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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Over the past year, our nation’s diplomats along with global powers have been working tirelessly to produce an agreement that will prevent both an Iranian nuclear weapon and another war in the Middle East. Keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is of central importance to American security – and achieving this through tough diplomacy is difficult, but very possible.

To be sure, Monday’s announcement that negotiations would continue was not the conclusive end we hoped for; all sides want to see the critical question of Iran’s nuclear program resolved. But the simple fact remains that the situation today is better than it was a year ago. Iran’s nuclear program remains verifiably frozen, and with a robust international monitoring and verification regime in place, global partners have been able to keep close watch on Iran’s facilities. For the past year, no weapons-grade fuel has been produced, and dangerous material was destroyed; this progress would not have been possible without the negotiations to date.

The Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once stated the oft-repeated axiom that “war is diplomacy by other means.” As a nation, we have been in this position before. The casus belli of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to disarm the regime of Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction. Our diplomatic efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime of weapons of mass destruction failed, and diplomacy turned into war. Between 2005 and 2008, I served two combat tours in Iraq and witnessed firsthand the tragic results of that failure.

Had our diplomatic efforts been successful prior to the invasion, we would have discovered that Iraq no longer had a program for developing weapons of mass destruction, nor did it have stockpiles of chemical weapons. Instead, the relentless drive to war turned into a decade-long conflict that cost the lives of thousands of American service members, tens of thousands of Iraqis, and trillions of dollars. The invasion also led to a destabilized Iraq, a newly emboldened Iran, and the spread of sectarian conflict in the region which continues to this day.

Once again, we find ourselves trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We know that Iran has nuclear program that could be used to produce a bomb, but we also learned lessons from the past decade.  We owe it to the members of our armed forces to exhaust all of the diplomatic resources at our disposal. The alternative to a diplomatic agreement that will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon could very well be armed conflict. While resorting to the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction must remain an option, it should only be exercised as a last resort.

Congress helped get us where we are today with strong sanctions that the administration enforced. This was a crucial part in a comprehensive strategy to get Iran to the table, and a show of how American leadership should work. However, calls by some political leaders to enact additional sanctions now are shortsighted and counterproductive. Generally speaking, sanctions are used as a tool to get a state to the negotiating table. The goal of being at the negotiating table is to strike a deal.

Unilateral moves by any of the negotiating parties, including the U.S., risk derailing these talks and the chance of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon through diplomacy. Iran would likely kick out inspectors and resume the nuclear activities that have been frozen over the past year. If that happened, the U.S. could find itself back where we were last year: on the way to another war in the Middle East.

The best goal for diplomacy is an outcome that keeps America safe and nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran. We are still in the home stretch of securing a deal that could do just that, while keeping our nation safe and our men and women in uniform out of harm’s way. We must do everything we can to support this effort.

Adam Tiffen is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council and a veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works in frontier and emerging markets. He may be followed at @tiffendc.  Views expressed are his own

AFP Photo/Ronald Zak

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  • Dominick Vila

    Effective diplomacy and a desire to defuse one of the most dangerous contributors to global instability, have produced results that would have been unimaginable as recently as a decade ago. Two years ago we were contemplating the distinct probability of a war between Israel and Iran, we us being dragged into it and many others joining the fight. Today we are on the verge of a history accord that includes physical inspections to ensure Iran is not building nuclear weapons. Consistent with the policy of obstructionism so eloquently acknowledged by Sen. McConnell, a policy that delayed our economic recovery and caused tremendous pain and misery to millions of Americans, Sen. McConnell already hinted a desire to torpedo this accord by demanding additional punishment to Iran and the Iranian people. If McConnell is serious, and the new Congress blocks President Obama’s desire to sign this accord, the short and long term consequence of their myopic foreign “policy” stand may be a prolonged and costly war, the death of hundreds of thousands of people, the destabilization of the Persian Gulf, loss of international credibility…and huge profits for the arms industry.

    • Independent1

      Dominick, let’s certainly hope that the GOP isn’t so irrational, that they let their fixation with wanting to pump more taxpayer dollars into the companies associated with waging war, blind them to the reality that starting a war with Iran would not end up being a wise move for America or any other country on the planet. Fortunately, Congress can’t on its own get America involved in a war without agreement from the President – and I really don’t see that happening. A lot of what McConnell is saying, may well be nothing more than ‘saber rattling’ to pacify the Tea Party wing of the GOP; let’s hope so.

