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Nov 25 2013

Stephen M. Walt on the Iran deal

I was curious as to what Stephen M. Walt would have to say about the deal with Iran and he says that while the proximate issue is about nuclear technology, the ultimate issue is something else and it is the latter that explains the somewhat paradoxical reactions of both supporters and opponents of the deal.

Thus, the paradox: Many supporters of a diplomatic deal don’t believe the danger of a “nuclear Iran” is all that momentous, while opponents of the current deal think Iran’s nuclear program poses a grave and imminent threat. One would think the former would be more relaxed about recent progress, while the latter would be more enthusiastic. But that isn’t the case: Those with a moderate view of the nuclear danger are much happier with the deal than those who (logically) ought to be more interested in anything that constrains what Iran is able to do.

In fact, the real issue isn’t whether Iran gets close to a bomb; the real issue is the long-term balance of power in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. Iran has far more power potential than any of the other states in the region: a larger population, a fairly sophisticated and well-educated middle class, some good universities, and abundant oil and gas to boost economic growth (if used wisely). If Iran ever escapes the shackles of international sanctions and puts some competent people in charge of its economy, it’s going to loom much larger in regional affairs over time. That prospect is what really lies behind the Israeli and Saudi concerns about the nuclear deal. Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t think Iran is going to get up one day and start lobbing warheads at its neighbors, and they probably don’t even believe that Iran would ever try the pointless act of nuclear blackmail. No, they’re just worried that a powerful Iran would over time exert greater influence in the region, in all the ways that major powers do. From the perspective of Tel Aviv and Riyadh, the goal is to try to keep Iran in a box for as long as possible — isolated, friendless, and artificially weakened.

I tend to agree with his analysis. It is absurd to think that Iran would use a nuclear weapon on another country even if it should acquire one. The real fear of opponents of any deal with that nation is of an Iran that is fully integrated into the world community and this is what they are trying desperately to prevent, even though having nations bound together by strong ties of trade is a strong deterrent towards war like actions.

30 comments

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  1. 1
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I am not an expert on anything foreign outside the 12 meter limit from my apartment, but Walt’s explanation falls flat for me.

    Israel & Saudi Arabia near as I can tell are always eager for trading partners even among Islamic territories and countries like Gaza before the Intifada, and Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. A trade compact with Iran would strengthen both countries and obviously the Israelis know about that and would welcome that over war.

    It is very easy for Walt and for you to sit in the US and say no one takes Iran’s nukes seriously, but this is the same Iran that has played in Lebanese politics, Syria’s politics, and politics throughout the region by supplying aid to terrorist suicide bombers that specifically target civilians.

    When Iran says repeatedly contrary to liberal claims they want to wipe Israel away, why aren’t you taking that seriously? Because that doesn’t fit your political needs? It doesn’t fit your agenda? Or you are personally more expert than the so-called experts.

  2. 2
    colnago80

    Walt is just another Israel basher who Prof. Singham likes to cite as one of his go to guys. This along with clowns like Weiss and Chomsky.

  3. 3
    Al Dente

    Israel doesn’t want a strong Iran in the Middle East. Iran would be deterred from attacking Israel even with nuclear weapons because of MAD. However an economically and diplomatically strong Iran could force Israel to deal reasonably with the Palestinians, something anathema to Netanyahu.

  4. 4
    filethirteen

    Thank goodness you turn up to provide balance with your logical reasoned arguments

  5. 5
    left0ver1under

    Iran’s nuclear ambitions are related to oil. Iran can’t refine its own oil (it wants to but the US blocks the sale of refinery equipment), so it has to export it then buy it back at a higher price. Nuclear power means cheap electricity, and thus lower oil exports and higher oil prices.

    Once again, the US thinks it owns the world, and wants to prevent a country from benefitting from its own natural resources.

  6. 6
    kraut

    “When Iran says repeatedly contrary to liberal claims they want to wipe Israel away, why aren’t you taking that seriously? Because that doesn’t fit your political needs? It doesn’t fit your agenda? Or you are personally more expert than the so-called experts.”

    It is astonishing how fast folks forget that not so many years ago there were two countries with 99% of the atomic weapons, which in the end assured a peace since the end of WW2, with mutual recognized zones of interest, although always prone to tensions. It was precarious but it worked because both sides knew that the destruction was mutual.
    The same would apply here. Iran is not as portrayed by many an irrational state, neither was at the time the Soviet Union. Iran has justified grievances when Israel and the US supported the corrupt torture regime of the Shah (not that things have gotten much better under the Mullahs), the support by both of terrorist groups like the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Iran
    “Iran’s population increased dramatically during the later half of the 20th century, reaching about 75 million by 2011.[1][2] In recent years, however, Iran’s birth rate has dropped significantly. Studies project that Iran’s rate of population growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 100 million by 2050.[3][4] More than half of Iran’s population is under 35 years old (2012)”

    Consider those facts and then tell me that Iran has nothing better to do than attacking Israel, a state without much land, few resources and running out of water and land – the major drivers of the internal conflict in Israel.

