Earlier today President Obama spoke before the UN General Assembly. Usually, these speeches are hum-drum affairs, with the usual platitudes about peace on Earth that occur in between CIA shipments of weapons.
This time may be different. Obama spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork about how the US and Iranian governments perceive each other:
The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly – or through proxies – taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight – the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect. [Emphasis added.]
What is absolutely fascinating about these remarks is that Obama, the standing American president, referred to the CIA’s role in overthrowing Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953. It’s one thing to find declassified documents showing the CIA acknowledging its role; it’s another thing entirely for an American president to even mention it. One would hope that this would indicate to the Iranians that Obama, at the very least, is aware that their actions, including their pursuit of nuclear power, have not been irrational and have been based on previous experience with the US.
After discussing the government’s respective positions, Obama said that he wanted to resolve the differences between the US and Iran peacefully:
Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions. [Emphasis added.]
Another amazing statement: we are not seeking regime change. Someone ought to inform the Senate of this.
Obama then acknowledges that Iranian leaders have been making the right noises recently:
Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.
It’s kinda hard to wage a war against a country that says stuff that takes away the reason to attack them.
After Obama makes the obligatory hedging statements – words need to be backed up by actions, Iran got themselves into this position, yada, yada, yada – he delivers the pièce de résistance:
We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. Given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.
I don’t know if the US and Iran will actually patch things up anytime soon; Obama said as much later in his speech. But the simple fact that we’re actually going to talk to the Iranians is incredibly encouraging.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Who would have thought as early as a month ago that there was even a possibility of diplomatic talks between the US and Iran? Hell, a few weeks ago, we were about to take actions that could have led us into a war with Iran. I can wrap my head around how we’ve been able to avert war with Syria. What I really don’t understand is how we have gone from battle-ready to peace talks in less than a month?
Mind you, I’m not complaining. Not one bit. This is very encouraging, and I wish Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif the best of luck.
But we shouldn’t kid ourselves either. For years, there have been very powerful interests who have been pushing the US towards a military conflict with Iran. As early as last week, South Carolina Senator Graham was pushing for an authorization for an attack on Iran. Neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia are happy about this peace push. They may have their reasons, but I don’t care.
The return of the neocon “one percent doctrine,” under which we need to preemptively strike if there’s a one percent chance that a terrorist might strike us, was leading us down the disastrous path of Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama himself took us down that path in Libya, and was about to do the same in Syria. If not for Putin’s brilliant move to take Kerry’s faux pas as an opening for dialogue over Syria’s chemical weapons, we’d still be on that path. (And it’s for that reason alone that I don’t buy Andrew Sulivan’s meep meep BS for one second.) Iran simply took a page out of Putin’s playbook.
And if it means messy negotiations for months, if not years, rather than trading missiles, I’ll take that in a heartbeat. Who knows? Peace may actually break out, and I’d have the opportunity to visit Tehran in my lifetime.