Allister Sparks

Obama’s Iran deal could change Middle East

2015-04-08 07:17

Allister Sparks

The nuclear accord struck between American and Iranian negotiators surely marks the highlight of Barack Obama's presidency. It was a triumph of diplomatic skill and intelligence that holds out the promise of removing the most intractable nuclear threat the world has faced since the end of the Cold War.

Not only was it remarkable in bringing together two nations that have been steeped in mutual distrust for 36 years, it has been achieved in the face of a determined effort by US Republicans and an Israeli Prime Minister to derail the process.

That required a great deal of political courage as well as skilfulness on Obama's part.

Add to this Obama's recent success in normalising America's relations with Cuba, and you surely have the makings of a legacy of a major peacemaker rectifying the long-running follies of his predecessors.

A curious negativity

Nor has it been only on the warfront that Obama has rescued his country from past follies. Economically, too, the US is now well on the way to recovery from the mess he inherited from the Rambo blunderings of George W Bush.

Yet Obama is not greatly admired in his own country. There is a curious negativity towards him, a mistrust on the part of many who seem to regard him as somehow not being truly American.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that this stems, at least in part, from the fact that Obama is black. And also, I suspect, because he is not cut in the Rambo mould. Too many Americans still like the imagery of a strong leader who can call the shots to the rest of the world. The clever black leader who can cut compromise deals with shady characters in the Muslim world does not sit easily with them.

That means Obama will still have to wage a long, tough battle before this agreement can be wrapped up into a formal treaty. In some ways this will be even harder than reaching agreement with the Iranians. The Republicans will insist that it should be approved by Congress, where they hold a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It is questionable whether this is constitutionally necessary. Obama's advisers argue that it is not; that the deal falls clearly within the purview of the presidency and that it is manifestly in the best interests of the country.

But Obama will want to carry as much of the country with him as possible, so instead of fighting the Republicans in court he may agree to a congressional debate, perhaps a non-binding one that would enable Republicans to oppose the deal without actually blocking it.

'You can't bomb knowledge'

What is most irksome about the opposition to this draft agreement is that neither the Republicans nor Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu offer any realistic alternatives to it. They talk of "taking out" Iran's nuclear facilities by bombardment and rocket fire, but the most important centrifuges are in deep underground emplacements that only the most sophisticated bunker-busting bombs could hope to reach.

Moreover, as one of Obama's key advisers points out: "You can't bomb knowledge - and there's nothing we could destroy that they couldn't rebuild in a few years." Whereas under the accord all of Iran's shrunken nuclear facilities will be subject for the next 15 years to what Obama has called the most intrusive inspection system in history.

And even if Iran should cheat, under its reduced capabilities it won't be able to build a bomb for at least a year - so giving the international community time to react.

More important still, what the nay-sayers overlook is that if Shiite Iran were left to produce a bomb in secret, it would immediately be followed by a scramble on the part of the Sunni Muslim states, led by Saudi Arabia, to follow suit. That would mean a nightmarish nuclear arms race in the world's most unstable region.

As for Netanyahu, his final contribution to the issue was to demand that Iran's recognition of the state of Israel be made a condition for the nuclear deal. A bit rich coming from someone who only a few days before had announced that there would never be a Palestinian state as long as he was in charge of Israel's affairs.

And from the leader of a Middle Eastern country that has never considered allowing any inspection of its own nuclear facilities, or even admitted to having an arsenal of some 300 nuclear bombs.


All of which leaves one with the uncomfortable thought that Netanyahu doesn't want the threat of an Iranian bomb to be erased. It is too useful politically, enabling him conjure up the imagery of Israelis living under the permanent threat of a second holocaust - in much the way white South Africans once used swart gevaar to animate a spirit of nationalism within a small nation supposedly living under the constant threat of a dark, overwhelming force.

Such scaremongering has its uses, especially at election time. Now Obama is taking it away from Netanyahu.

But let me be clear of one thing. I have been no admirer of the Islamic Republic of Iran these past 36 years, although I do lay blame on the US and Britain for having brought it about.

Back in 1950 Iran was an exemplary Muslim country operating under a democratically elected government, with an elderly professor of philosophy, Mohammed Mossadeq, as its Prime Minister.

In 1950 Mossadeq, believing his countrymen to be getting a raw deal as workers at the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (today's BP), nationalised it. Outraged by this upstart action, the World War Two allies, Winston Churchill and Dwight D Eisenhower, organised a joint CIA-MI6 coup to oust Mossadeq and install Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi as the new Shah, with dictatorial powers.

The coup was master-minded by one Kermit Roosevelt, a nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt.

This colonialist action in turn outraged the country's senior cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomenei. He left the country for exile in Paris, vowing to return only in revenge. Which he did 19 years later, to a tumultuous  welcome by millions of Iranians.

Iranian Revolution

So began the Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah and for the next three decades has run what might be called a regime of terror and virtue - regarding the West, particularly the US, as the fount of all decadence, and imposing on its people the strict observance of what it deemed to be Shi'ite religious and political doctrine.

But, as with all great revolutions, people eventually tire of such doctrinaire control of their lives. Young Iranians in particular, resent the moral police who tell them how to dress, what music they should listen to and arrest them for holding hands or kissing in the park.

With the old Ayatollah's passing and a new one taking over, this thermidorian reaction has been evident for some time in Iran. Two years ago a cautiously reformist candidate, Hassan Rouhani, was allowed to run for the presidency and won.

Spotting an opening, Obama immediately began putting out feelers. Now he is in sight of a major breakthrough. His own verkramptes permitting, I believe Obama has created an opportunity to bring Iran in from the cold and so begin a process that could gradually lead to the modernisation and stabilisation of the whole Middle East.

News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  barack obama  |  us  |  iran  |  iran nuclear

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