    Iran has severe problems to deal with, environmental problems of major impact:

    “Water resources are dwindling as Iran’s three major lakes dry up, the majority of the country’s other lakes are also in the process of disappearing and becoming contaminated with wastes and chemicals, neighboring countries build dams that divert shared rivers away from Iran and underground aquifers are depleted.”
    http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/environment-pollution-iran-water.html##ixzz2lijRMy5B

    and designating Iran, a major country with sound oil and gas reserve and a big trade potential to the sidelines because of a minor airplane carrier of US interests (for a while) is neither in the interest of the US nor of the rest of the world. And in the end – the economic interest of the US will outweigh Israels at any time if it comes to the crunch and Israel would play the spoiler in a deal of in the end major economic importance:

    http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/handel-mit-iran-aufhebung-der-sanktionen-laesst-industrie-hoffen-a-935590.html

    As Marx stated: all social institutions are the result of a growth and that the causes of this growth are to be sought not in any idea, but in the conditions of material existence. http://www.efm.bris.ac.uk/het/seligman/econinte.htm
    The idea of a State of Israel will eventually loose to the economic realities if a deal with Iran is possible – and it looks like it is.

    As to Israels spoiler role: ( http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english/index.html )

    “Netanyahu is serious about the Iranian bomb. The proof: on this issue he is ready to do something that no Israeli prime minister has ever dared to do before: endanger Israeli-American relations.

    This is a momentous decision. Israel is dependent on the US in almost every respect. The US pays Israel a yearly tribute of at least three billion dollars, and in fact much more. It gives us state of the art military equipment. Its veto protects us from UN Security Council censure, whatever we do.”

    “His present moves are based on the assessment that in a straight confrontation between Congress and the White House, Congress will win. Obama, already blooded by other issues, will be beaten, even destroyed.

    True, Netanyahu was proved wrong the last time he tried something like this. During the last presidential elections, he openly supported Mitt Romney. The idea was that the Republicans were bound to win. The Jewish casino baron, Sheldon Adelson, poured money into their campaign, while at the same time maintaining an Israeli mass-circulation daily for the sole purpose of supporting Netanyahu.

    Romney “couldn’t lose” – but he did. This should have been a lesson for Netanyahu, but he didn’t absorb it. He is now playing the same game, but for vastly higher stakes.”

  7. 7
    hyphenman

    Good morning Mano,

    Walt, as is most often the case, is spot on, but he misses, perhaps intentionally, the underlying reality regarding Iran and the rest of the Middle East: The Iranians are not Arabs, they’re Persians. Culturally, linguistically and, most importantly, historically, Iran is not part of the Middle East as we in the West too often understand that artificial, colonial construct.

    An economically unfettered Iran could dominate the region in much the same way that Brazil is coming to do so in South America and how China has emerged in the 21st century in Asia. Iran is not our friend, and has not been so since our adventurism in the ’50s. Business interests in the United States (see your post on Lewis Powell) fear a trading partner they cannot economically control the way we do Iran’s neighbors.

    Attempts to spread panic over supposed nuclear aspirations are fear mongering meant to distract attention from the real threats of economic power.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

  8. 8
    Rob Grigjanis

    this is the same Iran that has played in Lebanese politics, Syria’s politics, and politics throughout the region by supplying aid to terrorist suicide bombers that specifically target civilians.

    Yes, if only Iran showed the same concern for civilians as has been shown by the USA and Israel (and the Brits before them), they would be much more trustworthy. If only they followed the excellent example of the USA and kept from meddling in other countries’ internal affairs. One can only dream.

  9. 9
    trucreep

    I’m not sure if its so much about “not taking nukes seriously” as it is about “seriously considering using a nuclear weapon.”

    I appreciate the difference of being in the US as opposed to Israel when considering this sort of thing. But launching a nuclear strike in this age is unprecedented, and would assure Iran’s demise. I could only see it getting to that point when Iran decides it has nothing to lose.

  10. 10
    trucreep

    I would just add that coming to the point where they had nothing to lose seems to be more likely under an antagonistic approach to diplomacy with them.