      • Dominick Vila

        Yes, it may be saber rattling to satisfy the wishes of the far right, but I doubt the international community knows that. What they see is a senior member of the U.S. government advocating policies designed to derail peaceful coexistence and the solution of a problem that could have resulted in a major war, in an already troubled part of the world.

        • Independent1

          That’s another unfortunate side effect to the whole Tea Party debauchery: Tea Partiers are either not smart enough to realize, or actually don’t care (most likely maybe both of those), that what they’re doing to America is not only harming our country but also damaging America’s image to the world.

  • Ellen Ripley

    Americans need to keep in mind that, in August of 2013, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were calling for the US to provide weapons to ISIS.

    • Dominick Vila

      Short memories, or the political opportunities of the moment, seem to prevail in some circles. Yes, McCain and Lindsey proposed arming the Syrian rebels, including the groups that eventually became known as ISIS or ISIL. The same politicians were in office when President Reagan gave WMDs, training and military intelligence to the Saddam Hussein regime during the Iran-Iraq war, and provided Saddam with satellite intelligence suggesting collusion between the Iranian and the Kurds, with devastating consequences for the latter.
      Unfortunately, remembering things, understanding the consequences of foreign policy strategies, and being accountable for our actions are not our forte.

  • midway54

    We will just wait to see what is in store for the Country when the Plutocratic Party assumes the majority in the House and Senate come January.

  • charleo1

    In his 2002, State of the Union address, President Bush designated three Countries. N. Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Which he stated were exporting terrorism, brutalizing their people, and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. An “Axis of Evil.” A term borrowed from speech writer, and columnists David Frum. He went on to be particularly enthusiastic, and energized about the weaker of the three, the Country of Iraq. Who’s military we had severely weakened a decade earlier. One that had not collaborated in any respect with the attacks of 9/11. That posed no threat to the United States. But, unlike N. Korea, who had just conducted their first underground nuclear test. Or, Iran. A geographically large bear of a Nation. And a real Nation, as opposed to one the British had drawn up after the Second World War. And as the U.S. military knew all too well, would be a nightmare to take on. So, Iraq it was then. Easy pickins, or so the Neocons thought. A gem of a little Country, literally floating on a sea of delicious crude oil. We could, in no time at all, amass a sufficient number of ground troops in Kuwait. And be in Bagdad in a couple of weeks! Once in, we could build a launching pad to tackle Iran. Still tough, but now, they surmised, with Iraq in their hip pocket, totally doable. N. Korea would have to wait. Pakistan, a literal hellhole of terrorist activity, that hated our guts, supported bin Laden, and was the only Country in the World to recognize the Taliban. With it’s growing nuclear arsenal, somehow didn’t make on that Axis of Evil list. In fact, we continue to pay them some 10 billion a year, for their, “support” of our efforts to keep the World’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the World’s most dangerous regimes. Even as they harbor, and aid the Taliban, as they prepare to retake Afghanistan, the minute we leave. In that same speech, Bush also applauded Muammar Gaddafi, for giving up his chemical weapons, and dismantling his nuclear program. Bush was very clear about how it was his administration’s tough stance on insisting Saddam Hussein disarm, that had convinced Gaddafi to see the light, and voluntarily give up his weapons. So, now we’re attempting to make Ayatollah Kohmeni see all the advantages of giving up Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and weakening their defenses. The question I have, in the light of the plight of those we deem to be evil, who didn’t in fact, posses the bomb. Would you give it up, if you were him?

    • Independent1

      Charle, what the Ayatollah is up against is a collapsing economy. The Iranian economy has shrunk by almost 25% over the past 3 years but is still the 18th largest economy in the world.

      One of the attractions the Ayatollah may have in giving up the desire for nuclear weapons is the fact that doing so could really make the Iranian economy jump – which I guess could be a positive or a negative depending on your (the Ayatollah’s) viewpoint.

      See this from CNN-Money dated about a week ago:

      (Some excerpts)

      ABU DHABI (CNNMoney)

      Companies and global investors are sizing up Iran’s economic potential in anticipation of a deal that could end years of isolation.

      Iran and world powers are meeting in Vienna this week in an attempt to reach agreement on reconfiguring its nuclear program before a November 24 deadline.

      It’s far from certain that a deal will be done, but businesses are eager to move quickly to tap the potential of Iran’s energy resources and highly-educated population of 80 million.

