Given my long hiatus, which I addressed yesterday, there has been a lot of recent news that I have not covered. The next few days will be devoted to covering some of the topics that are particularly important to me, and today we will start with the Iran nuclear deal and President Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.
Last May, President Trump withdrew the United States from participation in the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. Just to be clear for my readers, I am not in support of this decision. Let me address some key concerns. As stated in this article, both the International Atomic Energy Agency and US intelligence agencies have found enough evidence to certify that Iran was indeed complying with the deal. Iran was complying, there is no denying that. They were not “cheating” as Trump claims. No this deal did not address all of our problems with Iran, nor should it. It would be ridiculous to try to accomplish that in a single treaty as the White House is currently attempting to do. Ronald Reagan knew this, which is why he negotiated separate treaties with the Soviets for arms control, nuclear weapons, ballistic missile limits, etc. Reagan understood that it was important to prioritize agreements on the most pressing of issues, and from there to build trust between the parties. This should be our approach to Iran.
The nuclear issue is clearly our most pressing issue with Iran and thus should be the natural starting point for talks. What is needed between the US and Iran is some time to build trust and the 2015 nuclear accord provided that. Another key concern was that many of the provisions of the deal expired after 10 to 15 years. However, much could change in those 10 to 15 years, not to mention that there is no reason why those provisions could not simply be renewed. A decade of engagement with the rest of the world would do a lot to change Iran, and to build trust. The nuclear deal was already leading to real, institutional change in Iran. There are two main political camps within Iran: the hardliners (known as the ‘Principlists’), and the reformists. In recent years, the reformists have seen unprecedented electoral success.
About two years ago, I wrote about Iran’s parliamentary elections and about the areas in which the reformists could hope to effect change in the country. Let me recap a bit, the reformists won big in those elections and set about working to bring economic growth and lessen corruption in Iran. The reformists were rewarded the next year when Hassan Rouhani was reelected President and reformists candidates won decisive majorities in local councils all across the country. The reformists were, and still are, now in control of nearly every elected body in the country and have been using that power to grant greater freedom to the people of Iran. The growing economy was furthermore steadily chipping away at the power of the Revolutionary Guard Corps by creating alternative, independent sources of wealth and power. All of that progress has come to a halt now with the collapse of the deal.
The problem with Iran is that the real power lies not with elected officials, but with unelected bodies such as the Guardian Council and the Revolutionary Guard. These bodies are not controlled by the Iranian government and possess tremendous legal powers. However, they are still accountable to public opinion. The nuclear deal and subsequent economic growth gave the reformists a lot of victories and the kind of popularity that made it difficult for the hardliners to retaliate. But now the hardliners can say “See? I told you we can’t trust them!” Public confidence in the reformists has dropped, and where the Iranian people will now put their trust isn’t clear. Just yesterday, protests erupted in Tehran and elsewhere against the Rouhani government and the struggling economy. Even if public opinion doesn’t shift to the hardliners, the shift away from the reformists gives the hardliners greater room for action.
The collapse of the nuclear deal has put the brakes on the advance of freedom in Iran. That is a sad fact, and the core reason for my opposition to the President’s decision. But on the other hand, I will not completely discount the possibility that Trump may be able to negotiate a new deal. It is unlikely, and I am disappointed in his apparent desire to try to negotiate every issue at once, but still it could happen. But pulling out of this deal before even a framework for a new one was complete was a mistake. The aggressive return of sanctions will only increase Iranian resistance and reluctance to sign a new deal. And we need a deal with Iran.