  11. 11
    colnago80

    How does this grab the Hun?

    http://goo.gl/fL2oXb

  12. 12
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Mano,

    Somewhat related, how can you write one thread detailing how we cannot trust the US gov’t, and then in another thread, write that we should place our trust in the US gov’t?

  13. 13
    wtfwhateverd00d

    And yet, contrary to what I might have thought, apparently what brought the Iranians back to the table was that the sanctions were working, sanctions being a pretty antagonistic approach.

  14. 14
    wtfwhateverd00d

    “Consider those facts and then tell me that Iran has nothing better to do than attacking Israel, a state without much land, few resources and running out of water and land – the major drivers of the internal conflict in Israel.”

    IRAN HAS FAR BETTER THINGS TO DO THAN ATTACK ISRAEL!

    Now you and me just need to convince the ruling Mullahs of that.

  15. 15
    Mano Singham

    What threads are you talking about?

  16. 16
    kraut

    Grandstanding?

    I grew up during the cold war. That shit with maneuvers close to the borders was just ongoing. Show me yours I show you mine.

  17. 17
    kraut

    And what gives you an impression that Iran – besides some big mouthed words from a now deposed Ahmadinejad what amounted to a big 0 – ever had or ever will attempt to attack Israel, not withstanding that it was the US through its proxy Saddam Hussein with likely support from Israeli intelligence who attacked Iran before, and who deposed before that a democratically elected regime to replace it with the torturer of Persia.

    I find the attempts to paint an at present not very democratic regime (is the US still a democracy?) black and accuse it without evidence of having in its aim nuclear weaponry just because it is opposed to regional aspirations by the dog Israel and its tail the US the all too typical attempt by an empire to get the outliers to obey its commands.

    Even if Iran would attempt to get nuclear weapons – what would the game be? Nothing but to counter the nuclear option Israel already has, the same as when the Soviet Union got the nuclear option, knowing full well that without it no defense against an increasing rapacious US appetite for empire was feasible, a US that had shown no qualms to use the nuclear option twice.

  18. 18
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I’d like to withdraw that, I thought I read an argument that I hadn’t read close enough.

    So my apologies for mischaracterizing what you have written here.

    I will say that with recent gov’t/obama screwups in:

    + healthcare.gov
    + civil liberties in general (jonathanturley.org)
    + funding the recovery
    + …?

    Is it rational to wonder if this will be another example of good intentions paving the the way to hell?

  19. 19
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @wtfwhateverd00d :

    IRAN HAS FAR BETTER THINGS TO DO THAN ATTACK ISRAEL!

    Very true – doing almost anything else is far better than attacking Israel.

    Attack Israel and you lose.

    Problem is, these fools don’t seem to understand that. These idiots keep making that same historical mistake time and time and time again and not learning from it.

    1948 War of (Israeli)Independence,
    Suez Crisis 1956,
    1967 Six Day War,
    1973 Yom Kippur War,
    First Intifada in the 1980′s,
    Saddam Hussein firing scud missiles at Israel in the Kuwait war 1991,
    Second Intifada in the 2000′s,
    Hezbollah launching the (2nd) Lebanon war in 2006,
    (Short break somewhere there for the Palestinian Civil War Hams versus ex-PLO Fatah then the)
    Gaza War of 2008-9~ish and the second
    Gaza War (Operation Pillar of Defence) in 2012 caused by Hamas firing rockets into Israel yet again.

    All started by the Arab side, all lost by the Arab side. Go figure.

    For pity’s sake Arabs and Muslims more generally – take a flippin’ hint. You can’t and won’t win so stop it. Israel is here to stay, get used to it. learn to live with it – preferably in peace.

    You’d have to be really stupid to attack Israel again.

    Unfortunately the Arab side here have shown they are indeed very stupid and /or motivated by fanatical religious hatred against a legitimate sovereign nation that has actually been remarkably restrained inits defensive responses considering the constant attacks and provocations against it.

    Now you and me just need to convince the ruling Mullahs of that.

    If only we could.

    Problem is, the Mullahs don’t listen to anyone but “Allah” and he’s the imagined delusional voice in their heads that messes them all up so very horribly badly.

    PS. Mano Singham in an earlier thread you mentioned Operation Cast lead – one of the Gaza wars – as a bad thing. I agree it was a grim and horrible business but you have to understand *why* it happened and what caused it to be made necessary. The answer, the reason the Israelis launched that operation like so many others – Hamas were firing rockets at their cities indiscriminately!

