Does Obama Have the Courage to Pursue Peace with Iran?

Congress and Netanyahu stand in his way.


Settling the nuclear controversy with Iran peacefully will require courage on President Obama's part. Does he have what it will take to resist those who prefer war?

While Obama has yet to stake out a promising unequivocal position, if he does, the obstacles would remain formidable. The two biggest are the U.S. Congress and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even as positive signs emanated from Geneva, where talks took place last week, the war party in Congress was pushing new economic sanctions against the long-suffering Iranians, who have gone without needed consumer goods, including medicines, because the U.S. government has cut Iran off from the international trading system.

Since Congress controls the sanctions regime, it ultimately has the power to destroy the negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 nations. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, two Iran experts with experience on the National Security Council, emphasize this potential obstruction to peace, which Obama inflicted on himself. "During Obama's presidency," the Leveretts write,

many U.S. sanctions that started out as executive order sanctions have been written into law, with conditions for their removal that go well beyond progress on the nuclear issue.  These conditions include requirements that Tehran cut its ties to groups like Hizballah that the United States foolishly designates as terrorist organizations and effectively transform the Islamic Republic into a secular liberal republic.

The implications are ominous. Even if the Iranian government were to agree to stop enriching uranium beyond the low level needed to produce electricity, limit the number of centrifuges operated for enrichment, and accept broadly intrusive surprise inspections by the International Atomic Energy Commission — all of which the Iranians may be willing to accept — the war party could refuse to lift the sanctions on the grounds that Iran had not fulfilled these other extraneous and unreasonable demands, which would amount to regime change and humiliating subordination to the United States and Israel. (For a report on what Iran may have offered in Geneva, see this.)

The obstruction, however, is not all in Congress. The Leveretts write that

Obama administration officials and many pundits are arguing, in effect, that "transparency is not enough."

They are arguing that Washington must become, in effect, the co-manager of Iran's nuclear program, determining which Iranian nuclear facilities must be closed and which might be allowed to remain opening, determining not how many additional centrifuges Iran might be allowed to install in the future but how many centrifuges it must dismantle to satisfy the United States and Israel.

No one should expect Iran to agree to such demands. As a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — unlike the region's nuclear monopolist and U.S. ally, Israel — Iran may legally enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Moreover, Iran is an old and large country that inevitably will play an influential role in the region. Any sign that President Hassan Rouhani would accept demands perceived to subordinate Iran to the United States and Israel would only strengthen the hardest of Iranian hardliners and destroy any chance for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

That would apparently suit the war party just fine. It would also suit the Netanyahu government, the war party's close accomplice in the effort to scotch the peace talks with Iran. Just as things are beginning to look promising, Netanyahu is stepping up his war talk, deepening his conflict with Obama. The Guardian reports, "Just days after the first round of global nuclear talks with Iran, a rift appears to be emerging between Israel and its closest ally, the United States. Israel's prime minister … called on the US to step up pressure on Iran, even as American officials hinted at the possibility of easing tough economic pressure."

Netanyahu has made it clear that he favors decisive military action against Iran if its nuclear facilities are not fully dismantled, but as Israeli commentators point out, a U.S. agreement with Iran would make that impossible. So Netanyahu has an incentive to undercut an agreement.

All this comes against an incongruous background: U.S. and Israeli intelligence says Iran has no plans to build nuclear weapons. (Its leadership has issued a fatwa against weapons of mass destruction.) Moreover, even if it did build one, Iran would be deterred from offensive action by America's and Israel's overwhelming nuclear arsenals.

Obama must stand up to Netanyahu and the war party.

This column originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  1. Left one obstruction out: the stubborn, arrogant, self-imposed expert opinions of one Barack H. Obama.

    Although maybe you meant *including* that ever-present obstruction.

  2. Sheldon Richman believes the two biggest nurdles are the U.S. Congress and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Sheldon Richman is a total fucking idiot. There is one obstacle to peace with Iran and that is Iran's government. That's why Iran is at odds with countries OTHER than America and Israel, such as all of Iran's neighbor's except India and maybe Armenia.

    1. Indeed. The idea that Iran wants peace is absurd. They want nuclear weapons, Hezbollah operating everywhere, the destruction of Israel, and the destruction of the US if they can manage it. (They can't, totally, but a few EMP nukes launched from medium-range missiles off our coasts would come close.) They are following an apocalyptic theology (Google "Twelvers") that will do anything, including losing their own country, to get what they want.

