Stocker: Supporting diplomacy with Iran is crucial


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

For anybody watching the Republican presidential primary debate last Wednesday, the controversial nature of the Iranian nuclear deal was immediately obvious. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, declared his intent to terminate the deal if he takes office, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich promoted the military option. As critics claim the Iran deal signals serious danger to the United States and its allies, the Obama administration insists it will ensure peace and security, preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The primary problem with the Iran nuclear deal’s supporters’ and opponents’ approaches is that neither side truly considers the long-term implications of the current agreement or of continued sanctions and isolation of the Iranian state. President Barack Obama, Cruz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the hundreds of other political figures who have weighed in on the deal couch their arguments in short-term political and security interests. In a recent op-ed, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, claims the Iran nuclear deal will, first, enable Iran to build a nuclear weapon, and, second, expand its influence in the Middle East. He emphasizes past Iranian violence against Americans and conflates Iranian regional influence with the expansion of the so-called Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

Cruz and McCain are focused on the world that exists now, rather than the world that could, and can, exist in the future. They see the Iranian nuclear deal’s consequences playing out in a geopolitical environment identical to the one we currently face. In their worldview, Iran is the United States and its allies’ eternal enemy, not too different from the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda. Within this view, Iran’s status as the United States and its allies’ geopolitical foe makes any expansion of Iran’s influence necessarily detrimental to American and allied interests and security.

This worldview is certainly understandable, especially for the Israelis. Iran, through funds and arms, anti-Israeli militia groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The Iranians back Bashar Al-Assad’s embattled government in Syria, providing weapons and military advisors to a regime the U.S. and its allies ultimately aim to remove from power. Conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and Israel and Iran, via proxies, is an ongoing reality. However, the current state of affairs need not continue into the distant, or even near, future.

As Northwestern students, we will live our adult lives in the world shaped by the Iranian nuclear deal, or whatever agreement — or lack thereof — replaces it. Therefore, it is critical for us students to make our voices heard in discussions on foreign policy. The geopolitical environment is rapidly changing, and it appears that many U.S. leaders refuse to change with it. McCain draws parallels between Iran and the Islamic State group, all the while Iran continues to battle against the Islamic State in Iraq.

Within Iran, the political atmosphere is also in flux. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a political moderate, has struggled against Iranian hardliners to ensure the passage of the nuclear deal.  President Rouhani has tempered Iranian rhetoric, claiming the infamous “Death to America” chants are about American foreign policy, not the American people. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s aggressive statements regarding Israel and the United States are signals that Iran’s supreme religious leader fears his power is slipping; abrasive comments in the style of North Korea’s Kim regime are generally signs of weakness, rather than strength.

Engagement with Iran is key to ensuring continued political moderation and pro-American developments within the country. The nuclear deal represents a chance for our generation to enjoy genuine peace with Iran and greater security in the Middle East region. Change will be gradual, of course; the United States and Iran will not become allies overnight. One thing is certain; if we, as the inheritors of the geopolitical system, want to live our adult lives in a world of greater peace and stability, it is crucial to give states like Iran a stake in the geopolitical order. Integrating Iran into global trade networks, financial systems and international organizations will help ensure the Iranian people’s commitment to protecting an economic and political system that they, too, benefit from. The Iranian nuclear deal is the first step in a lengthy process of reconciliation. Redressing the wrongs committed by both sides will take time, but only continued dialogue can bring about an end to violence in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East.

At NU, we as undergraduates are encouraged to critically engage issues of global significance. As voters, whether in the U.S. or another democratic nation, it is our responsibility to question the arguments politicians make. As the 2016 elections approach, it is critical that NU students seriously consider the long-term implications of continued hostility toward Iran, and instead support, through our votes, the politicians who will promote diplomacy and stability.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.