In a polarized, war-weary world, the significant thing about the “Iran deal” is the hope it provides. The Iran agreement points us toward diplomacy instead of war. It lifts up talking and listening instead of violent confrontation. It demonstrates nations seeking creative solutions instead of perpetuating conflict.
The Vienna Accord gives reason to hope that international relations can be conducted on the basis of well-reasoned pragmatism instead of clashing ideologies. If it is ratified and put into effect, it is a setback for extremists everywhere. For this reason, the critics of the Iran agreement aim to discredit it. From their perspective, this alternative method of conducting foreign policy cannot be allowed to gain a foothold.
The CIA and British intelligence orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953. They installed the puppet regime of the shah, which ensured foreign access to Iranian oil, and trained brutal secret police to torture and repress dissent. The United States sided with Saddam Hussein in the catastrophic Iran-Iraq war, facilitating Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Iranians, including satellite technology to identify military and civilian targets. By any measure, recent history provides Iran with substantial cause for hostility and distrust of “the Great Satan.” Iranian hardliners believe there is no basis for trust or cooperation.
American critics, similarly, characterize Iran as part of “the axis of evil,” a purveyor of terror and a destabilizing force in the region. (Yet, ISIS is the most destabilizing force in the region, and the seeds for this menace were sown by us in our disastrous war in Iraq). They support Hamas and Hezbollah. They oppress the Baha’i and other religious minorities. They have a bad human rights record. They are adversaries of our two principal allies in the region: Israel and Saudi Arabia. American hardliners believe there is no basis for trust or cooperation.
Given this standoff, it is remarkable that the international community, led by the Americans, and their counterparts on the Iranian side forged an agreement in Vienna based on mutually beneficial common ground. Consider their constructive, more mature approach. The diplomats and scientists of the international community didn’t argue morality, but focused instead on achieving a reasoned accord. The Iranians dropped the “Great Satan” rhetoric long enough to listen to what Secretary of State John Kerry had to say.
Hardliners on both sides lack the capacity for humble self-reflection and reasoned pragmatism. They each behold pure evil in the other, never the beam in their own eyes, and each holds their view with equal ferocity. War is desirable to them, if for no other reason than that it validates their toxic worldviews. But the patient diplomats and scientists in Vienna seem cut from a different cloth. They engaged each other and achieved worthy goals in international affairs without resorting to violence.
Iran has been effectively blocked from obtaining a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years and has agreed to verification measures that will provide improved access to its entire nuclear program. Comprehensive, transparent inspections cover centrifuge use, production plants, uranium mines and nuclear technology. Iran is forbidden from enriching uranium beyond energy-grade vs. weapons-grade. In exchange, sanctions will be lifted and considerable Iranian assets unfrozen, enabling Iran’s damaged economy to get back on its feet.
The agreement strengthens the moderates in Iran and sends a message of hope to the young, secular, tech-savvy people of Iran who are tired of the rule of the mullahs. Religious liberty, human rights and greater cooperation may not be right around the corner in Iran, but they have a better chance of taking hold by strengthening Iran’s civil society than they do with another destructive, costly war.
It may not always be possible to avoid war, but no effort should be spared, no matter the cost, to avoid it. The diplomats and scientists in Vienna representing the great world powers and the nation of Iran seem to share this wisdom. May their efforts bear much fruit and may their tribe increase.
Rev. J. Mark Davidson serves as pastor of the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill and is the moderator of the peace discernment process (2010-2016) in the Presbyterian Church (USA).