A treaty to keep the nukes for the empire only

Danny Katch and Steve Leigh look past the right-wing freakout and the liberal celebration to examine the real character of the U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran.

Secretary of State John Kerry stands alongside Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (State Department)Secretary of State John Kerry stands alongside Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (State Department)

ONE OF the most depressing and surreal aspects of world politics in recent years has been the regular calls for the U.S. and/or Israel to go to war against Iran--as if the past decade of disastrous wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan had never happened. These calls have come not from random cranks, but powerful people, like Republican Sen. John McCain and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So it's natural that many people reacted with relief to the news that the Obama administration and Iran had reached an agreement that will, according to its supporters, prevent war between the two countries by limiting Iran's nuclear program.

But we should be clear that while this agreement may reduce the threat of a U.S.-Iran war in the short term, it isn't a step forward for peace. Rather, it is a new maneuver by the most violent country in the world--that would be the U.S.--to maintain its domination over the Middle East. That imperialist domination has and will continue to produce endless war in the region.

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THE HEART of the accord reached last week is that Iran will allow international monitoring of its nuclear energy program to ensure that it is not building weapons--and in exchange, devastating economic sanctions engineered by the U.S., both unilaterally and through the United Nations and by pressuring the European Union, will be lifted, though the timeline for easing sanctions is uncertain.

The agreement marks a significant change in U.S. government's historic strategy of hostile isolation toward Iran since a revolution in 1978-79 overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator, the Shah. U.S. hostility continued after the establishment of an Islamic Republic following the Shah's fall--though it should be noted that the U.S. and Iran have been willing to work together clandestinely.

During the infamous Iran-contra affair in the 1980s, for example, the U.S. secretly sold Iran weapons--via Israel, by the way--and used the proceeds to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. More recently, the U.S. and Iran quietly collaborated on their joint war in Iraq--first against Sunni militias, and now the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Barack Obama claimed in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that his decision to change longstanding Iran policy from isolation to "engagement" is a show of strength and confidence that the U.S., with its vast military might, isn't afraid of a regional power like Iran.

But regardless of Obama's spin, the agreement is the ultimate confirmation that the U.S. government, after two disastrous wars in the Middle East, has had to shift from a goal of regime change in Iran--anyone remember the Bush years slogan "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, real men want to go to Tehran"?--to relying on a balance-of-power strategy among hostile regional forces Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.

But if the nuclear deal represents a change in tack for the U.S., it is a far more decisive retreat for Iran, which invested enormous financial and political resources in its nuclear program and now has to sacrifice some of its national sovereignty by submitting to regular teams of foreign inspectors--which, as we know from history, will surely include U.S. and Israeli spies.

It's worth remembering that Iran claims its nuclear program is for the production of electricity, which it is perfectly within its rights to pursue as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a document that Israel has never signed). The Iranian government insists it never attempted to develop weapons, despite all the hysteria among Western governments and media outlet. In 2013, Britain's former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged as much.

According to Nader Hashemi of the University of Denver, writing in an opinion piece for CNN, "The deal is a repudiation of the nuclear strategy of Iran's Supreme Leader, embodied in his 'resistance' approach to international relations. Indeed, whatever gloss official statements from President Hassan Rouhani try to put on the deal, Iran has effectively capitulated to the demands of the West."

The main reason for this capitulation was that Iran's economy was suffocating under the international trade embargo that the U.S. has stage-managed. As Ashley Smith wrote for SocialistWorker.org at the end of 2013: "The U.S. successfully imposed some of the most extreme international sanctions in history against Iran. They cut Iran's oil exports from 2 million barrels a day in 2012 to 1.1 million this year."

One of the most harmful effects of the sanctions has been the creation of a dire medicine shortage. "The first civilian death said to be directly linked to the impact of Western sanctions was reported in mid-November 2012," wrote Mani Fardad of Al Monitor last year. "Manouchehr Esmaili-Liusi, 15, a hemophiliac from a nomadic tribe in the mountains near the city of Dezful, died in the hospital after his family failed to find the vital medicine he desperately needed for his disease."

As the Guardian reported in 2013, "Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and blood-clotting agents for haemophiliacs."

While it isn't clear why the U.S. deserves the benefit of the doubt that its jeopardizing of tens of thousands of sick Iranians was "unintended," it is quite clear that the nuclear deal being widely touted as victory for peace and diplomacy has come about as a result of the U.S. waging economic war on a population of over 70 million people.