      Plus, their economy is in dire straits due to sanctions, and they are having a population bust due to women not having kids. They know they have to go to war sooner rather than later.

      1. You got everything right except for why Iran is in dire economic straits-it's their own policies not the sanctions, which India bypasses. Also, Ahmadinejad was the real 12th Imam lunatic. Not sure how intensely the others in government believe that but they're nuts. One of the few good things Barry has done is to legalize the MEK along with Canada. Hopefully they are lying about dropping their violent tactics.

        1. Their own economic policies do hurt them, but I think the sanctions have an effect as well.

      2. " The idea that Iran wants peace is absurd"

        I agree with this and anyone thinking that Iran wants peace will be led astray. Iran already has peace. They are not at war with the US or any other nation. What they want is an end to sanctions.

        Your theological musing are entertaining but I wouldn't advise anyone to take them too seriously.

        1. Of course! Because everyone thinks just like us.

    2. Absolutely! And when the first broad-based serious challenge to the Council of Clerics that rules Iran erupted in the Spring of 2009, the pro-secular "Green Revolution," the Obama Admin froze like a deer in the headlights and said nothing for almost a full week, while the Iranian regime shot people down in the streets and unleashed their SS, the Basiji, who hacked people to death with meat axes.

      As it is, Iran still considers itself at War with the US, is the world's largest global sponsor of terrorism, supports terrorist regimes like Syria's Assad and Hezbollah, and is responsible not only for hundreds of American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is also fomenting civil war in Iraq. Perhaps when they stop doing all that, peace becomes more possible...

      1. Reason's support of Obama's 'do nothing say nothing' response to the Green Revolution was a disgrace that should discredit the nonintervention peacenazi clowns forever. It will take at least a decade for that shame to rinse off of Reason.

        1. It is so wonderful to see all this righteous indignation against "non-interventionism", which is not a definition but a negation.

          The Ayn Rand Institute has a page on their position regarding the current dominant strain of libertarianism, and they rightfully indict "a policy of rabid anti-Americanism which they pass off as 'non-interventionism'."

          It is stupid and suicidal to be the policeman of the world, and to get wrapped up in all these "entangling alliances" (here I break with ARI wrt Israel), but the evils and transgressions of Iran have been well-documented, and we have let these mystic bozos get away with it for wayyyy too long.

          1. The ARI's foreign policy set is extremely well thought out. Last I checked, they were in favor of the USG giving moral but not monetary support. Thankfull, it seems sanity and an attachment to planet Earth are slowly seeping back into libertarianism after being chased out by the Iraq aftermath.

      2. Don't really know what you expect Obama to have done to stop people in Iran from being attacked by meat axes. The 'green movement' was never really pro-secular but they do seem to have inherited power in Iran without anyone being meat axed, at least not recently.

        I hadn't heard that Iran was responsible for American deaths in Afghanistan. Do these Americans have names? Care to share?

    3. Precisely. We could have peace with Iran tomorrow if 1) it disclosed all of its nuke-making activities and dismantled it all, and 2) they return our embassy to us and apologize for having occupied it for 34 years and counting.

      1. I don't think the US gives a damn about Iran's nuclear programme. With or without nuclear technology, peaceful or military, Iran will be or has the potential to be a major regional player. That is the threat Iran poses.

        North Korea withdrew from the Non proliferation treaty and carries on its nuclear programme to this day and the US has never lifted a finger to stop it.

    4. Is "nurdles" slang for international problems involving nuclear arms?

    5. "all of Iran's neighbor's"

      I don't think it all that unusual for a country in the middle east to be surrounded by hostile neighbours, but in the case of Iran this is not true. Both Turkey and Iraq have fairly solid relationships with Iran. Turkey worked with Brazil to iron out a solution to Iran's nuclear issue and the ruling party of Iraq, Dawa, was exiled in Iran during the war with Saddam, and many Iraqis from Dawa actually sided with Iran and fought against Saddam's regime.

  3. Another obstacle to peace with Iran will be the need to take the public's mind off of ObamaCare. This will be especially strong around the time the penaltax finally kicks in and the exchanges still don't work. Invading Iran will be the exact hail mary he will need to salvage his presidency.

    All he needs is enough Dems and Repubs in Congress to vote for it (or perhaps won't need Congressional approval at all!). The media will call it a "good war" and then he'll be set.