    Does anyone seriously think *any* group of people in the world should or would just put up with that and do nothing in those circumstances? For real?

    Ultimately the full moral responsibility for all the casualties inflicted in that war and all these others lie on the heads of the Islamists who caused these wars to happen.

    Don’t want the consequences of attacking Israel?

    Then DON’T ATTACK IT!

    Leave it be in peace and move on.

  20. 20
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ ^ filethirteen : Yup. It is good to hear a dissenting voice putting the other side of the story occassionally isn’t it!

    Some other FTB blogs should follow that example more often I think!
    (Hint, PZ Myers and Stephanie Zvan.)

  21. 21
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @1. wtfwhateverd00d :

    When Iran says repeatedly contrary to liberal claims they want to wipe Israel away, why aren’t you taking that seriously? Because that doesn’t fit your political needs? It doesn’t fit your agenda? Or you are personally more expert than the so-called experts.

    I would really love to hear Mano Singham’s answers to those questions, please.

    In all seriousness.

    Jewish people have learnt from history to take it very seriously when threats like those are made.

    Why is it that Israel which is so affected by such deals and necessarily so expert in these matters is so easily ignored by those politically opposed to it?

    Why do so many on the Left of politics seem to have this irrational hatred for and inability to empathise with the world’s only Jewish state which is a modern, progressive democracy located in a wasteland of totalitarian dictatorships and islamist theocracies?

    Is it really their anti-American bias that makes them hate an ally of the Western world so much or is there more to it? It baffles and angers me.

  22. 22
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    D’oh! Blockquote fail sorry.

    First paragraph was quoted from wtfwhateverd00d, the rest of that was mine.

  23. 23
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @left0ver1under :

    Hang on a sec, isn’t Iran pretty well allied with China and Russia? Couldn’t it get refining gear from them?

    No, it doesn’t really make sense to me that oneof the world’s largest oil producing nations like Iran is quite so keen to develop a better alternative to oil that, oh yeah, kinda could lead to them getting the A-Bomb and being able to carry out their promise to exterminate Israel.

    As noted elsewhere when Jewish people hear threats to wipe them off the map they’ve learnt to take those threats seriously. Especially when the threats are coming from a source that is murderously violent intolerantly riddled to the core with anti-Semitism and has a record of attempting to do just that.

  24. 24
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Agreed. One can only dream of the theocratic Islamist terror state of Iran being as nice and benevolent and well-wishing to the rest of the world as such Free, democratic, relatively progessive, Western lands including the United States are.

    Funny how the US gave Afghanistan and Iraq – and before them Germany and Japan among others – back to their peoples’ eh?

    Reckon Iran would be so kind and generous? I very much doubt it.

    BTW. Your inability to answer straightforward questions and empathise with the plight of Israelis on an earlier thread has been noted Rob.

  25. 25
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    At bare minimum any deal with Iran allowing sanctions to be eased should have had as a precondition that Iran cease supporting and funding global terrorism and especially give up supporting Jihadist terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas – ideally, that it aid the world in destroying such groups by providing information if nothing else.

    This bad deal didn’t do that and that speaks volumes for itself.

    Appeasement, it appears, is what’s happening here.

    Yeah, we all know* where that leads and it ain’t good.

    Now we’re letting Iran wriggle out of sanctions that have almost brought it to answer better democratic revolution that was so brutally crushed.

    As they say in Star Wars, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

    * Though some staggeringly stupid and ignorant convenient fools on the political Left seem to still be in reality denial on that score.

  26. 26
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Typo fix :

    answer = another.

    Now we’re letting Iran wriggle out of sanctions that have almost brought it to another, better, democratic revolution that was so brutally crushed.

  27. 27
    Dunc

    Sorry, did you just list the Suez Crisis as an example of Israel being attacked? Seriously?

  28. 28
    colnago80

    I would remind Dunc that the Egyptians were using the Sinai Desert as the launching place for Fedayeen terrorist attacks against Israel prior to 1956. The Israeli attack in that year was amply justified to wipe out the terrorist camps.

  29. 29
    Dunc

    I didn’t ask if anyone thought “[t]he Israeli attack” was “justified“, I asked if anyone thought “[t]he Israeli attack” (your words) represented “an example of Israel being attacked“.

    It is one thing to argue that A was justified in attacking B. It is quite another to assert that A attacking B is actually an example of B attacking A.

  30. 30
    colnago80

    It was the Egyptian Government at the time who was supporting the Fedayeen terrorists in the Sinai, supplying them with weapons and intelligence. Thus, the terrorists activities of the Fedayeen were an example of A attacking B.

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