Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Foreign Policy

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.

Yet 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.....


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