While six years of intense saber rattling on the subject of Iran has understandably left most Americans a little bit numb in terms of hearing policy specifics, the time has come to listen and listen closely. World powers seem to have arrived at a historic window of opportunity that could pave the way for normalizing relations and drastically increasing stability in an important region. Americans should insist that Washington not allow politics to muck it up.
The uncharacteristic international cooperation that saw what was sure to be a disastrous military affair in Syria subverted by diplomacy, has perhaps inspired several key states that suddenly seem willing and able to broker the sort of agreement that would end Iran's isolation from the rest of the world. The U.S. (or at least the White House), France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China have all signaled a willingness to put together a deal that actually has the chance of sticking.
This is no small feat and given how fragile such relationships can be, it is not a window that is likely to linger if we fail to seize this opportunity. Several pundits have compared it to our Nixon goes to China moment, a fair comparative in terms of both scope and magnitude. So, if this makes so much sense, what can get in the way you might ask?
For starters, there's Israel. Any western strategy short of missile strikes on suspected nuclear targets seems unlikely to beget anything short of scorn from the Netanyahu regime. That means that the U.S. would have to move forward, not only without the blessing of its strongest ally in the region, but in outright opposition to Israel's position. That is not an easy thing to do from either a strategic or political perspective, but the potential rewards of normalizing relations with Iran warrant snubbing the Israeli government if necessary.
There's also Saudi Arabia. Our second most important ally in the region has also been outwardly against the path being sought, mostly because Iran would become a major player in their shared theater, possibly eclipsing the Saudi Kingdom in terms of regional and global influence. Saudi Arabia's influence on U.S. policy might not be what it was when there were Bushes in office, but with both the Saudis and the Israelis lined up against the White House's position, it makes for a more significant bloc of opposition, while providing additional ammo for Republicans keen on subverting the President.
Lastly, there is an election year Congress. A Senate proposal for sanctions that, if passed, would quickly close the window of opportunity and likely ensure years and probably decades of strained relations, has a fair amount of support. The sanctions would also increase the chance for regional conflict (Israel and Iran locking horns is undoubtedly more likely were our relations with Iran to grow colder) as well as the opportunity for the country to become a flash-point for something much bigger, as we would be unlikely to any longer see eye to eye with Russia or China, were such a conflict to ignite.
The sanctions are being driven by Republicans, who may just be trying to foil a potential foreign policy victory for the President, may just be kowtowing to AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobbying group that is extremely influential with both parties, or may just be reflexively banging the drums of war, as they have been doing on the subject since even before Senator McCain sang Bomb-Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran to a Beach Boy melody in 2007. But the sanctions have also gained a surprising amount of support from Democrats, including Charles Schumer, who's been the man across the aisle beating the drum the loudest and newcomer Corey Booker, who's been the most noticed.
In the last decade, we've watched millions die and trillions of dollars get flushed down the toilet, while terrorist groups have strengthened, oil prices have skyrocketed and the region has become less stable than ever. If anyone thinks that more war in that theater is the answer, they haven't been paying attention. The current path sought by the White House, our allies and even the traditional roadblocks (China and Russia) does the most to ensure we do not have to go down that road. The proposed sanctions do the opposite. I know this sounds naive and idealistic, but I sincerely hope that common sense trumps politics on this ever-so-important issue.