President Obama performed a service to the United States, the Middle East and the world by reaching a deal with Iran that will temporarily halt its development of weapons-grade uranium in return for an easing of international economic sanctions.
The agreement reduces the risk of the United States being drawn into a confrontation with Iran. It eases a source of mounting tension in the Middle East. And it gives hope to the world that the United States will use its strength to avoid conflict rather than make pre-emptive attacks. The United States, Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany worked out the agreement with Iran in Geneva on Sunday.
Opponents of the deal say Obama is easing up just as the pressure of sanctions was beginning to bend Iran. But the point of sanctions isnt to apply them to the point of surrender or economic collapse. They are intended to open the way to negotiations. They did, and the president and Secretary of State John Kerry wisely took the opportunity to enter secret talks that produced the deal.
That Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately declared the agreement a historic mistake only confirms that it wasnt. Netanyahu and hard-line backers of Israel in Congress are unable to communicate with Iran beyond saber rattling. That posture leaves no room for peace beyond capitulation and pushed Iran toward the development of nuclear weapons, not away from it. It also raises the risk of a mistake or a misread move triggering a war that could engulf the Middle East.
The agreement also gives a boost to Irans new president Hassan Rouhani and to his efforts to end his countrys isolation from the West. His overtures need to be encouraged and rewarded with tangible gains for Iran. And it should be remembered that harsh sanctions against Iran are not simply punishment for its leaders. The people of Iran, many of them open to the West, suffer the most through high unemployment and a shortage of goods. The United States should be on the side of easing such pain when a favorable opportunity arises.
Willing to talk
During last weeks remembrances of President Kennedy, some conservatives claimed him as their own by citing his Cold War rhetoric against Communist expansion. But it was Kennedy who said, Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
President Obama was not afraid to negotiate, and the world is safer for it.
On Monday, the president rebuffed his hawkish critics appropriately. Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, he said. But its not the right thing to do for our security.
In that, the president might also have been drawing from his mistakes. His tough talk about a red line in Syria almost dragged the United States into an attack on Syria. Fortunately, Kerry offered a remote option for avoiding that course that Syria destroy all its chemical weapons and the Syrian government, with the encouragement of its ally, Russia, agreed.
Obamas peace progress
However embattled the president may be at home, hes doing a good job of keeping the nation out of wars abroad. The United States is out of Iraq and not in Syria. The war in Afghanistan is winding down (albeit too slowly), and now the threat of a nuclear Iran is being, for at least six months, defused.
Congress should resist the alarmists who are making foolish claims about the United States giving in to Iran. The sanctions have not been lifted. They have been eased temporarily, and Irans enrichment of uranium has been safely capped to allow six months for talking. Members of Congress, especially those who worry about the long-term safety of Israel, should give peace a chance.