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Phil-osophically Speaking

A Shadow Over The Globe


An ominous hush swept over the city of Geneva when five Western nations forged an agreement enabling Iran to take a giant step closer to developing the bomb. This interim accord is weaker than the several U.N. Resolutions (usually characterized by feebleness) that had mandated no sanction relief until Iran suspends all Uranium enrichment. 


One does not need to possess Delphic insight into the metabolism of American foreign policy to wonder if our hopes are fluttering insubordinately before the sovereign of our higher faculties. The unilateral nature of the Geneva accord is such that one is compelled to ask if the negotiators are seeing the opposition as seraphic apparitions rather than fascist Mullahs. Instead of a hard-headed agreement safeguarding geo-political stability we get a spasmodic extravagance of runaway optimism predicated on the foundation of Iranian cooperation.


There is no other way to explain how Iran is allowed to keep its 10,000 centrifuges and its plutonium reactor save that our negotiators were too eager to secure an agreement. As the journalist Mark Steyn wrote, everyone got what they wanted with this accord: The United States got an agreement and Iran got nukes. While Iran has not yet obtained the bomb, it will soon become very pregnant with Uranium gift-wrapped with billions of economic aid. The upshot is this little nursery of belligerence festering within the cauldron of the Middle East may soon cast a large and ominous shadow over the globe.


Iran, bellicose, even without nukes, can only be more provocative with them.  In lieu of a verifiable agreement embracing the facts, hosts of comfortable illusions are conjured up to defend our garrisoned and outnumbered hopes for peace.  We are shoveling the earth of mass illusions into a shallow grave of misplaced dreams. Could the prevarications and circumlocutions of diplomacy have caused our sensibilities to become so dissimulated by our foe; or do we have the proverbial card up our sleeve to sweeten the stench of Iranian disingenuousness that virulently pervades the atmosphere surrounding these negotiations? 


The Administration must be addlepated not to see the truth. Following our listless response in Syria, the impotency in securing the release of hostages and our retreat in Iraq,  our foreign policy has become one of passive insensibility interrupted, on occasion, by a guttural growl or an admonitory finger --- but no more than that. Perhaps this concessional diplomacy is rooted in the belief that using the military to shape events and change cultures was an abysmal failure and therefore the  blasphemies of George W. Bush and the neocons must be squashed at every opportunity whatever the circumstance or the magnitude of the danger facing us.  


John Quincy Adams sagely warned a young America about slaying monsters abroad. The United States is a friend of liberty everywhere but custodian only of its own. He further noted that our nation has no argument with any regime, no matter how odious, unless they endeavor to export their ideology. It was a view of real politic, sensible in both its restraint and ambition and one in which I subscribed. 


When Iraq invaded Kuwait, this policy was perfectly executed in the U.S. response during the Persian Gulf War; but 12 years later American foreign policy assumed an entirely different character when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, even though the regime had technically invaded no one. Yet I supported the Iraqi campaign because multiple intelligence agencies, including our own, reported that Iraq was on the precipice of producing a nuclear bomb. This was an existential threat that Mr. Adams in his time never faced and therefore justification enough, given the regime’s bloody history, to make offensive action and self-defense one and the same.


When no WMDs surfaced, it was enough, so the rationalization went, to rid the Mideast of the tyrannical Saddam Hussein and expose the oppressed of Iraq to the salubrious influences of democracy and freedom. But after a significant loss of life and treasure over a decade of hostilities, public support waned in the face of an endless war with relatively marginal progress. As a consequence the Obama Administration has all but discarded the military option championing a negotiated peace, whatever the costs. The U.S. was so eager for an agreement that even the tranquil and accommodating French objected to the first pact because its terms were so egregiously supine and compromising. The second agreement, since ratified by the Geneva five, is but a sorry improvement over the first. 


Apparently President Obama is convinced, despite the weight of evidence, that the plutonium plant in Iran is closed (how else to account for his imperturbable gravity) and that the mere presence of U.N. inspectors, who can be ousted any time, virtually guarantees, for the time being, the workability of the Geneva accord. Foreign policy is not infrequently like Rorschach inkblot tests, where those peering through ideological prisms project their own auspicious interpretations, in this case the idea that almost any agreement is better than none. The Obama Administration is clearly looking to parlay this accord into a more favorable and comprehensive arrangement. The Administration thinks that with this accord it has purchased precious time while retaining strategic leverage. With the election of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, a leader of relatively hospitable sobriety and temperate disposition, they are betting that moderates will captain the Iranian destroyer as it sails the tumultuous seas of the future.


But this is a gamble, a risk, a veritable toss of the dice, which makes a volatile region even more explosive. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the Geneva agreement an historic mistake; the possibility of Israel acting unilaterally against Iran lingers in the air like the spent notes of a saxophone. We must not idealize the world with flattering fictions at the expense of embracing realities.  The novelist Joseph Conrad once noted, in a different context, that all idealization makes life poorer. To beautify it takes away its clarity and complexity and does a disservice to all who seek to live life wisely and courageously.


Appeasement begets more aggression and there has been enough of it lately to make enemies of the U.S. muse about whether this cock will fight, even when its back is up against the wall. There is no profundity in a negotiated settlement that freezes Iran’s nuclear program while it’s already in an advanced state. It’s more likely that the international sanctions that remain will do less in deterring Iran than the lifting of other sanctions will do in signaling that the stigma of doing business with Iran is a vestige of a past best forgotten. 


In a culture dominated by Islamic fanaticism, the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction, the doctrine that stayed the hand of the two great Superpowers during the Cold War, is no longer a deterrence but an inducement. If Iran obtains the bomb, an angry and lurid sun will have risen over the sepulchral silence of the civilized world. It’s time to act robustly while we still can, rather than quail submissively before such an eventuality.