Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Great Satan No More

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, June 3, 2014 --  

Getting a nuclear deal with Iran is far more important than getting nuclear concessions.

As talks drag on between Western powers and Iran over the country's feared nuclear program, diplomats have begun to worry about lack of progress given a looming July 20 deadline to reach a final agreement. If negotiations fail, the region could be put back on the same war footing that existed in the years before an interim deal was reached last November.

Such a setback would be terribly unfortunate — not just because of an increased risk of war, but because it would perpetuate bizarre  four decade period of enmity between Iran and the West, especially the United States.

Ever since the hostage crisis, the hatred of Iran's regime for the United States has been so extreme that it sounds comical from a historical  perspective. Slogans of "the Great Satan" and "Death to America!" sound more like a parody than serious policy.

When you consider that the United States and Iran are natural allies, not enemies, then these slogans sound even more strange.  The two countries have no shared borders or maritime disputes. And they share the very same concerns about regional rivals like Russia and Saudi Arabia (home for most of the September 11 bombers despite being a nominal US ally.)

Only Israel, the tiny US protege on the eastern Mediterranean, serves to exacerbate tensions. Over the top rhetoric from over the top Iranian leaders has understandably terrified Israelis.  Any deal with Iran will only come with the Israeli government kicking and screaming.

So it should.  The alternative to a deal is a return to brinkmanship and threats of war.  Israel might want this, but for America to join an attack on its natural ally would be crazy. Iran's more Western-oriented elite love Americans (almost as many of their relatives live in California as Israelis' relatives live in Manhattan) and the nation's more conservative country folk will probably come around within a generation.

An attack on Iran would change all this, making the nation's people hate America as much as their Ayatollah already does. The Iranian people, even those who are Western-oriented, support the country's nuclear program as a matter of national pride. Consider that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, currently under house arrest, worked to forward Iran's nuclear program when serving as prime minister in the 1980s.1

The trick for the negotiators is to find a way to slow down the Iranian nuclear program enough to make Israel and its allies in the United States comfortable with moving forward, while still allowing the Iranian regime and its people to keep the program going as a point of national pride.

The best case scenario is a grudging nuclear deal that both sides dislike, leading to reduced sanctions on Iran and economic benefits that the Iranian people would enjoy. Robbed of their Great Satan bogeyman, the Islamist regime in Tehran would face increased pressure to provide prosperity.  They would have to moderate and focus on governing like the Chinese Communist Party did over the last two decades, ultimately leading to a prosperous country and a regime that (like that of China) is ideological in name only.

On the other hand, if Iran fails in this march toward prosperity, then the people will have nobody to blame but their own leaders. Youth unemployment in Iran officially stands at 27 percent.2 If economic conditions fail to improve for Iran's growing population of young adults, and the regime can no longer blame the West, the country will likely witness a repeat of the turmoil from five years ago when street protests nearly toppled the regime.

Both scenarios promise a much more Western-oriented and much less threatening Iran -- exactly the kind of country that you might be able to trust with nuclear weapons. But ironically, both scenarios first require a deal to dismantle Iran's nuclear program. For this reason, Iran's concessions really aren't so important. Even if they do maintain the ability to make a nuclear weapon in the future, simply making peace with the West will put events in motion that will make it so this doesn't so much matter.

Western negotiators have to get just enough concessions out of the Iranians for the Obama adminstration to be able to say yes. As Iran moves back toward the West, its nuclear threat will be diminished, and it will return to its natural place as an American ally.

Related Web Columns:

Fire the Memory Sticks, September 28, 2010

Deal With It
The Inevitibility of a Nuclear Iran
, July 20, 2010

They Don't Need Us, June 16, 2009

Unstoppable Disaster
The Coming Conflict with Iran
, December 11, 2007


1. Wall Street Journal, Challenger Mousavi Has Conservative Past, June 17, 2009

2. The Guardian, Young Iranians ‘Clausterphobic' as Culture is Forced Online but Accessed in Private, June 3, 2014