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The Importance of the Iran Pivot

Imagine you are one of the dozen or so people who can influence a foreign-policy decision for the Obama administration. Not a top staffer, able to quickly master and mobilize complex data points for and against a given policy position, but someone who has also ascended the complicated personal networks of Obamaland. Valerie Jarrett. John Kerry. Ashton Carter. Joe Biden.

Suddenly you find the world seems to be going to hell at once. Triple—nearly simultaneous—terror attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, and France. Greece on the edge of default. Puerto Rico too. The Iran negotiations up against their deadline—the Ayatollah suddenly spouting nationalistic formulations about inspections which may not mean much in real terms, but which give the well-organized opponents of Iran detente new levers to agitate against the negotiations. Ukraine: the Kiev government, encouraged by John McCain and part of America’s State Department, hopes to pull the United States into a sort of alliance, giving it protection as it looks to escalate the war against its rebellious eastern provinces. (“Killing its own citizens” is how the mainstream media might describe Kiev’s actions in another context.)

Which of these issues is the most important, which do you have to make sure to get right? It’s not easy—and if you are John Kerry, you are probably still in pain every day from a badly broken leg. Plus it’s the week of July 4th, and though you are a serious person who doesn’t even think about vacation, you sense a gap between the urgency of saving the world from chaos and the fact that much of your family is in summer mode.

I hope Obama is hearing something like this from such people, which I suspect tracks with his own inclinations: We can’t know the consequences of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, but they will be manageable. The smartest financial analysts (like Nouriel Roubini, whose online newsletter people pay a pricey subscription to receive) have for years done serious projections on a Greek exit from the Eurozone, focusing on ways in which the worst disruptions can be mitigated. They almost certainly can be. For Greece, gaining control of its own currency and fiscal policy is probably necessary for any real recovery. The Euro project may have been doomed to fail eventually—there isn’t enough in common between its various components to make a genuine currency union viable.


The Greeks have as much reason [1] to resent German overlordship as anyone in Europe. But in France too, arguments that the Euro and the Brussels bureaucracy curtails French sovereignty and democracy, or simply provides powerful lever for American financial hegemony, are heard increasingly on both Left and Right. It’s far from clear whether the weakening of the European Union or the collapse of the Euro would benefit or harm American interests, but it would almost certainly strengthen democracy within Europe. About the financial consequences, experts can figure out how to smooth them over, though it will surely take time. The European economy, including Greece’s, rests ultimately on a combination of an educated and skilled populace and decent amount of natural resources, and these will not disappear.

Oh, Puerto Rico might default too? Perhaps it’s a good thing then it isn’t actually a state, as many conservatives believed it should become back in the 1990’s.

Iran. A breakdown in the Iran negotiations would be a genuine tragedy, and would probably start the clock ticking inexorably towards war. There are powerful groups in the United States—everyone knows who they are—which actively hope for war with Iran and have for years. They were rebuffed in the latter years of George W. Bush’s presidency and early in Obama’s. But they are extremely well funded—their expensive full-page advertisements appear in the New York Times, and others will soon blanket the airwaves. They have every reason to hope that if they block a deal now, they will have a more malleable president within a year and a half.

The Iran hawks’ most recent talking point involves inspections, as they argue for the idea that anything less than unlimited inspections all over the country means that Iran will be able to cheat and construct clandestinely a nuclear weapon. This is pretty much nonsense: Iran has already agreed to a rigorous inspection regime, and is under one now. As for inspection of military sites—it is true that the Ayatollah railed against them recently in a speech to Iranian hard-liners; it is also true that Fordow, Iran’s once-secret underground enrichment and research facility—and part of a military base—has had inspectors crawling all over it, with Iran’s agreement, since the initial preliminary pact was signed two years ago. That will not change. The remaining gaps between the U.S. and Iran are technical and minor relative to the vast distance which has been covered.

There is momentum behind the agreement, some of it economic (you can’t read the financial page without seeing reports of major Western firms vying for position in a post-accord investment environment) and much of it strategic. That yet another Saudi committed suicide terrorism, blowing up a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait and killing dozens of worshipers, adds to the growing recognition that tying American Mideast policy to the wishes of the Saudi princes, the main financiers of Sunni jihadism, is a form of madness. It is not clear what will happen with the so-called Islamic State—which may be easier to contain [2] than destroy. But in almost any scenario, America will need allies in the region with troops willing to fight, and Iran is clearly the most powerful and most willing. It is one of history’s ironies that after years of Israeli and neoconservative propaganda proclaiming that Iran was a crazy terror-exporting state run by religious fanatics (for which there is little recent evidence), precisely such an entity did emerge from within Sunni Islam, while Iran has proven its most able—and indeed in the Mideast virtually its only—opponent.

