Letter to the Editor about the Iran Deal

by Alexander Patico

This week one of my senators, Ben Cardin, voting his conscience, announced he would not support the Iran Deal. Ten things he should keep in mind, while weighing his next move:

1. A small country has gone out on a very long limb.

In lost foreign investment and oil revenues, Iran has “spent” over $100 billion maintaining its position. If all sanctions were lifted today, it would take years to get back to where they were. Clearly, this is not something on which they will easily acquiesce.

2. What “nuclear program” is, as Cardin said, being “legitimized?”

Only nine countries have nuclear weapons. Thirty-one countries have nuclear programs, for power generation, medical technology, etc. The agreement states clearly that it allows no nuclear weapons in Iran.

The NPT comprises a handful of “have” nations and 185 “have-nots.” The U.S and four other countries don’t have our facilities inspected, simply because we already had nukes when the Treaty began. Israel, India and Pakistan? — not signatories, no inspections. Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, has been a member since 1970, and must be wondering why; it supposedly guarantees a right to peaceful nuclear development.

3. There is still doubt about Iranian intentions.

The Supreme Leader declared nuclear weapons “un-Islamic” and “a grave sin.” Don’t believe it? Remember that when Iran was being hit with WMD’s by Saddam Hussein, Iran never used them, even when they were losing that war and felt an existential threat.

4. Our lack of trust is reciprocated.

We cite hostage-taking, support for bad-actor factions in the region, or Iran’s hiding of their nuclear R&D, as reasons Iran cannot be trusted. Iranians, for their part, remember the 1953 coup, when our CIA overthrew an elected government and re-installed an absolute monarch. They remember their 100,000+ dead in a war with (U.S.-supported) Iraq. They think of the shooting-down of an Iranian airliner full of civilian passengers by a U.S. ship in 1988. They see that we have sent thousands of troops to occupy their neighbors — and the current economic sanctions, which make daily life more difficult.

5. This may be as good as it gets.

This is the closest we have come to a deal that works for all parties. Rouhani is more open to changing the relationship than any Iranian leader thus far. This opening could close quickly; many in both Iran and the West would like to see the agreement fail.

6. Diplomacy has already born fruit.

IAEA experts are watching Iran’s facilities daily. The “break-out period” (for amassing enough fissile material to make a bomb) has been increased. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has decreased since 2013, and will even more. Rep. Rush Holt wrote recently, “Diplomacy with Iran has already made the world a safer place.” Businesses in Europe and elsewhere now flock to Tehran to take advantage of a new reality. Kill the agreement and that all goes away.

7. The alternative is worse.

To significantly hamper Iran’s capabilities, we would have to strike 25 declared nuclear facilities scattered around Iran, some of them deep underground. To do that relatively safely, we’d first have to take out anti-aircraft, radar, and Iran’s resources for immediate response. Col. Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, says it “It would take half-a-million troops, for two years and half-a-trillion dollars of taxpayer money” – without ultimate success. A military strike on Iran would only set back its nuclear program by 4-5 years, while increasing their motivation to build a weapon.

8. We both deserve a sustainable peace.

The Iranian people are as pro-American as any in the region. Moreover, the Islamic Republic’s dismal record on human rights, or its economic distress does not mean that Iranians oppose their leaders’ position on nuclear energy. Americans, too, are war-weary. Another land-war in the Middle East is the last thing Americans would like to see — especially those who would serve in or command the effort.

9. We have a lot to talk about.

Both of us would benefit from a more stable Iraq and an end to the Syrian civil war. Both of us oppose ISIS and al Qaeda. Since the Islamic Republic began in 1979, there have been extended periods when Israel and Iran collaborated on trade and training — even intelligence and armaments; they can again.

10. Everything’s connected

Post-deal, and with peace in Israel/Palestine and Syria, the region could tackle piracy on the high seas, terrorism, environmental degradation, poverty and disease. The rights of all minorities, including Christians, can be safeguarded. We must begin somewhere and the nuclear agreement is the closest thing we have to a starting point. We should not give up now.

Alexander Patico served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.