There’s plenty of carping, still, about the interim nuclear deal reached last month between Iran and the United States, along with the world powers of the so-called P5+1. However, the deal carries with it the possibility not only of solving the problem of Iran’s nuclear program but of transforming the entire Middle East and creating a working détente between Tehran and Washington that could help stabilize civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There are even hints that President Obama might visit Tehran before the end of his stint in the White House.)
Most of all, the US-Iran accord signals a potentially vital turn by the Obama administration away from war, military confrontation and economic sanctions as its primary foreign policy tool toward, yes, diplomacy. Not only is the Iran deal advancing, with Tehran announcing that implementation of the deal would begin as soon as late December or early January in practical terms, but the parallel diplomacy on Syria is moving ahead, too. There, the movement to collect, account for, ship and destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons is moving quickly, and there are plans for a January 22 peace conference in Geneva that could bring together the Assad government with important elements of the moderate opposition—plus the United States, Russia and possibly Iran.
Not too long ago, it seemed like the best that might be accomplished in US-Iran talks was an agreement that could avoid war, with President Obama vaguely repeating the mantra that all “options” were constantly on the proverbial table. Now, that table is covered with negotiations papers, and things look much less gloomy. Even George Will, the Washington Post’s conservative columnist, wrote today that the crisis over Iran has devolved into a choice between war or “containment,” with the current talks seeming to lock the United States into a permanent acceptance that Iran will forever have nuclear technology—and the possibility, however remote, of “breakout” toward a weapon—while creating a situation both sides can live with. Says Will, casting aspersions on hawks why cry “Appeasement!” all the time:
Some advocates of war seem gripped by Thirties Envy, a longing for the clarity of the 1930s, when appeasement failed to slake the dictators’ thirst for territorial expansion. But the incantation “Appeasement!” is not an argument. And the word “appeasement” does not usefully describe a sober decision that war is an imprudent and even ultimately ineffective response to the failure of diplomatic and economic pressures to alter a regime’s choices about policies within its borders.
And Will approvingly quotes Ken Pollack, the Brookings Institution analyst and former CIA officer: “Going to war with Iran to try to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear arsenal would be a worse course of action than containing Iran, even a nuclear Iran.” (That’s a quote from Pollack’s recent book, Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy, from a center-right thinker who in 2002 eagerly promoted the war in Iraq but who’s climbed down, more calmly lately, from war cries.)