Decertifying the Iran Deal

by SLATER BAKHTAVAR November 13, 2017

Ever since it was originally passed under the administration of President Barack Obama, the agreement between the United States and Iran to prevent the latter from acquiring nuclear weapons - colloquially known as the "Iran Nuclear Deal" - has come under sharp criticism. This has not been unjustified, as, by virtually any objective measure, it fails at its stated goal. The oversight it mandates for the Iranian regime to ensure nuclear weapons are not sought is pitiful, and in exchange for this weak assurance, Iran's government won relief from punishing economic sanctions. To be sure, sanctions themselves are a poor solution to the problem of Iran pursuing nuclear capabilities, but in this deal, the US loses much and gains virtually nothing.

In recent weeks, the current US President, Donald Trump, has chosen to "decertify" the Iran Nuclear Deal. This move is not equivalent to canceling the agreement or withdrawing the United States from it - as the Iranian regime has long feared Trump would - but is essentially a vote of no confidence. Under the terms of the deal, the United States must validate (or "certify") on a cyclical basis that Iran is in compliance with their pledge not to develop nuclear weapons; Trump has now said that he can make no such validation. It's a move that throws the agreement's future into question and could open the door to its eventual dismissal.

The nuclear deal has been an unmitigated disaster since the beginning, so in principle, President Trump does well to undermine it. However, the agreement does hold back harsh economic sanctions against Iran that were in place before it was penned and could potentially return if it were to run its course. The threat of Iran's current brutal regime acquiring nuclear weapons is a very real one, and preventing it from doing so is a priority that must be taken seriously, however, the imposition of sanctions is not a wise or effective tool to that end. Economic sanctions will have a little ultimate effect upon those in power, and so offer little benefit as a deterrent. Instead, sanctions are more likely to impose hardship on the very people who deserve it the least and are most victimized by this entire standoff: the general population of Iran. Overwhelmingly, these are not extremist Muslim theocrats who support the absolute religious government under which they live. Increasingly, they do not even believe the government should be as it is at all.

The people of Iran are a type of ethnic and cultural outliers for the Middle East. As opposed to the older, predominately Arabic populations of many states in the region, Iranians are mostly young (under 35) people of Persia ancestry. There are a number of differences between them and their Mideast neighbors, not least of which is in their politics. Perhaps owing to their youth, Iranians tend to be a socially progressive people, looking toward and even admiring the democratic principles played out in western nations - especially the United States. Until only very recently in their nation's long history, their government reflected this, enjoying close diplomatic ties with the US. It was the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that changed this, ushering in a regime utterly incompatible with democratic ideals, and very much out of sync with the feelings of the people it now ruled.

For decades, there has been little the Iranian people could really do about their government, no matter how much it failed to represent them. Recent innovations in communications technology, however, have allowed dissenters to network and share their ideas, verifying for each of them that they are not alone. The Green Movement - when Iranians rose up in mass demonstrations against a probably-rigged presidential election - was a fine example of this camaraderie.

It is lamentable that the United States, especially under President Barack Obama, failed so egregiously in supporting these people's plight. But it is incumbent upon those who love freedom everywhere to back them now, by encouraging further technological advances that will strengthen the discontent simmering under the surface of an unconsenting theocratic society.

The way to help bring about change in Iran is not through economic sanctions that will only impoverish innocent people, and certainly not through military action - again punishing those who don't deserve it. The Iranian people themselves are brilliant, passionate, and resourceful, and they can and will solve their own problems and improve their own lives. They need only the tools to do so, and other nations can best help them by providing those tools.

Given the feeling among the general population in Iran, it seems unlikely that the theocracy in place there will long endure. We can only hope that Iranians make clear it is no longer welcome at such time as it acquires nuclear weapons. The Iran Nuclear Deal does little to prevent that disastrous occurrence, so working against it is by no means a bad thing. But much more support is required from the United States and others before real change can be seen.

Slater Bakhtavar is an attorney, foreign policy analyst, author and political commentator. He is author of "Iran: The Green Movement". He has appeared as a guest on numerous network radio shows, including G Gordon Liddy, Crosstalk America, Les in the Morning, NPR,  Jim Bohannon Show and VOA

 


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