Home » AMERICAS » Chamberlain or Churchill: How the Iranian Nuclear Deal Could Define the Obama Presidency

Chamberlain or Churchill: How the Iranian Nuclear Deal Could Define the Obama Presidency

After decades of disagreement and conflict, world leaders united to establish a multilateral deal to limit Iranian nuclear production in return for temporary sanction relief. The deal took heat from both top Republicans and Israel, who agreed that this will not stifle Iranian goals to produce nuclear weapons, and will be what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “historic mistake.”  Regardless of their protests, the deal struck between the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China, (collectively known as P5+1) and Iran was a landmark moment in the history of nuclear diplomacy and cooperation between hostile nations. Whether or not it will be historic for the right reasons is yet to be seen; its impact on President Obama’s legacy, however, is definite.

Foreign policy has always been the president’s strong suit. Winding down the war in Iraq, killing Osama Bin Laden, preventing mass acts of terror on home soil, all contributing to the masking of his shaky domestic accomplishments. For a variety of reasons (certainly not all his own), the last two Congresses have been exceptional in their incompetence (they rank first and third in least number of bills passed since 1945). Obama has seen more success internationally, though the recent NSA scandals and falling out with Israel have certainly hampered those endeavors. After garnering political success with the government shutdown, the bungling rollout of the Affordable Care Act brought his approval levels to the lowest of his entire tenure. Needless to say, the deal with Iran could not have come at a better time.

The deal struck has a variety of concessions and gains for both sides. For Iran, these concessions include halting all enrichment of uranium above 5%, neutralizing its stockpile above that percentage, stopping its progress on enrichment capacity, and allowing daily access by IAEA inspectors. For its part, the P5+1 is providing “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanction] relief,” allowing potential revenue of up to $7 billion while avoiding particularly destructive sanctions on the oil and finance sectors. Before we go hailing this has the definitive peace in our time (interpreting that as you will), it should be acknowledged that this is a temporary, six month deal that will precipitate a permanent deal to come at the end of the six months. Regardless, this deal could define Obama’s entire presidency, whether for better or for worse.

The pessimist angle on the deal would be to say that it legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program, grants them additional revenue to fuel their oppressive regime, and fools the P5+1 into believing they have garnered peace. The first point is unavoidable: the deal does legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, and is perhaps too hopeful in encouraging Iran to pursue nuclear power for peaceful purposes (why are they so adamant about “peaceful” nuclear power with the fourth largest proven oil reserves in the world?). The revenue point is also fact, though the revenue is largely the result of mineral export. The P5+1 also does believe they have garnered peace, but are in no way fooled into believing that this peace is permanent or even strong; as President Obama himself stated, it is merely “a first step.”

With that being said, why is this deal a landmark achievement that could define Obama’s legacy? This was diplomacy of the highest degree: world powers (currently at odds with each other) uniting to fetter a potential catastrophe, using a fair balance of give-and-trade. Opponents of the deal, as usual, have no replacement. They retain a hard-line stance, often advocating a pre-emptive military strike. Those opponents favoring negotiation often do not understand how the concept works, seeking instead to give nothing and receive all their demands.

Should the deal succeed (a permanent deal is struck within the next six months), it should be the cap to Obama’s foreign legacy. In one of the most volatile regions in the world, establishing a deal with the nation most hostile to the US and the West would be no small agreement. It would be the definitive way to deal with aggressive adversaries and could inspire future leaders to use diplomacy over intimidation, negotiation over belligerence, optimism over pessimism. If successful to its fullest extent, with the elimination of an aggressive nuclear program and economic prosperity for Iran, the agreement could help ease tension across the Middle East and restore the ideals that America has worked so hard and aggressively for.

If the deal fails, it would be disastrous for the president’s legacy. Iran would pursue their nuclear agenda, Israel would still be at odds with the president (and still advocating a potential military strike), and Obama’s ability to negotiate with both allies and enemies would be significantly hampered. Though he has three years left to turn things around, the success or failure of the deal would cap his second term. He would either be remembered as the man who saved us from potential catastrophe, or a leader with little ability to negotiate successfully either at home or abroad. In either case, it seems that the position of “greatest threat to America” has shifted sharply out of the Middle East and straight towards Washington D.C.

-Harry McAlevey

About Harry.McAlevey

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