In any case, it is likely that relations with Iran will move forward or backward—they won’t, can’t, stay in their present balance, where Iran is treated as a sort of back-door ally against ISIS, its diplomats and generals treated respectably by their American counterparts, yet under serious sanctions and reviled in much public discourse as the epitome of evil.

Foreign policy is about making distinctions between the important and the marginal. There is little we can do about Greece, but its exit from the Euro will not be tragic. There is virtually no one in Western Europe who wants to be a full-fledged ally of Ukraine, and the United States can and should learn something from Europe’s reticence. But Iran is important: a successful nuclear agreement will reveal that Iran is the key to containing Islamic State terrorism and probably to maintaining American influence in the Mideast.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "The Importance of the Iran Pivot"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 1, 2015 @ 1:04 am

“The Euro project may have been doomed to fail eventually—there isn’t enough in common between its various components to make a genuine currency union viable.”

The American project is to keep the U.S. dollar as the world currency, without rival, so that control of world financial policy aligns with American financial, political and military objectives.

Finance cannot be weaponized without reserve currency hegemony.

#2 Comment By TB On July 1, 2015 @ 9:10 am

Scott McConnell: “Even as the world burns and goes bankrupt…”

You lost me at your premise, Scott.

#3 Comment By AndyG On July 1, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

Thank you!
Doing what we can to promote peace and continuing relations between nations is (or should be) a no brainer.
Giving up because we’d rather send someone else’s kids to fight another foolish war is beyond irresponsible.

#4 Comment By spite On July 1, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

All these host of “problems” is actually telling what is wrong with US foreign policy. I am not saying these are not problems, but it should have never been US foreign policy to be the global police to start with.

#5 Comment By the basics On July 1, 2015 @ 12:12 pm

You mention the European interest and voice in connection with Ukraine and Greece, but the Europeans are also deeply involved and interested in the negotiations with Iran.

If our Israel problem ends up scuttling a good deal with Iran, i.e. if we don’t get control of our Israel Lobby problem sufficiently to secure our own interests in these negotiations, the Europeans will almost certainly throw up their hands in disgust and end the embargo themselves.

That would leave us raging on the heath alone, impotently inveighing against a largely imaginary menace, and all to humor the “no daylight” creeps in Congress and the media.

A deal with Iran is important not just on its merits, but to end for good and all the absurd “no daylight” crap promoted by pro Israel extremists, which has already resulted in incalculable damage to America.

#6 Comment By LouisM On July 1, 2015 @ 3:54 pm

The greatest strategic blunder was the US giving up its role as an objective, impartial, neutral party between Arabs and Israeli’s.

This blunder paved the way for Israeli paranoia and intransigence.

This blunder paved the way for Arab radicalization.

It paved the way for pre-emptive (if not pre-cognitive) perpetual war in the middle east. The US can very easily be painted as Don Quiote chasing windmills.

And it paved the way for the christian genocide throughout the middle east.

Ask what american is willing to trade profits for the defense industry and the bankers for the lives of soldiers and civilians. Very few. Yet, this is the path our leadeers and our supposed allies force us down.

#7 Comment By Augustinian On July 1, 2015 @ 4:50 pm

One does not require the gift of prophecy to anticipate this scenario:
1) John Kerry will sign a dear—any deal.
2) Obama will do his customary victory lap—auditioning for another Norwegian Nobel Prize.
3) The mullahs will built nuclear weapons during the first term of Obama’s successor.
4) Obama will immediately blame his successor or Congress or George Bush—or all three at once.

#8 Comment By John McEvoy On July 2, 2015 @ 9:49 am

A few years ago, Pat Buchanan called for an end to Iranian sanctions… Back in ’92 Pat called for an end to the Cuban blockade… Now with these two initiatives finally being implemented and looking like they’re being the lone foriegn policy successes of Obama’s administration, the Brigades can take satisfaction that our ideas prevailed even if our candidate didn’t. Pretty much the opposite outcome of our Neocon adversaries.

Justice triumphs!

#9 Comment By Josh On July 2, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

Anyone who uses the term “mullahs” instantly reveals themselves to be a diehard hawk. It’s amazing how certain words become talking points unto themselves in hawkland. Would be interested in Uncle Billy’s thoughts on that.

#10 Comment By cityeyes On July 9, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

OK! Who opposes normal relations with Iran? Who benefits if we remain antagonistic to Iran? Who has many nuclear devices and will not join the non nuclear proliferation treat? If you guessed Fiji you are wrong.