I’ll have a nice, Day 16 update on the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge sometime tomorrow – I promise.
Right now I want to address the prisoner swap with the Iranians, as well as the initial lifting of sanctions for 90 days for Iranian compliance with the P5+1 Accords and the limited sanctions we’ve just imposed on select individuals and companies.
One of the things that is very clear in our inability to effectively deal with Iran is not just Iranian intransigence or hardliners, but rather our own special brand of American domestic politics. This screws up a lot of our policy discussions and limits the strategies we develop on a wide variety of domestic and international issues because it places artificially narrow limits on what our objectives might be and how we might go about achieving them.
This has certainly been the case with Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. American’s domestic attitudes towards Iran have been locked into a simplistic and binary “Iran-evil, US-good” dynamic since the Embassy was overrun and American personnel were taken hostage. While the Iranian religious authorities, the folks that actually run Iran, have also done a good job of installing this belief in Iran too, it has really complicated American policy making and strategy in the Middle East. The biggest problem has been the inability to conduct even the most basic interactions. Along with the sanction’s regime that we imposed on Iran we also broke ties using a cut out when it was necessary to communicate. We watched and listened to what Iran did/does and always saw the worst and they did the same thing. The invasion of Iraq and the strategic failure of Operation Iraqi Freedom that led to the fragmenting/unravelling of Iraqi state and society was actually a gift to Iran. And the Bush 43 Administration’s stopping of two attempts by the Iranians to engage didn’t help the situation either. I’m not suggesting that the Iranians were completely on the level, but this wasn’t even trust, but verify. It was simply we aren’t going to interact at all.
The P5+1 negotiations, as well as the separate negotiations leading to this past week’s prisoner exchange, mark something very different. These have both been small, steady steps that have begun the process of creating a small amount of trust between the US and Iran. Iran’s actually decommissioning and entombing the Arak reactor as part of the P5+1 certification process is a tremendous deal. This is because Iran desperately wants out from under the sanctions regime and to be allowed back into the global community as just one nation among 191 others. Living up to its P5+1 obligations helps to get Iran there. As the sanctions are lifted something new is going to happen between Iran and the US – Iranians and Americans are going to begin to interact with each other on a more normal basis.
Iran announced last Fall that it would update its aging fleet of commercial airplanes as soon as the sanctions were listed. This is now going to happen. Not only will there be economic interaction, but there will be professional interaction. Iranians will need to come to the US and Germany and Americans and Germans will need to go to Iran to train pilots on the new Boeing and Airbus platforms and teach engineers and mechanics how to maintain them. These interpersonal interactions are going to drive more change in Iran than almost anything else we could do. The detractors of the diplomacy that has brought us the P5+1 Agreement and the prisoner exchange are also the biggest boosters and proponents of the free market and its power. The opening with Iran, made possible through diplomacy, is an opening for free market interactions. Interactions between people, as well as interactions in the economic realm.
No matter how reactionary and authoritarian the Iranian religious authorities are, they cannot stop those signals. The have reached a be careful what you wish for, you just might get it moment. They wanted out from under the sanctions regime. They wanted to be just one state among 191 others. For the first time in thirty-six years they are. And now it will be interesting to see what happens as a result.
And this is why the targeted sanctions that were just announced on specific individuals and businesses is both a good approach and a potentially effective response. Punishing Iran, as in all of Iran and Iranians in general, never got us what we really wanted over the past thirty-six years – a real change in the Iranian state and society. While there’s no guarantee that we will see change now that the P5+1 compliance has led to the lifting of sanctions, nor what kind of change it will be, there is a greater chance of it happening now than even a year ago.