The title of this post may seem odd, considering that I’ve been consistently supporting the nuclear deal with Iran (and indeed, have been supporting some sort of deal like it since 9th grade). But the fact is that the deal that is likely to pass, while necessary, isn’t sufficient to secure peace. A deal involving inspections of facilities that could be used for WMD is exactly what we had before the Iraq war, after all, and it’s almost certain that those favoring war with Iran are going to keep trying, and indeed have already made progress.
The first step of course is to connect Iran to our enemy de jour, ISIS. Top Republicans like Ted Cruz have already been doing just that, referring to “Global Jihadism” in an effort to find a Venn diagram circle big enough to fit such disparate entities as ISIS and Iran. Right wing media like Breitbart and Fox are rolling with it, arguing that there’s no real difference between the two.
All of this will likely have little effect until January of 2017 – Obama, after all, is unlikely to sabotage his own legacy, or admit he signed a bad deal. But a pro-war president, which seems to mean most of the Republican field, could not only sabotage the deal but also instigate direct hostilities against Iran.
How can this be prevented? First, elect Democrats, and elect them carefully. It’s impossible to calculate how much more likely a Democratic Senator is than a Republican one to support peace with Iran, because that involves dividing by zero, but it’s clear that at the moment the Republican party is dedicated to increasing tensions with Iran. Don’t be fooled by ‘mavericks’ like Rand Paul: war with Iran, or even increasing sanctions, certainly flies in the face of his ‘libertarian’ philosophy, but he won’t let that stop him from supporting it. However, the few Democrats (Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, Joe Manchin, and Chuck Schumer) who oppose the deal also represent a danger beyond their small numbers (and, in at least one case, likely imminent criminal convictions): they put a bipartisan gloss on what is in fact a radical attempt to drag America into continuous conflict with Iran – a conflict that has gained us nothing, cost us a great deal, and continues to make peace in the region less and less likely. For Montanans, things are more clear cut: we have a Republican opposing the deal and a Democrat supporting it. However, on the East Coast, it’s clear the party needs to make a decision that conflict with Iran is unacceptable, and supporting further conflict is conduct unbecoming of a Democratic elected official.
Besides politics, however, informed citizens who can see the pressure for war coming from far away can work to prevent further hostilities in other ways. Declaring war generally requires convincing Americans it’s a good idea – which is much easier if they are already pre-disposed to see Iranians as villains. Inhibiting this tendency means educating family and friends about the real situation in Iran, it means respectfully correcting erroneous, bellicose thinking on social media, and it means standing up to blowhards and warmongers. But educators (who are a major readership of this here blog) have a special duty. I know that students of my generation were woefully undereducated about Afghan and Iraqi culture until it was too late. I see a better chance for Iran, partially because people like Stephen Kinzer identified America’s bellicose intentions far in advance, and the process of educating Americans started far earlier. Far more Americans know the history of Muhammed Mossadegh than knew about the backgrounds of Afghanistan or Iraq, and even a generally jingoistic Hollywood has taken notice, including that critical background in films like Argo that could have otherwise presented unmitigated demonization.
The education of Americans, however, is far from sufficient: I still see World History courses literally skipping over the Achemaenid, Parthian, and Safavid civilizations and their accomplishments, and US History teachers largely foregoing discussion of the coups of the 1950’s. Only a tiny percentage of Americans has any understanding of Iran’s political system, or how Iranian human rights compare to American ‘allies’ in the region. This is where the real work of inoculating American citizens against War Fever comes in.
The deal with Iran will not be enough, on its own, to reign in the power of those who have an interest in war with that country. However, this time supporters of war tipped their hands very early, and thoughtful, informed American citizens, who a decade ago could only watch with horror as the surreally irrational and immoral Iraq war happened before their eyes despite their opposition, have a chance at real grassroots resistance through both political and socio-cultural action.