The debate surrounding the decision of US Present Donald J. Trump’s to nix the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been a real eye opener. It seems that some politicians and commentators have lost their moral compasses.
After Trump’s decision, Federica Mogherini, the foreign minister of the EU, stated that “We are determined to keep this deal in place”. Meanwhile, it was reported that Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, commented that the Iran deal highlights the need to defend European economic sovereignty, even putting forward the idea of creating a statute to offset US sanctions on European firms doing business in Iran. Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, contends that Britain should join other European nations to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on the US – make Trump pay for sabotaging the Iran deal, he argues.
Wow, that must have been some great deal to advocate that Europe side not with the US, but an autocratic regime which hates the very ideals that Europe stands for (remember when Italy was obliged to cover naked statues so not to offend the visiting so-called moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani), an Islamic theocracy that has terrifying resemblances to the dystopian society envisaged in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
First things first, the deal itself was poor. Bret Stephens of the New York Times put it best when he wrote that if the JCPOA was so great then why did leaders from France, Germany and the UK, as well as some of its other supporters, feel the need to accept that it needed fixing? Fix it, not nix it, they begged of Trump. Surely, if it was such a good deal, it wouldn’t need any fixing?
In reality, there was much that needed to be mended, so much so that the repair work would have left the deal unrecognizable. Where to start, the sunset clause allowing the Islamic Republic to be a nuclear weapon threshold state within 13 years? And then there’s the fact that the deal ignores Tehran’s ballistic missile programme, the exclusion of which was a grave error because if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon, it would have to be compatible with its ballistic projectiles. And what about the inspections themselves? Far from unfettered access on demand, if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) want access to secret military areas, they can’t just barge it. They would need approval from a committee of which Iran is a member! Moreover, the Israeli seizure of Iranian nuclear documents confirmed the suspicions of the US and the IAEA that Iran had indeed been working on a nuclear weapons programme, which although frozen, was still not disclosed to the IAEA and therefore contrary to the spirit of the JCPOA and perhaps even the letter of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
It was under President Obama that the JCPOA was signed. Obama twice failed the people of Iran, proud inheritors of an ancient civilization whose erudition and study of their poets such as Saadi and Hafez makes me wish that people in the West would do the same for Shakespeare, Melville, and Cervantes. The first Obama let down was in 2009. As Iranians took to the streets to demand that their votes count in what become known as the Green Movement, Obama’s silence was deafening. Later, Obama did well to spearhead international sanctions which crippled the Iranian economy. Make no mistake, in 2013 the sanctions brought the Mullahs to their knees. However, Obama and the P5 +1 abandoned the prospect of regime change in order to make this terrible nuclear deal. Not only did this hand a lifeline to the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards (the real powers in Iran), but it allowed the regime to continue its support with boots on the ground for Bashar al-Assad, the butcher of Damascus, who deliberately tortures, murders and massacres his own people, sometimes with the additional sadistic twist of chemical nerve agents.
Europe needs to be more honest about its Iran policy. The reality is there are billions of euros at stake with companies such as Airbus, Total, British-Dutch Shell, Peugeot, Renault, and Siemens standing to lose out with the nixing of the Iran deal. It just all goes to show that the lofty foreign policy ideals of the EU are nothing more than a bunch of words. To hell with the Iranian people, many critics of the deal are effectively saying, as long as European companies make a profit. Shame.
Sometimes it is quite a pleasure to enjoy disagreeing with an author. This is how I felt when I read Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country, which I recently reviewed for e-international relations and can be found here. In my review, I took exception with much of the book. But I would like to briefly dwell on one aspect which I didn’t really get to into my review, the early engagement of the US in Turkey and the Middle East.
It would surprise many that the US was not always disliked in the Middle East (nor is it universally hated today as some might think). Before World War II, many in the region looked towards the US as a friend and a nation that was very different to other western countries, most especially the colonial powers of Britain and France. And this was for good reason. Before World War II, when arguably the US had already become an imperial power, America had no colonial designs in the Middle East. Even the deal between Standard Oil and Saudi Arabia during the 1930s was much more favourable to the Saudi Kingdom that anything which competing British companies were offering in terms of profits and royalties. By working the US, Saudi did better than its neighbours who were obliged to work with British companies.
Better business transaction was one thing, but there was also American benevolence. Across Turkey and other parts of the Middle East there are still today living monuments of American altruism. Perhaps the most notable are the institutions of education, namely Bogazici University in Istanbul, the American University of Cairo and the American University of Beirut and high schools such as Robert College and Uskudar American Academy in Turkey. These educational establishments were founded by the joint efforts of American philanthropists and missionaries mainly during the late nineteenth century. Unable to convert the local population to Christianity, American missionaries decided against packing up and leaving. Instead, they established these institutions open to all regardless of religion, sect or denomination (although Robert College, for example, did not see its first Muslim Turk graduate until the 1900s).
One can of course make the claim that this was an example of cultural imperialism. Perhaps, but not quite. These educational endeavours, together with the foundation of hospitals and clinics, were established with expressed permission the of the Ottoman government which was itself aiming to open western educational institutions. Also, the US founded schools and universities were by no means compulsory, no one was forced to attend. Sure, they spread American ideals, but they were not factories to indoctrinate impressionable young people about liberalism and capitalism, but offered an education that allowed for critical engagement in the liberal arts and sciences. Moreover, these institutions educated generation after generation of Middle Eastern elites. Were it not for such schools and universities, the Middle east would be an intellectually poorer place. Indeed, some of the Middle East’s finest minds, including those critical of US policies, were educated at such institutions.
Fast forward to today and while the US now has considerable imperial baggage, these institutions remain independent and still continue to educate the young and treat the elderly and sick. This should not be overlooked, denigrated or forgotten.
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