Kourosh Ziabari – Iran Review: The nuclear deal with Iran has been a resoundingly important theme in the primary debates of U.S. presidential contenders. The most peculiar, unconventional ideas have been broached by the Republican hopefuls such as Senator Ted Cruz who said the JCPOA will hasten Iran’s path to developing nuclear weapons and that he will rip the deal “to shreds” if elected president. Similarly, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is one of the major GOP competitors and equals Ben Carson as the third most popular Republican nominee in the polls analyzed by Real Clear Politics, has opined that the nuclear deal with Iran is not binding for the next U.S. administration and he will undo it, since he considers it to be a “flawed” accord.
A distinguished Iranian sociologist and political commentator, however, believes this kind of “saber-rattling” is customary during the primary debates, and the candidates tend to become more reasonable in their foreign policy attitude as the election season nears, and will normally moderate their rhetoric so as to appeal to the centrist voters who won’t back extremist lines.
“… the anti-Iranian polemics that we hear nowadays during the primary election debates are not likely to translate into action in the future administration, even if Republicans win,” said Prof. Mahmoud Sadri in an interview with Iran Review.
“Candidates usually sound more radical during the primaries than during the elections season. They further mute their campaign rhetoric when they get elected,” he noted.
On the prospects of Iran-U.S. relations, Prof. Mahmoud Sadri says both Tehran and Washington have interests that will be better served if they bolster their mutual ties.
“Iran and the U.S. have national interests that are served by stronger relationships. They have overlapping and, in some cases, identical objectives in the region. The most obvious is the defeat of the Sunni extremist [or] Wahhabi forces that have gained a foothold in the Middle East,” he said.
Mahmoud Sadri is a full professor of sociology at the Federation of North Texas Area Universities and currently teaches at the Texas Woman’s University. He has appeared on Radio France, BBC World Service and Radio Australia as an expert on Iran affairs. His op-eds have been featured by The Guardian, Daily Star, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times. He got his Ph.D. in sociology from the New School for Social Research in 1988.
In the following interview with Iran Review, Prof. Mahmoud Sadri presented an analysis of the anti-Iran polemics being rehearsed in the U.S. electoral debates and how it’s being offset by the Iranian community in America, the role of Israel in obstructing Iran-U.S. rapprochement and the dynamics of the implementation of the historic nuclear deal signed by Iran and the six world powers on July 14.
Q: You signed a letter, along with a group of 72 other Middle East and international relations scholars, calling the comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers a plus point for security and stability in the Middle East, and a major non-proliferation accord. How would this deal contribute to the stabilization of our turbulent region?
A: We believe that the establishment and maintenance of ‘normal’ relations between Iran and Western countries is the sine qua non – indispensable condition – of peace and stability in the region. We had lost even this minimal link during the 8 years of the extremist right-wing rule in Iran. This of course is only the first step toward achieving regional equilibrium. As the proverb has it, you can recognize the worth of a deal by the character of its opponents.
There are extremists both in Iran and the U.S., who agree only on one point: opposing any rapprochement between the two countries. There are also third parties who fear the normalization of the relations between Iran and the U.S. Israel and Saudi Arabia have bitterly opposed the Vienna accords both publically and through clandestine means. Fortunately, moderation, reason and skillful diplomacy have won the day so far and the deal has survived the gauntlet of extremists in the legislative bodies of both countries. Iran and the U.S. have national interests that are served by stronger relationships. They have overlapping and, in some cases, identical objectives in the region. The most obvious is the defeat of the Sunni extremist [or] Wahhabi forces that have gained a foothold in the Middle East. The United States has had to entrust security of the region for the last 38 years to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Now Iran is back in the equation and can play a complementary stabilizing role in the region.
Q: That’s a good point. So, let’s get back to the nuclear deal. Browsing the analyses penned by the U.S. pundits and commentators affiliated with the major policy think tanks following the announcement of the nuclear agreement with Iran, one finds a common thread that runs through the majority of them: what should the U.S. government do if Iran cheats? However, there’s an equal possibility that Iran sticks to its part of the agreement faithfully, while the United States might cheat and re-impose sanctions on Iran that run counter to the provisions of the JCPOA. What should be done in that case?
