The framework agreement reached last week between the United Nations’ “5 plus 1” group and Iran has won general approval internationally, except in Israel and among Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Republican Party claque in Washington, where such was never expected. What this agreement also does is point the way toward an isolated and disempowered United States, depending on the choices it makes.
In my view, the importance of the Iran nuclear issue has always been vastly exaggerated. Even if Tehran possessed nuclear weapons, these would be of no strategic value other than that which Israel — possessor of land, sea and air nuclear deterrence — has attributed to them, in the hope that the U.S. would do to Iran what it did in 2003 to Iraq, invade and destroy it. That would leave Israel the only significant military power in the Middle East.
Washington did not take Israel’s bait, even though the Israeli government and its American friends have tried hard enough to convince the U.S. to go to war against Iran. Indeed, the chorus of congressional advocates of bombing other nations into the Stone Age is still singing, with Iraq still in ruins and with more ruins being created by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
I have sometimes thought that the simple solution to the Iran nuclear problem would have been for Washington to insist on Israel-Iran nuclear parity. Iran would be free to build up to a level of nuclear weapons to which Israel would build down. Hence mutually assured destruction in the Middle East — just like the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But a fanciful idea, I concede.
Yet even then, neither country would be in a position to intimidate its neighbors in the Middle East. Being the sixth (or is it fifth?) most powerful nuclear state in the world has got Israel nowhere, except for providing Israelis who are really afraid of Iran with a certain peace of mind, even if the Iranian nuclear threat for the past quarter-century has been a chimera.
Israel, despite its rockets, nuclear bombers and nuclear missile-launching submarines, has been harassed by persistent irregular acts of war, assassinations and civil uprisings by Palestinian guerrillas, and in its foreign conquests in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Syria by formidable Arab resistance movements like Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel’s nuclear weaponry has sat there gathering dust. The same thing would be true of Iran’s bomb, if it had one, although there would no longer be the same peace of mind in certain quarters.
What happens at the end of June? We may find ourselves in the same stalemate we faced on the eve of the Lausanne outline agreements. Nobody still agrees. Quite likely is that the Obama administration and its U.N. partners, the 5 plus 1, will agree with Tehran on the terms for a permanent settlement, but the Republican-controlled Senate of the U.S. will refuse to ratify a treaty embodying the agreement, or find another way to subvert acceptance.
That is what the Senate Republicans have promised, and there is no reason to doubt them. However, the president makes foreign policy decisions. Moreover, these negotiations have been between the U.N. permanent Security Council members and Germany, and none of them is subject to the whims of the U.S. Senate. Neither is any vote they take on the fate of the international sanctions against Iran.
Hence it is perfectly possible that a Security Council — in which the veto is not exercised — would agree to the outcome of the present negotiations and lift the sanctions now imposed upon Iran, leaving the U.S. to its national peculiarities and solitary solidarity with Israel.
This would certainly suit Tehran, which longs to be freed from the sanctions regime and to rejoin an international marketplace it would share with Europe and Asia, Canada and Latin America, and with the Russians and Chinese, probably joining the new international financial institutions being created by the latter two.
A new Republican administration in the U.S. in 2016 could use its weight in the existing Bretton Woods institutions, but to little purpose. A Republican-led American economy would find itself at a grave disadvantage in a new economic system that profits from the U.S.’ own Republican Party policy choices. These choices would lead the U.S. toward international isolation, and open Russia, China, Europe and the Pacific economies to a novel international order in which the U.S. would no longer be No. 1.
A veteran American journalist and commentator based in Paris, William Pfaff writes frequently on foreign affairs. © 2015 Tribune Content Agency
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