The Obama administration’s best argument for the Iran nuclear deal is also an argument against its general enthusiasm for multilateralism in preserving the international order. If a deal with Iran were not struck soon, it is indeed quite possible that the coalition imposing sanctions on Iran would unravel. And there is no chance that this coalition will ratchet sanctions up to put more pressure on Iran. The coalition may be fraying even more quickly now, as Russia and China fall into financial distress and become more eager to export goods to Iran. Russia in particular supported Iran in its demand to have restrictions on development of ballistic missiles lifted. No prizes for guessing what nation is likely to make money off deals with Iran in that area.
But this line of analysis is also a demonstration of the inherent weakness of international coalitions as an instrument of foreign policy. Nations may come together to purse a joint program, when their interests coincide. But the world is a turbulent place and interests change. And unlike domestic contracts, long term agreements among nations are difficult to police and enforce.
That is the reason that United States would do well to maintain the force and will to act alone.
Unfortunately for sober foreign policy discussions, the United States is beginning another election cycle with seventeen months left before the next presidential election. Foreign powers affected by American foreign policy are not unaware of American election cycles. To the shame of several American political candidates, the candidates are not averse to using such powers, and being used by them, to further their electoral prospects. So it should come as no surprise that the recently agreed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program (14 July 2015) has become the object of fierce controversy.
By the end of March, 2015, it is conceivable that the members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, the so-called 5+1 group, will reach an agreement with Iran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons development program and ease the economic sanctions that have isolated Iran from much of the world’s trading system. Even before the ink is dry on the possible agreement, however, it has become the subject of partisan controversy in the United States, Israel, and Iran. Before evaluating the merits of the agreement, it may therefore be worthwhile for readers of a journal devoted to Law…
In her 2003 book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi demonstrated how the written word trumps tyranny. Nafisi interwove sometimes harrowing reminiscences of the Islamic Republic of Iran before and after the 1979 revolution with discussions of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Henry James’s Daisy Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. These and many other works were mined for their poetry of expression and their characters’ defiance.
Important as it is to keep in mind that sectarian socio-religious hate is what drives the vast bulk of the people engaged in today’s Muslim-world war, understanding that war requires taking into account those who provide the contending forces’ military organization. On all sides, this has less to do with religion than with secular considerations, including by highly placed atheists, of how to promote their own power.
As the Muslim world’s Sunni and Shia confessions tear at each other’s vitals along the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia through Syria and into Lebanon, some Americans’ regrets that we are not involved are based on the premise that this war is between moderates and extremists, and that our interest is to ensure the moderates’ victory. In fact however “moderation,” “extremism” and “al Qaeda” are categories that fit American prejudices better than they do than local realities. The war is about complex social, racial and religious hatreds accumulated over centuries.
Obama is making sure that nothing will stand in the way of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Veiling that with a transparently insincere claim to be “freezing” Iran’s quest, and leaving in the lurch governments and peoples that had counted on his promises, he dishonors America. Thus does he guarantee that many more governments will acquire such weapons, and consigns to history the very ideal of nuclear non-proliferation.
But let us look on the bright side: There is value in leaving no doubt about reality.
Russia offers asylum to Edward Snowden, who publicized the extent of the U.S. government’s domestic espionage, thereby presuming to teach America a lesson about civil liberties. Iran demands that the U.S. government secure justice for Trayvon Martin, (whose death a jury ruled to have resulted from self defense), thereby presuming to teach us about tolerance of minorities. The ludicrous character of these gratuitous demarches highlights the contempt for America from which they flow.
In international affairs, contempt is highly dangerous. The sense that a nation may be outraged without serious consequence has always been the sine qua non of war.
Who wins and loses in Syria’s civil war is not in our interest and is beyond our control. Because that has been obvious since that war started two years ago, the American people’s consensus has been that the US government should steer clear of it. Now the Obama Administration seems to have decided to help the rebels, conveying its decision to the public indirectly and framing it in generalities: ending the slaughter and asserting America’s role in the region. But since its intervention cannot decide the struggle, it can only diminish America’s influence.