    1. Combining the geography of Afghanistan with the size of Alaska. That should be fun.

    2. He's already launched a preemptive strike. Look up "Operation Olympic Games."

      Note that the official policy of the government is to treat a cyberattack on the US as equivalent to an armed attack. Sort of puts us in a bind.

  4. I would say the biggest obsticle with peace with Iran is the Iranians. They have to want peace too. Does Sheldon have connections with the Mullahs or any reason beyond wishful thinking to believe they do?

    unlike the region's nuclear monopolist and U.S. ally, Israel ? Iran may legally enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

    And you trust that this is for peaceful purposes why? It is in Iran's interest to get the bomb. So why would you assume they won't? And once they have the bomb, you can expect their enemies in the region to do the same, especially if the US walks away. Maybe a nuclear arms race in the middle east is a good thing. But that is what we are talking about here. Lets be honest and at least admit that instead of just alluding to "pursuing peace" whatever that means.

    1. "I would say the biggest obsticle with peace with Iran is the Iranians. They have to want peace too "

      Yes, Iran must end its sanction and its threats of war against America.

    2. I don't see any indication that the people of Iran want war. Don't let political or religious leaders in the country speak for the bulk of Iranians. Also, don't you see the sick irony in the United States being the nuclear police? After all, I can only think of one country in world history that has dropped a nuclear weapon on a civilian population. It killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The country that did that shouldn't have a moral monopoly on who gets to have nuclear weapons.

  5. Congress and Netanyahu stand in his way.

    I guess the Iranians are just bystanders in Sheldon's little personal morality play. Would be too much to ask that Reason at least acknowledge the possibility that other nations might have their own motivations for doing some things and that events in the world are not always the result of American actions?

    1. Not just America, John, but those tricksy Jooos, too.

  6. Whatever Obama does foreign policy-wise he will get wrong, for sure. But it's doubtful whether he could achieve peace with Iran even if the legends about him being able to heal the world were true. Does Sheldon believe that the only reason Obama hasn't healed the world is because of insufficient enough courage?

    1. Yes yes he does. Sheldon never got the memo about the enemy getting a vote. He thinks we can have peace with whomever we want whenever we want. We just have to give peace a chance man.

      1. The USG needs to be more humble AND the USG has the power to determine EVERYTHING.


  7. So if Congress and those pesky Juden would just get out of the way, the IRC and IRGC will cut off the Hezzies, renounce their apocalyptic fanaticism, stop hanging gays and apostates and hug the Lightworker to another Nobel Prize!

    1. I'm getting a little tired of every foreign policy problem in the sandbox getting blamed on Israel. I do believe that AIPAC carries more weight in this country than is good for us, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Israel manipulates our country for its own gain. But it's not a Jewish conspiracy that several countries in the immediate vicinity have publicly declared their intent to work towards the destruction of the Israeli state. To the best of my knowledge, Israel has never vowed to wipe Iran off the map. I also believe that the Israelis are rational actors, and I fail to see how Israel would believe it benefits from an American invasion of Iran unless they're just really curious to see what a nuke looks like up close.

  8. Obama must stand up to Netanyahu and the war party.

    let's play a game - how many false assumptions are included in this sentence?
    Working backward, the inference is that the GOP is the war party. Really? Are their not Dems with similar war boners, particularly regarding Iran? These were the folks all for launching on Libya and some on Syria for much less than nukes.
    Obama standing up to anyone implies his having some conviction to stand up for, which implies his having a conviction period. He's never had one of those.
    Netanyahu is less touchy/feely about Iran but its last president was talking about wiping out Israel, so Benji has more skin in the game than BO.
    Who's next?

    1. I don't think Richman was referring to the GOP when he said "the war party." In my experience, it's a pretty common term used by anti-war (especially anti-war libertarian) writers to refer to the bipartisan pro-war establishment.

  9. It's not about courage. It's a much simpler question;
    "What's in it for me?"

    If it is politically expedient at the moment to appear the wise, calm-headed leader striving for peace and that helps his poll numbers, then he will.
    On the other hand if he wants to seem "muscular" and "strong" or if he needs a distraction from the disastrous rollout of his health plan or whatever the scandal dujour is? Bombs away!

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  11. This presupposes a sizable contingent within the Iranian power structure (aka the mullahs) that actually wants to resume normal relations with the US and recognize Israel's right to exist. I'm not wholly convinced such a bloc exists.

