Friday, September 18, 2015

Unlikely Détente between Iran and the United States

Some hope that Obama’s nuclear deal will pave the way for a détente between Iran and the United States. But as I repeatedly say on this blog, that is unlikely. The nuclear deal itself faces vehement bipartisan criticism in the Congress and concerns among American allies in the Middle East. Though the Senate vote failed to reach two third majority on September 10 (“Lawmakers Against the Iran Nuclear Deal”; New York Times; September 10, 2015), Senate Republican leader Mitch McConell calls for the third vote on Thursday to reject the deal (“Senate Dems block vote to disapprove of Iran deal”; AP; September 15, 2015). Also, Republicans even suggest to sue the Obama administration for the side deal of this agreement which is not open to the public (“U.S. Republicans Threaten To Sue To Stop Iran Nuclear Deal”; Payvand Iran News; September 12, 2015).

Moreover, proponents of the nuclear deal are not optimistic about the US-Iranian relationship, as Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blames President Barack Obama for abstaining from helping the Green Movement in 2009 (“No Love for Obama”; Weekly Standard Blog; September 9, 2015). Obama may be exploring a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, but his presidential term expires in a year or so. Clinton’s comments substantiates my view that whether Democrats or Republican wins the forthcoming presidential election, tensions between Iran and the United States will be intensified after Obama.

The deal is inherently full of defects and loopholes. Senator Marco Rubio, who is running for Republican presidential nomination, raises ten points to argue why the nuclear deal is so problematic. The most critical one is suspected side deal between Iran and the IAEA, that could jeopardize the whole agreement. Also, inspections are filled with loopholes as Iran can conduct computer modelling for explosive test of nuclear materials. In addition, centrifuges can be moved secretly, and more dangerously, Iranian officials assume that the deal permits them to deny access of UN inspection to the site, if they think it necessary. Along with the side deal and inspection, an imminent problem is that sanction lifting enables Iran to fund terrorists and buy more weapons (“Ten Things That Every American Should Be Concerned About In The Iran Deal”; MarcoRubio.com). Among possible arsenals, American opinion leaders are critically concerned with Iran's ICBM development to destroy the US mainland ("Off-Target: The Folly of Removing Sanctions on Iran’s Ballistic Missiles"; National Interest; August 17, 2015).

Due to these defects, Former Vice President Dick Cheney comments sarcastically that this deal is historically unique to allow the enemy to attack US homeland directly. See the video below.




When sanctions are removed, Russia and China will export their arms to Iran. Prior to the Vienna negotiation this July, Russia announced to sell S-300 anti-air missile, which made Israel frown in displeasure, but Obama approved of it (“Russia-Iran relationship is a marriage of opportunity”; Washington Post; April 18, 2015). This missile is almost identical to the Chinese copy of HQ-9, that caused controversies among NATO and Japanese security experts when China explored to sell it to Turkey and South Korea. Russia’s action inflicts a dreadful impact on Middle East security, and Israel has every reason to question Obama’s Iran policy. Will Russia and China sell more weapons to Iran? I am alert to their export of carrier killer missile to Iran as China demonstrated DF-21D on the 70th day. The Iran nuclear deal can erode maritime dominance of the US Navy in the Persian Gulf.

Also, geopolitics in the Gulf area is inherently unstable. Ever since the Islamic Revolution, Arab neighbors do not trust Iran. This is typically seen in their support to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Arab kingdoms like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan are extremely conservative, and they are ideologically at odds with Ba’athist Iraq. However, Iran’s national ideal to export Shiite revolution upset Sunni monarchies so much that they depended on Iraq to counter the Iranian threat. This alliance was so fragile as shown in Saddam’s invasion to Kuwait latter days. Today, the nuclear deal stimulates Arab anxiety to the Iranian threat so much that they are building up their defense capabilities rapidly. Saudi Arabia holds talks to buy advanced frigates and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-ballistic missile system from Lockheed Martin (“Saudi Arabia, U.S. near deal for two Lockheed warships: sources”; Reuters; September 2, 2015). Also, Kuwait reached an agreement with Italy to purchase 28 Typhoon fighters. The Eurofighter consortium is eyeing on Bahrain for the next Typhoon contract (“Typhoon scores in Kuwait “; IHS Jane’s 360; 15 September 2015).

These movements imply that Europeans are no daydreamer to believe that the nuclear deal with Iran will bring peace and stability to the Gulf area. They endorse the deal because they want new market and energy source after lifting sanctions. France has already found a naval base in the United Arab Emirates during the Sarkozy era (“France Opens First Military Base in Persian Gulf Region”; Washington Post; May 27, 2009). Also, Britain agreed to build a naval base in Bahrain last year. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond told that Britain and France would fill the vacuum in the Middle East in view of the pivot to Asia by Obama’s America (“Britain returns 'East of Suez' with permanent Royal Navy base in Gulf”; Daily Telegraph; 6 December, 2014). In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama so often to urge him to understand the real threat of Iran, and act more steadfast against them (“Obama likely to meet Israel's Netanyahu in November, White House says”; Reuters; September 11, 2015). Now, I would like to ask the following question: When SALT agreements were concluded, did European allies and Japan behaved so upset against the Soviet threat?

In addition to the regional security environment, we should talk about Iranian politics. With or without the nuclear deal, Iran is still unyielding. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated clearly that this deal was an exceptional case, and he still curses the United States and Israel, and sponsors the Assad regime in Syria (“Iranian leader: No wider talks with Washington after nuclear deal”; Washington Post; September 9,2015 and “Khamenei: Israel will no longer exist in 25 years”; Al Monitor; September 9, 2015). The Revolutionary Guard said furthermore that they were ready to annihilate America and Israel (“Iran Welcomes War With The U.S.”; Value Walk;September 4, 2015). President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are supposed to be moderate. However, Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, comments it is too wishful to regard Rouhani as another Gorbachev, because he is not interested in democratizing Shiite theocracy, and has not abandoned expansionism in the neighborhood, while Gorbachev did not suppress freedom quest in Eastern Europe right after the fall of the Berlin Wall (“Iran's Rouhani: He's no Gorbachev”; Los Angels Times; November 24, 2013). In addition, we must bear in mind that the Supreme Leader is inherently hardliner as he represents Shiite theocracy, and his power rests on dogmatic loyalists like the Revolutionary Guard. However moderate the president is, it is extremely difficult to overcome this.

Even if the nuclear deal is concluded, the US-Iranian détente is quite unlikely. American allies in Europe and the Middle East understand this. However, Japanese legislators are even asking a too introductory question to discuss the security bill, whether there is an existential threat in the Persian Gulf. But the threat of Iran is so great. The nuclear deal is no guarantee of regional peace. Never cherish any wishful thinking about it.