The Importance of the Iran Agreement

April 4, 2015 Topic: Iran nuclear weapons Region: Middle East Blog Brand: Paul Pillar

The Importance of the Iran Agreement

The last baleful influence is the extraordinary influence that the rightist government of Israel, along with the lobby in the United States that works on its behalf, has on U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the most unrelenting and implacable source of opposition to any agreement with Iran, for reasons largely other than preventing an Iranian nuke, and its supporters in the United States have been in step with its opposition. Peter Beinart was asking a pertinent question when he wondered how different debate in Washington (and Jerusalem) on the deal with Iran would be “if Sheldon Adelson had a different hobby.” The lobby's influence has manifested itself in especially blatant and ugly ways on the Iranian nuclear issue, including inviting a foreign leader to address the U.S. Congress for the express purpose of denouncing a major U.S. foreign policy effort, and a prominent Republican senator and former presidential nominee going so far as to urge the same foreign leader to treat the president of the United States with "contempt".

The influence of the lobby ultimately rests on fear—of losing access to contributions from Adelson and other billionaires favoring the Israeli Right, or of some other kind of political payback in the next election campaign. Taking a cue from what Franklin Roosevelt said about fear, we should realize that a demonstration of successfully flouting and overcoming the fear is one of the best ways to diminish the effect of the same fear in the future. Given the prominence of the Iranian nuclear issue and the intensity with which Netanyahu and the lobby have been trying to kill an agreement, implementing an agreement over that opposition would serve as such a demonstration. The demonstration, and any resulting dilution of the fear and lessening of the strength of the lobby, would pay dividends not just concerning relations with Iran but with regard to other U.S. interests to which Netanyahu's government is opposed. This may be one of the biggest lasting contributions to the U.S. national interest that Barack Obama will be making if he manages to carry through the nuclear agreement to completion. It is also another reason for Americans who have that national interest at heart to support the agreement.

But the deal is not yet done. The die-hard opponents will keep raising every objection they can about every detail they can. They may not know the difference between an IR-1 centrifuge and an IR-2 and don't really care, but we probably will hear about such things anyway. The detailed objections need to be answered, and the announced framework agreement provides a strong basis for answering them, but in doing so we should keep in mind the really big reasons this agreement should be completed and supported.