    It seems like the Iranian "street" is down, but the aftermath of the Green Revolution set that cause back by a decade at least. This current president is, IMO, a reaction to Ahmadinejad's comparative extremism and, frankly, lack of sophistication. Nobody would mistake the guy for a scholar, and I think the brief flirtation with revolutionary populism produced some backlash resulting in the current guy. So--again, IMHO--I think Rouhani's election represents the hard-liners attempt to soothe Western fears, not a genuine desire for a sea-change in Iranian foreign policy.

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  13. Sheldon Richman: 1. Just another self-hating Jew?; 2. On Iran's payroll?;or 3. one of those "liberal", anti-Israel Jews who doesn't get that he's cutting his own throat?

  14. ...the region's nuclear monopolist and U.S. ally, Israel...

    I don't know exactly how you define "the region", but Pakistan actually shares a border with Iran and is nuclear. Of course, Pakistan is a scary US ally too...

  15. Or we could just be realists and acknowledge that a US war with Iran (which is what Netanyahu wants, unless he prefers to just wage an Israeli war on Iran with no outside help) would be expensive, indecisive (is Iraq more or less a source of armed Islamist militancy since the invasion? How about Libya?), unpopular among the US electorate (look at polls about Syria--the US public decisively wants out of the Middle Eastern war business), an open-ended quagmire (Afghanistan), and a huge complication in international relations for no real benefit. (I mean apart from the defense contractors who live off of taxpayer money, obviously.)

    Islam and saber-rattling demagogy against Israel are how the corrupt Iranian kleptocrat politicians justify demanding more money from their subjects, basically the same purpose that scaremongering about terrorism and saber-rattling demagogy against Iran serves for the corrupt kleptocrat politicians in the US.

    What, they're going to slip a nuke to Hezbollah? Why would Hezbollah want to set off a nuclear bomb right next door to themselves? (And no, I don't think being Muslims makes them any less self-serving or pseudo-rational than anyone else, certainly not less so than the deranged apocalyptic-utopian fantasies of the Trotskyists like Bush and his Israeli equivalents who think the US government is an invincible arm of God's will on earth and buy into Fukuyama's "End of History" bullshit.)

    1. Sorry man, Bush is a Trotskyist is really funny and you are really stupid and just trolling, given your inability to even spell demagougery, piss off troll.

      1. You mean "demagoguery"? That's a different word than "demagogy", but you spelled "demagoguery" wrong, FWIW.

        The neoconservatives subscribe to an apocalyptic-utopian vision in which human society is reaching or has reached a perfected state and the progress of human history is now complete, apart from bringing straggler societies into line with the perfected utopian paradigm--a task for which they see the military conquest of "backward" societies by "progressive" societies as justified if not obligatory, as politics in their view boils down to a struggle between "progressive" and "regressive" factions to coerce or eliminate one another.

        This is just Marxist revolutionary doctrine with "communism" picked out and replaced by "democratic capitalism." Irving Kristol may have picked up some of it from hanging around with Trotskyists while he was young. In any case, Fukuyama's thesis that the entire purpose of history was to produce societies like the United States is the same kind of pseudo-Hegelian reasoning employed by radical Marxists, and its extension to a doctrine of justifying coercion and violence as "historically necessary" is pure Lenin.

      2. He was right in almost every regard, and you are wrong about Bush, and demagogy is a word, and you should avoid run on sentences, this is a prime example of what it looks like and you can also examine your last post for a good example, okay thanks bye.

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  17. For those of you that support Iran's right to nuclear technology, take a good look at the creation of the Shia Crescent, the new Islamic Persian Empire; Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

    Look at the population demographics of the oil fields of the Arabian Gulf; Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar; they contain significant populations of Shia Muslims.

    Review the primary tenet of the Shia; not to recognize any sovereign authority except that of the Shia religion. The Head of the Shia is the Grand Ayatollah in Iran.

    Look at Iran's actions; spreading their fanatical religion in South America, to Mexico and the borders of the U.S.A.

    And lastly, Iran's growing nuclear program. Once it gets its nuke, Iran will hold a knife to the throat of the Arabian Gulf's oil producing countries; it will be an existential threat not just to the West, but to the entire world.

    The Bahrain Protocol, Amazon Kindle's new thriller spells out the truth in a gripping novel about the U.S.' withdrawal from the world stage; and if the U.S. won't stop Iran, Israel will-with an interesting new partner- Saudi Arabia.

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