The Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran is drawing rhetorical fire. That’s not surprising. Conjuring the devil is a ritual that sustains the war state. It rehearses the narrative of good versus evil. Without the threat of evildoers, the country’s motivation to fight degrades over time.
Congressional war hawks and their neoconservative allies, observes James Carden, warn against being snookered by a despicable Iranian regime. Alluding to the Holocaust, Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee insists that the deal would march the Israelis “to the door of the oven.” Senator Lindsey Graham adds that the religious views of Iran’s Supreme Leader compel him to destroy Israel and attack the US. Iran is the devil incarnate, Hitler de novo.
Senator Dan Coats summarizes much of the critique that follows from the basic premise that they are evil and we are good. In a guest column published by various Indiana newspapers, the Senator says the more he reads through the text of the Iran deal, the more his concern grows. Why? Because “the deal will not permanently stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions” and “the negotiators conceded [far too much] in order to reach an agreement with a regime that calls America its enemy, brazenly violates U.N resolutions, sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel’s existence and is responsible for more than 1,000 American military deaths since Sept. 11, 2001.”
The sheer desire for a deal, Senator Coats insists, reduced the negotiators to a position of weakness. What did these anxious negotiators concede? They allowed important constraints on Iranian nuclear aspirations to expire in eight to fifteen years. They lengthened the short-notice inspection time from zero to up to twenty-four days. The snap-back plan for punishing Iranian cheating is too convoluted. They agreed to suspend the UN conventional arms embargo on Iran after five years and the missile embargo after eight years. Iran stands to gain as much as $100 billion in withheld oil sales, “money that could be used to fund Iran’s continued terrorism in other Middle Eastern countries.” The devil can be found in the details of the agreement.
Not so, insists Peter Van Buren. “Don’t sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran.” What matters more than verification strategies and cries of an impending apocalypse is that “the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. Understanding how significant that is requires a look backward.”
Looking back in time—pushing the shortened timeline of the war-hawk narrative from September 11, 2001 back to 1953 when the CIA helped to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister—blurs the lines between good and evil. The US installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as Iran’s new leader. He supplied the US with oil, and the US sold him modern weapons and nuclear technology. His regime succumbed to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In retaliation, the US assisted Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran. Iran then aided the Shiite insurgency in Iraq. A continuing pattern of tit-for-tat exchanges between the US and Iran cemented a hostile relationship.
Peter Van Buren unmakes the image of the devil by lengthening the timeline of the story of troubled relations. From that point forward he argues the case for why an ascendant Iran won’t relinquish its right to nuclear weapons but will always remain a nuclear-threshold state without becoming a nuclear power. A nuclear exchange would destroy Iran’s vulnerable urban areas and extensive infrastructure. Iran is not a third-world country. Nuclear war is not in its national interest.
Unmaking the devil allows for a different logic based on the assumption of a rational adversary, a logic that applauds a negotiated nuclear accord because it opens the door to more constructive relations. The ritualistic condemnation of dealing with the devil—featuring the image of an inherently evil antagonist irrationally bent on destruction at any cost—perpetuates the mindset of war by truncating the storyline.