Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone in the US and everywhere else. Seems like a good time to note we've found a way to step back from yet another war, a good thing to be thankful about. Political stuff below - please skip it if you don't want to deal with that on this holiday.

Moving away from war seems good, except to the Republican leadership, who see no success with the interim deal. They've forgotten that if somebody's trying to get something you don't want them to get, then delaying them is generally a victory for your side. And this is more than a delay - the highly-enriched uranium will be processed into an oxide form that is at least an additional step further away from being useful for a nuclear bomb. So six months from now, Iran will be (slightly) further away from a bomb than they are now, and with much more extensive verification. Seems preferable to me over an ongoing program of blowing up large chunks of Iran now and repeating every two or three years as a politically-united Iran rebuilds its nuclear program.

So not much learning on that side of the fence, but I'm not sure the left is much better. Juan Cole's been my go-to expert on the area (I suppose I should like his recent emphasis on climate but I don't think he brings nearly the value added to that as to the Middle East). He strongly supports the deal, but has also strongly opposed the sanctions that made the deal possible. His opposition stemmed partly from the valid argument that they impose real hardship on Iranians, but also from the very dubious claim that they make war more likely, and from the legally ridiculous assertion that western use of financial tools to block oil sales "is a financial blockade, and blockades are acts of war." Nothing in his recent posts indicate a reassessment of that position.

So everyone's prior assessment was right, and the new information about the success of the approach they had opposed doesn't change anything.

And then there's yours truly. I fell to somewhat to the left of Obama, repeatedly buying Seymour Hersh's statements over the years that the US was just a few months away from starting an air war in Iran. I considered it crazy to attack Iran, and contra Obama, that living with a nuclear Iran was better than a bombing campaign. I still think that's true, but the question is whether the threat of a potential attack added to the pressure created by sanctions to get Iran to this agreement.

It seems likely to me that the military threat helped more than harmed the process to agreement. Iranian hardliners may have welcomed an attack as a way to weaken internal opposition but they don't seem ascendant now. So maybe Obama was right about making the threat. Actually carrying through on the threat is a different matter - you are allowed to bluff in this game, although you need to do it carefully.

Anyway, as with the case with the narrow issue of chemical weapons in Syria, we're in something close to a best-case scenario. Thankfully.