I literally cannot even
Christopher Newton | Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Let us begin with an insight from everyone’s favorite butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who left us with the adage, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Whether the man has been Nero with his fiddle or the fictional Joker of Gotham, it seems there have always been those willing to put the torch to life, property and even society itself if it suited them. Enter Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and his merry band of 46 other jokers, the would-be destroyers of the Middle East. These individuals would see the region razed to the ground in a wanton orgy of genocidal civil strife and nuclear hellfire before they would engage with Iran in any constructive fashion.
Before proceeding into a few brief reasons regarding how such an outcome may come about, allow me a small author’s note. What follows is by no means a partisan attack but rather an assault on the seemingly impenetrable bastion of ignorance, pigheadedness and outright stupidity cloaked in a veneer of democratic legitimacy that purports to call itself our legislative branch. I most caustically castigate this troupe of Republican n’er do wells not out of any enmity for their party, as those who recall my diatribes against President Barack Obama’s misguided Middle Eastern policies may note, but out of an allergic reaction to aggressive and willful obtuseness.
Typically, I strive for wit and aplomb in this column, Plato byline and all. However, in light of a letter recently delivered to Ayotollah Khomeini by Sen. Cotton and his ilk, I set aside such pretense, if only for a day. Yet this act of epistolary arrogance alone is not what has forced me to such bluntness. With its condescending reminders to the Iranian supreme leader that any treaty signed by an American president means nothing if not approved by Congress, the letter itself merely caps off the ongoing saga of negotiations with Iran and our elected officials’ unflinching incompetence throughout them.
The letter belies a reflexive and simplistic worldview in which Iran is not so much a state that can be reasoned with, as it is a member of Bush’s Axis of Evil. Cotton and his 46 compatriots blithely ignore Iran’s motivations for seeking nuclear weapons while also undermining not only American regional interests but also the tottering geopolitical underpinnings of the broader Middle East. Taking a hardline against Iran, as was done with North Korea, will remove any possibility of cooperation.
Since the days of the Iranian monarchy, the state has sought at least the ability to produce nuclear power, at first with American assistance and in keeping with its self-perception as the inheritor of the legacy of the Persian Empire. In more recent years, it has escalated its nuclear efforts towards more dangerous ends. Iran is pursuing at the very least a nuclear breakout capability, the ability to, if threatened, produce a nuclear weapon in a year or less. Countries such as Japan and Germany are thought to reside at this stage.
Iran, wedged between a volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan region and the geopolitical morass that is the Middle East, finds itself surrounded by instability and adversarial neighbors. A nearly complete ring of American military bases and aircraft carrier task forces heightens Iran’s sense of insecurity. It is a nation that already perceives itself as under siege. It is a difficult perspective for Americans to empathize with, given the protection afforded them by two oceans and a lack of geographically contiguous rivals since 1848.
Despite these underlying motivations, however, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would have far reaching consequences. Were Shia Iran to gain possession of such weapons, its Sunni rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and possibly Egypt, would in time seek to acquire them. Pakistan and India would likely not welcome Iran into the nuclear club with open arms, either. The global non-proliferation regime would be gutted, perhaps irreversibly.
Additionally, the failure of negotiations will lead to increases in tension between Iran and the United States and possibly even violence between them. At a time when Iran is leading the counteroffensive to seize Tikrit, Iraq, and Bashar al-Assad appears more likely than ever to cling to power, alienating the country is shortsighted and counterproductive.
Where working with Iran to mold a geopolitically malleable region might serve American interests, rejecting any sort of collaboration on ideological grounds will leave a wide swath of territory awash in blood and an even wider area unstable. If Sen. Cotton deigns to be shrewd for even just a moment, he may yet come to see that Iran has far more to offer as a partner than as an implacable foe.
Undermining America’s credibility regarding treaties at this junction serves no positive or logical purpose. Reinforcing the siege mentality of Iran will only force it down the path of nuclear weapons, not away from it. Negotiations, not hostility and obstinacy, are required to prevent this cascade of events.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.