Can a nuclear deal change Iran?Jun 8, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 37 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Many supporters of an Iranian nuclear agreement believe that a deal could help to moderate, even democratize, Iranian society. Barack Obama’s constant allusions to the transformative potential of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for U.S.-Iranian relations suggest that he believes an agreement, which would quickly release tens of billions of dollars to the Islamic Republic and reintegrate it into the global financial system, would improve the clerical regime’s behavior. Democrats and Republicans have often touted the transformative power of global markets; our bipartisan China policy is built upon this pedestal. As much as free-trading corporate Republicans, the Clinton administration loved advancing the idea that business spreads amity. A former State Department adviser to Richard Holbrooke and now the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Vali Nasr, wrote a well-received book, Forces of Fortune, which argues that commerce and capitalism are the best ways to vanquish the Middle East’s demons, authoritarianism and Islamic militancy. Although Obama likely doesn’t care too much for Nasr, who also wrote a scathing critique of the president’s foreign policy, he’s advocating the scholar’s medicine for the Islamic Republic.
A cynic might suggest that such apostles of economic determinism are reverse-engineering their ultimate goal: a smaller U.S. military role overseas. Economic “engagement” tends to gain ground in Washington when the alternatives, war and containment, are too unpleasant and expensive to contemplate. Like war-averse enthusiasts of sanctions, trade diplomatists are essentially saying you can have it all: greater global security and prosperity without the blood and guilt of Pax Americana. There is certainly a wide overlap between those in Washington who have already conceded the Islamic Republic atomic weapons and those who find the president’s developing nuclear deal to be an imperfect, but still pretty splendid, arrangement.
But it’s best not to be too cynical. Although most fans of realpolitik do have a soft spot for the gospel that American commerce can soothe the foreign savage beast, Obama has never been a convincing practitioner of this morality-lite school. He’s too uncomfortable with power politics and American hegemony. He cares too deeply about transforming the United States and mirror-imaging his national aspirations overseas. Quintessentially an American liberal, the president really does seem to believe that familiarity, even with Islamist regimes, ought not to breed contempt.
Many Iranians, too, cling to the idea that domestic liberalization cannot happen unless foreigners—principally Americans—do the right thing. Prominent dissidents have advocated trade and diplomacy with the West as a means of opening up their own society. A huge fan of the president’s foreign policy, the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, recently highlighted Akbar Ganji, a famous journalist and dissident who was once a hard-core member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as an example of an Iranian democrat who believes that the West’s nuclear diplomacy with the clerical regime could lead, eventually, to a more open, democratic society. Military threats and sanctions against the mullahs are, Ganji emphasizes, always counterproductive.
As a tool of regime change or nuclear diplomacy, sanctions have been predicated on the assumption that economic coercion can deliver unsustainable political pain. Many Iranian dissidents still hold fast to the belief that the Islamic Republic can have a smooth transition from autocracy to representative government, that the ugliness of the revolution, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the continuing brutal repression of dissent and democracy (especially the Green Movement in 2009), and the blood-soaked denouement of the Arab Spring have created a nation of fallen and depressed revolutionaries who don’t have the stomach for confronting head-on the mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards. They envision a peaceful, more prosperous, sanctions-free future in which the ruling elite will evolve. Islamist ideology may not disappear from Iran’s discourse, but the appetite for violence will evanesce. Although many Iranian dissidents are socialists (Marxism is far from dead in Persia), they still see global commerce and greater foreign contact as a softening force, at least vis-à-vis the clerical state. An Iranian Thermidor will arrive in part courtesy of Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Boeing, and Western tourists.
The consequences of the president’s linguistic dodgeMar 9, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 25 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Is Barack Hussein Obama wrong to avoid appending “Islamic,” “Muslim,” “Islamist,” or even “jihadist” to the terrorism that has struck the West with increasing ferocity since the 1990s? This question has at least two parts: Is the president historically correct to do this? And is he politically smart to do it?
The Middle East in chaos Oct 13, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 05 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
The great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun centered his understanding of history on asabiyya, which is perhaps best translated as esprit de corps mixed with the will to power. In his masterpiece, the Muqaddima, or Prolegomena, the Arab historian saw as the primary locus of asabiyya the tribe—a smaller unit than the ethnic group, and the most powerful military unit in Islamic history until the Mameluks perfected the use of slave soldiers.
Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Is Barack Obama’s threat of preventive military action against the Iranian regime’s nuclear program credible? Would a one-year, six-month, or even three-month nuclear breakout capacity at the known nuclear sites be acceptable to him? Is he prepared to attack if Tehran denies the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, entry into undeclared facilities that may be hiding nuclear-weapons research or centrifuge production?
When liberals meet mullahsDec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
O believers, when you encounter the unbelievers marching to battle, turn not your backs to them. Whoso turns his back that day to them, unless withdrawing to fight again or removing to join another host, he is laden with the burden of God’s anger, and his refuge is Hell—an evil homecoming!
It takes a certain intelligence to comprehend the CIA. Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
There is probably no harder beat in Washington than intelligence.
Every idea President Obama had about pacifying the Muslim world turned out to be wrong.Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
If Congress refuses to support American military action against the Assad regime in Syria, and President Barack Obama declines to strike or strikes meekly, will American power—that marriage of will, resources, and perception—be diminished in the Middle East? If so, will the ramifications be severe? Could President Obama, like Iran-sanctions-supporting liberals and conservatives who don’t want to intervene in Syria, skip this Levantine war and nevertheless come out swinging against the nuke-seeking mullahs of the Islamic Republic?
Egypt’s descent into chaos Aug 5, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 44 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
For most of those who were so hopeful when the Great Arab Revolt downed the dictator Hosni Mubarak two years ago, the travails of Egypt’s fledgling democracy have been depressing. Many in the West expected the country’s hodgepodge of secularists—the young men and women who were the cutting edge of the demonstrations, first against Mubarak, then against his freely elected Muslim Brotherhood successor, Mohamed Morsi—to do better than they did at the ballot box, where Islamists so far have triumphed.
The data-collection debate we need to have is not about civil liberties. Jun 24, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 39 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Should Americans fear the possible abuse of the intercept power of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland? Absolutely. In the midst of the unfolding scandal at the IRS, we understand that bureaucracies are callous creatures, capable of manipulation. In addition to deliberate misuse, closed intelligence agencies can make mistakes in surveilling legitimate targets, causing mountains of trouble. Consider Muslim names.
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