The Iran Deal Wasn't Revolutionary
By Robin Wright
Those clarion pivots —
Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom or the fall of the Berlin Wall — are
enchanting. It’s tempting simply to credit a visionary leader, the human
spirit, or a historical trajectory. Change, however, is often foggier. It takes
a convergence of causes also selfish, crudely commercial, strategically
pragmatic, and more reactive than altruistic. In apartheid South Africa and the
communist states of Eastern Europe, isolating societies and economies
indefinitely proved too expensive, too impractical, too unsustainable. After a
war that killed millions of people, Washington and Hanoi restored relations
over the economic lures of new Asian markets for America and of foreign
investment for Vietnam. Despite enduring ideological differences, they also
shared a common fear of a rising China.
This year, Iran illustrates the density of change. For almost two generations —
through six American presidencies — relations between the United States and
Iran have been toxic. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini warned
against “Westoxication,” or infection by foreign culture and political ideas.
In 1979, he praised the Iranian students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran
(to the students’ surprise, prolonging the crisis) after Washington agreed to
take in the ailing shah. Khomeini pronounced, “America is the Great Satan, the
wounded snake” — a label that stuck. Final negotiations to free the 52
diplomats were so tortured that American and Iranian envoys wouldn’t meet in
the same country, much less the same room.
this July 14, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats shook hands to seal a deal to
check Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb. Over 20 months of talks, U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
spent more time with each other than with any other foreign leader.
Relationships bloomed across their staffs. After 36 years — almost twice as
long as it took for the United States and Vietnam to restore relations — minds
had changed: This August, 76 percent of Iranians surveyed said they approved of
the deal with the Great Satan.
The United States likes to claim credit for forcing Iran to the negotiating
table under the most punitive international sanctions ever imposed on any
country. Many other factors intersected, however, to produce conditions
conducive to real diplomacy. It was a long slog to cooperation — and one that’s
far from over. Change can be change without being a pivot.
This is my essay on "the fog of change." Read on.....