the advancement of Iraqi and Iranian forces.
Netanyahu, however, has said that any deal with Iran would make two major concessions. The first one would leave Iran with “a vast nuclear infrastructure,” which could mean that Iran could make any nuclear product it wants. And the second one would create greater danger, because outside inspectors charged with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program could stop supervision within a decade.
But there are indeed serious monitoring restrictions on what Iran can do, and there are significant restrictions on what Iran could do in a decade or 15 years’ time.
The ironic thing is that a deal has not yet been reached. How can Netanyahu know what period of time would be allowed for inspectors to continue their work, and how can he know that the lifting of sanctions could produce important reverberations in the world?
What Netanyahu wants is to have no deal whatsoever.
That is why President Obama has undertaken to deal with Iran carefully and patiently. He is trying to test Iran by considering what Iran might accept and what the United States could consent to. Netanyahu wants new crippling American sanctions on Iran that could possibly lead to a catastrophic war.
What at the moment, however, seems to concern Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, is “the possibility of continued sectarian division in Iraq,” a division that could mean “Shia dominance in Baghdad” and which could “upset the predominantly Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
I believe that the Iranians could strike a fine balance between collaborating with Sunni elements without damaging their own interests. And such an outcome may ultimately redound to the long-term benefit of the United States.
R.K. Ramazani is the Edward R. Stettinius Professor Emeritus of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia. His latest book is “Independence without Freedom, Iran’s Foreign Policy.” He wishes to acknowledge the assistance of W. Scott Harrop, lecturer of Middle East Studies at the University of Virginia.
Originally published in The Daily Progress