A: The genius of the Vienna deal is that it is between Iran and 5+1, not only between Iran and the U.S. If the far right elements succeed in changing the policy of the U.S. government – which I believe is as likely as the far right elements in Iran changing the Iranian policy, they would be accountable to the international community. If the U.S. changes course now, the European Union, Russia and China are likely to counter in two ways: they can be expected to disregard the U.S. sanctions, thus reducing the impact of sanctions on Iran; and applying pressure on the United States to cooperate. Let me add that I do not take the extremist polemics of the primary Republican debates in the United States seriously. Whoever wins this round of debates, having secured the loyalty of his camp, will lean to the center to vie for the popular vote. American politicians realize that the voters have no appetite for the kind of adventurism that imposed the Iraqi war’s financial, political, and human costs on them. The same is true for Iran. Iranians are not likely to return to the obstructionist policies of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and his advisors.
Q: Will Israel and its position in the Middle East be a serious determinant if Tehran and Washington decide to ease the tensions and move towards mending ties?
A: One of the unintended consequences of the Vienna accords was that it created an open rift between Israel and the United States. Of course, the current Israeli Prime Minister pulled out all stops to foil the nuclear deal. He traveled to the United States against the express wishes of executive branch and addressed a divided Congress. He risked splitting the Jewish American loyalties, the majority of whom vote democratic; and he went against the advice of the Israeli security apparatus that does not consider Iran an existential threat. The only success Netanyahu had during this episode was his reelection in Israel, which the cynics argue was his primary motive in opposing the nuclear agreement in the first place. The fact remains that Netanyahu failed. Israel has sought new alliances – and certainly strange bedfellows – in its anti-Iranian posture. Of course, in the age of WikiLeaks, such liaisons cannot remain covert for long. Israel does have a military option but it is unlikely to exercise it in the face of overwhelming domestic intelligence and military, as well as international opposition.
Q: There has always been a public outcry against how Iran is portrayed in the U.S. corporate, mainstream media. However there’s a large community of Iranian intellectuals and scholars in the States who are based at different universities and research centers. How has this group of erudite Iranian academicians been responding to the misrepresentation of Iranian society in the American media? Have you and your colleagues been able to supply a fair and sensible image of Iran to the broader American public?
A: The impact of Iranian-Americans on the U.S. policies is disproportionate to their numbers, wealth, and education. Relatively few bother to identify as Iranian-Americans on census forms, much less making their views known to their elected representatives. As a result, politicians have arrived at the conclusion that there is little political cost to be paid for demonizing Iran and Iranians. The recent HR 158 – the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act – that cleared the House of Representatives and is heading for the Senate risks creating second class citizens out of Iranian Americans by imposing visa restrictions on them. It remains to be seen if this will, at last, awaken the majority of Iranian-Americans to the political realities that can affect their lives. Having said that, I should also acknowledge a vocal minority of Iranian-Americans, usually in the academic community, operate through lobbying organizations such as NIAC and “American Friends of the Middle East” to protest the anti-Iranian policy and legislation.
Q: Let’s get to a tough question at the end of our conversation. President Barack Obama will leave office in about a year from now, and literally nobody is sure what the next U.S. President will do in terms of his or her foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East and especially Iran. What’s your prediction for that based on the cursory allusions of the candidates to their foreign policy priorities during the campaign season? Will the Iran-U.S. relations experience a setback under Obama’s successor and regress to the cataclysmic tensions of the past?
A: The power of presidents in setting foreign policy is considerable but it is not nearly as sweeping as it appears during the U.S. presidential debates. Recently someone compared it to turning around an aircraft carrier. It takes gradual and sophisticated maneuvers to bring about a radical change. There are checks and balances and legal intricacies that restrict the power of a new commander-in-chief to undo what has been concluded in the previous administration. The State Department has a professional, non-elected corps that evaluates the impact of policy reversals on international issues and offers advice. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the anti-Iranian polemics that we hear nowadays during the primary election debates are not likely to translate into action in the future administration, even if Republicans win. Candidates usually sound more radical during the primaries than during the elections season. They further mute their campaign rhetoric when they get elected. Case in point, when Bill Clinton was campaigning for presidency, he chided President Bush – the father – for “cuddling the dictators” of China and promised to get tough if he is elected. All that saber-rattling went away when he became the President and did a fair amount of “cuddling” the Chinese himself.
This interview was originally published on Iran Review.