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OF COURSE, you would never know about the U.S. imperial aggression underlying the nuclear deal with Iran based on the discussion in mainstream U.S. politics, which is dominated by right wing critics--whether they are Republicans or Democrats--who argue that Iran is getting off easy.

"[The] protocols for surprise inspections of military facilities could allow Iran to delay the arrival of investigators for more than three weeks, ample time to hide contraband equipment," writes Steve Coll in the New Yorker, summarizing the objections to the deal that will no doubt dominate mainstream debate in the weeks to come. "And although Iran must now provide the [International Atomic Energy Agency] with answers about its secret atomic history, the accord does not spell out how forthcoming it must be."

What is really being said here is that the deal struck by the Obama administration doesn't do enough to completely eliminate Iran's national sovereignty. The right's objectives could only really be achieved by regime change.

Unfortunately, you also wouldn't know about the reality of the nuclear accord based on the response of liberal antiwar groups in the U.S.--most of which responded with e-mail blasts championing the agreement and urging supporters to mobilize to support the administration's effort to get the agreement through a hostile Republican Congress.

United for Peace and Justice announced that it "welcomes the completion of the historic international agreement with Iran...we join with peace-loving people around the world in embracing this diplomatic achievement."

"The peace deal reached this morning with Iran thwarting any nuclear weapon production is one of the most important diplomatic accomplishments of the century so far," agreed Peace Action, in a blog post titled"You helped stop a war! Now help seal the peace deal with Iran."

These uncritical celebrations reflect a longstanding weakness of liberal peace groups that are oriented against war rather than imperialism, and therefore have a history of underestimating the devastating impact of sanctions and other non-military forms of war, among other questions.

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IT IS important for people on the left to reject the fundamental assumptions of the accord, beginning with the idea that the U.S. government--along with China, Russia and other great powers known to the press collectively as "the international community"--have the right to dictate to Iran.

The underlying unexamined premise is that "rational" (i.e., mostly Western) governments have the right to control Iran, a rogue state that won't go along with the dominant world order.

We should also see through the lie that the biggest threat to the region is Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. It isn't Iran that has hundreds of foreign military bases. It is not Iran that has seven fleets of warships traversing the world's oceans. It isn't Iran that regularly kills hundreds in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

It isn't Iran that killed half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s through--it can't be repeated enough--economic sanctions, which didn't in the end prevent another catastrophic war, but instead merely weakened Iraq to the point that it could be easily invaded in 2003, leading to another million deaths.

(It should also be noted that even in the midst of the mass murder carried out under the Iraq sanctions program, the mainstream political discussion in the U.S. was dominated by accusations from Republicans like Newt Gingrich complaining that sanctions didn't go far enough--and that then-President Bill Clinton was "appeasing" Saddam Hussein.)

Finally, it isn't Iran that dropped nuclear bombs on human beings, the only time this has been done in world history.

Of course, all of these atrocities have been committed by the United States, famously described by Martin Luther King Jr.--a true peace activist--as the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

Seen from this perspective, the U.S. deal with Iran resembles something from George Orwell's 1984: The world's biggest warmonger is supposedly defending the world from a regional power that might someday develop weapons that the U.S. and several other nations already have.

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THE MAIN obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Iran, but the U.S. and its reactionary allies Saudi Arabia and Israel--which is estimated to have up 100 nuclear warheads, which it has never admitted it possesses, and clearly holds the title of most war-hungry state in the region.

Those who are celebrating the U.S. for making "peace" with Iran should recognize that all of the threats about a future war were coming from the U.S. and its allies. As Eric Ruder wrote for SocialistWorker.org, these threats helped force Iran into a making a deal:

There's another possible outcome that all the bickering between Obama and the Republicans--not to mention Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu--has opened up: That John Kerry can credibly say to Iranian negotiators that they better accept the deal he's offering, or they will end up having to deal with hard-liners who are just waiting to carry out air strikes on Tehran.

When it comes to Iran, the headlines in the coming months--and possibly all the way to next year's presidential election--will be dominated by complaints from these very hard-liners about how Obama fell for a crafty Iranian trap.

And because the agreement allows the U.S. to push for a renewal of sanctions if it doesn't think Iran is fully compliant on inspections, the accord might devolve into years of bullying, standoffs and more sanctions--which is how the U.S. contained Iraq in the 12 years between its invasions in 1991 and 2003.

Those who want to stand with people around the world for peace and justice shouldn't cheer for a nuclear accord that is another U.S. imperial imposition against a sovereign nation. Instead, we should demand that the U.S. withdraw from the Middle East so that people in Iran and throughout the region have a greater ability to fight for their own peace and freedom.