IRAN: NOW WHAT?

The Iran deal is done—at least until Congress votes on it. President Obama will veto a “no” vote, and overriding that veto will be difficult. So what lies ahead? We can only speculate. But I do have a warning.

First, let’s look at some possibilities. We’ve bought time, but following the ten-year agreement, Iran—unless a younger generation abandons revolution—may rush to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran’s holding a nuclear threat over Israel, the Middle East and American policy is unsettling. Some think tank inhabitants believe we can live with a nuclear Iran. Until we get there, it’s all theory.

Before the agreement ends—perhaps well before—Sunni Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and perhaps Egypt, may seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Make no mistake. A proxy war in the Middle East now pits Shiite Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet nations have much in common. They’re Muslim. They fund extremists. And they consider each other apostates.

Regrettably, lifting sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets will enable Tehran to fund more terrorism, increasing its backing for the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite groups in the Gulf and probably Hamas in Gaza. President Obama admittedly focused solely on the nuclear issue. We have our work cut out.

Now let’s examine reality. Peter Beinart—a liberal who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq then later saw its folly—rejects the theory of American omnipotence (The Atlantic online, July 14). We may be the world’s most powerful nation, but power is relative. We cannot dictate terms to other nations which, while not as strong as us, are formidable regional powers capable of great harm. The administration of George W. Bush set out to remake the Middle East with the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Lovely theory. Ugly results.

Unfortunately, saber rattling comes easy. Restraint—particularly when the United States is so potent militarily—poses a major challenge to those who think we can use force with impunity. (Side bar: we are friendly with Vietnam following a war, which cost us more than 58,000 lives; there’s always hope.) Sober commentators like Roger Cohen (New York Times, July 16) point out that the Iran deal does not bring us into the best of all possible worlds. But no one offers a better alternative.

What would have happened had we foregone deal making and ratcheted up sanctions? Would Iran really have given up its quest for the bomb? Remember the bomb drawing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held up at the United Nations in September 2012? Although tough sanctions were in place, Iran was thisclose. But Bibi and his cabinet didn’t unleash the Israeli Air Force.

Look, I’m no pal of the ayatollahs. They and the Republican Guard are odious hate mongers. Their anti-Israel and anti-America rhetoric constitutes a thin ploy to distract Iranians from their deprivation of human rights and Iran’s regional aggression. But Peter Beinart correctly notes the limits of American power and the delusional nature of “American exceptionalism”—to wit, we know it all and can do no wrong.

I’m glad the White House hasn’t trumpeted “peace in our time.” And I hope that the deal’s critics won’t advocate, “nuke the bastards.” The future is murky. Living with uncertainty is a rough challenge. Get used to it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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