      Western firms prepare for Iran to open up

      There’s plenty of oil too. Iran has the second largest proven reserves in the Middle East, behind only Saudi Arabia. At 157 billion barrels, those reserves account for more than 9% of the global total.

      Playing catch up

      Sanctions have done major damage. Iran’s gross domestic product has shrunk by a quarter over the past three years. But at $1.2 trillion, it’s still the world’s 18th largest economy.

      Investment strategists say allowing Iran’s banks to trade in dollars again would give the economy a huge shot in the arm.

      “The growth potential is enormous because you have had an economy which, to a great extent for the past 35 years, has been cut off from the world,” said Eddie Kerman, board member at Turquoise Partners, an investment firm based in Tehran.

      “That’s been particularly the case for the past seven years [in banking],” he said.

      A hot stock market

      Iran’s mature stock market is often overlooked. It is the second biggest in the region by market capitalization (behind Saudi Arabia), and gained 130% last year on hope that sanctions would be lifted following a change of government.

      Foreign investors looking to jump on the bandwagon will find established companies, particularly in manufacturing.

      Unlike economies such as Myanmar and Zimbabwe, which have seen their industrial sectors crumble due to a lack investment, Iran sustains a large manufacturing base.

      Iran is the 15th largest steel producer in the world, and its auto industry accounts for 10% of GDP, making twice as many cars each year as Turkey.

    • Independent1

      Here’s that assessment I mentioned on the tight position Iran is in financially with its economy; which obviously has to be a concern for the Ayatollah. And something he really has to consider going forward:

      From the NYTimes last February:

      I.M.F. Study Details Perils of Iranian Economy

      The International Monetary Fund issued a sobering appraisal of Iran’s economy on Wednesday, warning that years of government mismanagement aggravated by the impact of the West’s antinuclear sanctions had left the country vulnerable to anemic growth and rampant inflation that require urgent attention.

      The I.M.F. appraisal was the organization’s first on-the-ground assessment of the Iranian economy in nearly three years. It was issued as Iran is seeking to undo the Western sanctions through negotiations on its disputed nuclear program.

      A temporary agreement reached in November and put into effect last monthprovided some limited sanctions relief to Iran. But the basic restraints remain in force, and they have limited Iran’s ability to sell oil, its most important export, and have largely paralyzed its ability to conduct international financial transactions electronically.

      • charleo1

        I’m extremely hopeful that the progress that seems to have been made in these latest round of talks is genuine. As you pointed out in your post below, the economic pain imposed on the Iranian people, surely is. And any ground war over WMDs, or anything else with Iran, would be a disaster on so many levels, in a region already unstable, and volatile, as to be unthinkable. Yet, an unbelievably large number in Congress, against strong warnings from our own military against such as undertaking, seem intent on scuttling even the smallest prospect of avoiding one. And, I’ll be damned if I can understand why. None I’ve heard so far, has been able to explained their position in terms that contain a speck of logic, or common sense. The very goal of sanctions, being to induce a recalcitrant adversary to discuss a matter, and agree to certain set of terms in exchange for lifting them. Not pursue more stringent actions, even as they have dropped their own preconditions for talks. And seem to be coming around to our demands. And, it’s not just the usual Republican obstruction to deny Obama any victory. It’s a fair number of Democrats as well. The Israeli lobby, someone suggested. The gist of my comment was simply thus. Given the recent conduct of our own Country. Attacking the weaker States, with ulterior, or dubious motivations. While leaving to their own courses, those Countries who have managed to acquire nuclear weapons. I might risk a lot, if the fruits of my cooperation ultimately turned out to be another operation, “Iranian Freedom.”

        • Independent1

          Yeah! I think it’s extremely unfortunate, that even the Democrats appear to be getting people elected into the Dem party that have become more willing to compromise what are clearly political ethics and/or conformity to party history (i.e., acting against what any rational person would have thought was just using common sense) for what may be either more money in their pocket, or the promise of help in getting re-elected.

          There have been a number of issues where I’ve been extremely disappointed in seeing Democrats side with right-wing Republicans on issues that just don’t make sense to me. The example you mentioned in your post about pushing for more sanctions when the existing ones appear to be working is one of those – and to me one of the most disheartening, was when a number of Dems sided with the GOP to defeat background checks for purchasing guns.

  • tms5510

    your diplomatic effort failed because Iraq had no WMD at 2003.

  • Chester Fields

    To be honest, my big concern is Ted Cruz. The guy seems to have been acting as an agent for a foreign government lately.