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Treaties v Ideology - The Better Approach to Iran

I support the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. After listening to both sides of the debate, I realized that I could not decide, just because the experts said so. Both sides have more than an adequate number of military, foreign policy, technology, and political pundits to fill a cruise ship.

I listened to the concerns about the treaty allowing Iran to build its nukes in secret. However, without the treaty, I am convinced that they will just go ahead and build them openly. The only sure tactic to end progress toward an Iranian bomb is military action, in a region too sensitive for U.S. interests to risk unsettling further, and at a cost to our military that may be too high to justify. Besides, with or without a treaty, the military option remains available, should we find clear evidence that Iran is still attempting to build a bomb.

I found the arguments about removing sanctions, allowing Iran to reap a financial windfall, to be unconvincing, as well. The sanctions are clearly hurting the general Iranian population. However, the same is true for Russia and is just ending, after half a century, for Cuba. The Ayatollahs remain in power. Putin still struts and blusters. A Castro still heads the Cuban government.

For me, 20th Century U.S. history presents the strongest argument for the treaty. In 1933, we formally recognized the existence of the Soviet Union, after 15 years of sanctions and a brief, failed invasion. The treaty did not get them to pay the debts they inherited from the Tsar – a central argument against recognition. However, it lessened their efforts to undermine our government and paved the way for mutual assistance in WWII.

In 1977, we signed a new treaty with Panama, turning control of the canal to the Panamanian government, effective in 1999. The opposition claimed that this would be the end of access to the canal for U.S. commercial and military vessels. The canal is still open and American vessels have the same access as do ships of other nations.

In 1979, after 30 years, we stopped pretending that the government on Taiwan was China. Fears that recognition of the Peoples’ Republic would doom the Nationalists to extinction did not happen and seems less likely, each year.

Treaties establish protocols that expand and improve channels of communication among the signatories. In each example, the U.S. offered more than it asked in return. In each case, relations with the other power stabilized, routinized, and created beneficial realities that both nations came to value: trade, tourism, and – with these – lessened tensions. My perception is that the odds of this working out with Iran are stronger.

These treaties share two common characteristics. First, all three ended up on the right side of history – progress toward more stable and productive relations between the U.S. and the other party. Second, the opponents based their opposition primarily on ideology, not reality.

Today, the success of the treaty will not become clear overnight. However, the Reagan administration dictum, “trust, but verify” offers the best strategy for it to succeed. Supporters of the treaty, including retired three-star admiral Joe Sestak and 30-plus other retired admirals and generals, focus on reality. I appreciate Sestak’s assessment on this deal.  In additional to serving in the Navy for 31 years, he served as Director of Defense Policy on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton and as the first Director of the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit. Good diplomacy is better than a bad war. Diplomacy allows for establishing wider areas of agreement, such as the common threat that Putin’s Russia poses to regional stability.

The opposition remains primarily ideological – never a rational approach to policy decisions in any sphere. Sen. Pat Toomey relies on ideology to oppose the treaty. He appeals to the demon theory of foreign policy. This approach did not produce positive change in the past. It will not succeed today.



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