Iranian radicals who see themselves on the front line against Zionism and the Great Satan are on tenterhooks this summer. Iran, a weak middle-power country often itself isolated from the rest of the world, could succeed in dealing a huge blow to the credibility of the most powerful state on the planet, and with it the positive values it represents. The U.S. Republican Party acting alongside Israeli lobbyists could be on the verge of handing Iranian revolutionaries their biggest global propaganda coup since the 1979 Iranian revolution by isolating the United States (alongside Israel) from the rest of the international community.
There is right now an extraordinary multi-million dollar media publicity campaign throughout the United States to convince Americans and their lawmakers to change their minds and oppose the nuclear deal just concluded with the Iranians and sanctioned unanimously by the UN Security Council. Despite the deal’s unique and wide-ranging provisions that have the Iranian nuclear program under tight wraps and heavy inspections, those objecting point out that it is still technically possible for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon in the longer run and that the deal frees up billions of dollars of Iran’s own money that has been frozen by sanctions. This money could be used not only to strengthen Iran’s domestic economy, but also fund its regional activities that destabilize America’s allies. Some money may even go to fund ‘terrorist’ activities conducted by Hezbollah or the Houthis.
There are two major problems for those that want to retain the sanctions regime. Firstly, it was constructed internationally on the basis of concerns around Iran’s ambitious nuclear program, its failure to come clean with facilities in good time, and outstanding questions over past nuclear activities. This deal goes a long way to providing reassurance on these questions, and putting in place an inspections regime and controls on activities that do not rely upon trust, but rather lock Iran into a system that makes it very difficult to break out. To block the deal on the basis of additional objectives – to maintain isolation of Iran and punish it for its regional activities – would be seen as radically shifting the goalposts, and feed into the second problem.
The second issue is that the international community that was involved in constructing this sanctions regime is now united in supporting this deal – any one of its members that brings down the deal (that includes the Iranians) will be seen as hostile to reasonable solutions that seek consensus on ways to manage nuclear technology and prevent proliferation peacefully. If the United States were to block the deal and the lifting of sanctions it would be seen as acting unreasonably, not only by Russia and China (both essential to the success of any sanctions regime), but also by European allies. Congress would be widely seen, even by these allies, as acting unreasonably. A rejection of the deal would also feed the narrative already deeply embedded across the majority world that the United States operates with a hard-nosed exceptionalism and hypocrisy that blocks progress towards a more stable world free from proliferation and nuclear weapons. It could even feed extremism and terrorist actions.
Supporters of the deal in the United States tend to focus on the ability of the deal to contain Iran, and claim that rejection would likely lead to a massive expansion in Iran’s ambiguous nuclear program and the development of a weapons capability. But a more likely outcome, and one more devastating to the United States, could be a decision by Iran to keep to the deal, to trade with the rest of the world, and thereby isolate the United States and demonstrate its impotence.
This could deal a severe long-term blow to the ability of the United States to lead global struggle against authoritarianism and for the values it promotes – freedom, tolerance, democracy. In the current debate over this nuclear deal Americans would do well to consider how this is seen by those they need to be working alongside in building global support for the most important assets of US influence in the world and the security of the ‘free world’ – the attraction of its values and soft power.
This article originally appeared on the Hill Blogs on 27 July 2015.