The nuclear agreement with Iran, signed last Tuesday, leaves major issues unresolved. Appearing on PBS, National Security Adviser Susan Rice admitted that the negotiations were only about Iran’s nuclear program: “This was never about human rights. It wasn’t about terrorism. It wasn’t about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, all of which we remain deeply concerned about. It was about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
The deal either cuts off Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon or it does not. Five other nations are satisfied that it does. The inspections, the reduction of Iran’s enriched uranium by 98 percent, the dismantling of two-thirds of its centrifuges, the length of the restrictions — all these things can be debated. But such a debate should not invalidate the significance of the deal; what was accomplished through diplomacy could not have been achieved through war.
With the Iraq weapons of mass destruction playbook before us, it does not take a leap of imagination to realize that military strikes would draw the United States and Iran into a catastrophic war. In “The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble” (http://nucleargamble.org), a study I published in partnership with the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, we showed that attacking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would result in 5,500 to 85,000 immediate casualties. Such a war would claim the lives of thousands of soldiers and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Oil prices would spike and extremism would spread like wildfire. America’s allies in the region would face a much more lethal threat as Iran would rush to acquire a bomb in a matter of years, rather than the agreement’s decades, with no verification or inspection regime and no snapback international sanction regime.
Rather than blocking the deal in Congress, an act which would shatter global confidence in American leadership, Republicans and Democrats must recognize that taking the nuclear question off the table opens possibilities for engaging and empowering millions of Iranians who long for democracy and human rights.
Iran is a post-fundamentalist society. After 30 years under the yoke of an oppressive and totalitarian regime, a new generation of Iranians truly want change. They do not seek Israel or America’s destruction. What they want is an end to Iran’s isolation and an end of enmity with the U.S. and the West. They recognize that the key to peace, prosperity and security is not revolutionary rhetoric but a stable, open and constructive relationship with the rest of the world.
Seeking a negotiated settlement was, largely, a capitulation of the regime to an increasingly unhappy populace.
Rather than despair out of fear of the Islamic Republic’s leadership, it is time to reclaim President Ronald Reagan’s mantle by once again making the promise of human rights, freedom and democracy a cornerstone of our foreign policy. This soft power distinguishes America from China, Europe and other powers who do not factor the Iranian people in their realpolitik.
Contrary to the regime’s rhetoric about America as the Great Satan, our strongest and staunchest allies in the Islamic world are the Iranian people.
The nuclear agreement should be treated for what it is: an imperfect but long-term bet that, by the time it expires in more than a decade, the Iranian people will have transformed a theocracy that has denied them every right — except the right to enriched uranium — into a constitutional democracy in which they have reclaimed all their basic civil and human rights.
Such an Iran may seem to be a dream. But it is a dream of millions of Iranians across the world. We saw that yearning burst out with the 2009 Green Movement with huge demonstrations against the regime. That pro-democracy movement was driven underground, but continues to push for change.
It is time for a new strategic framework that moves beyond containment to empowering Iran’s civil society. Human rights, religious tolerance and democracy have not been a part of the nuclear agreement, but, going forward, Congress must make them part of everything else we do with Iran.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, said that the implementation of the nuclear deal “can dismantle the wall of mistrust brick by brick.” He is partly correct. The wall is much larger than the nuclear issue. Reagan would surely not have missed the opportunity to tear down this wall. He would have placed his faith in freedom and his bet on the Iranian people.
Khosrow Semnani is an Iranian-American industrialist and philanthropist. He is the author of the “Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble: Humanitarian Consequences of Military Strikes on Iran.”