Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the history of foreign relations with the Near East. In 1998, he authored Islamic Fundamentalism – An Introduction. In that book, he seeks to question the stereotypes and discriminatory methodology of US writing on Islam. He traces Sunni and Shi’ite expressions of Islam and attempts to inform Western readers about the impact of US foreign policy. Along with his wife, Janet Amighi, an anthropologist specializing in Iran, Davidson speaks at various settings in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Together, they have contributed to a steady change in opinion when it comes to American intellectual formations of the troubles of the Palestinians. I spoke with Davidson recently about the current situation in Iran. (See To The Point Analyses.)
Dan Falcone: CNN featured a cover story that said, “A day after Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for lighter economic sanctions, the difference in the moods on the streets of Tehran and Jerusalem couldn’t be starker.” What is entailed exactly in the “lighter economic sanctions?” Does this comment presuppose certain conventions about the relationship of Iran and the United States?
Lawrence Davidson: Most of the reporting in the West has concentrated on what Iran will have to do under the interim deal. The White House release summarizing the terms of the agreement bent over backward to point out that concessions to Iran were meager and without great meaning. In fact, Iran will get some sanctions relief, portions of which are important, such as access to spare parts for their airline industry. The entire package of relief for Iran is worth about $7 billion. Spinning the story this way, de-emphasizing what Iran will get, is probably a tactical move on the part of the Obama administration, which is trying to counter neocon and Zionist hysteria. As for the “mood in Jerusalem,” it is no doubt “stark” because the Zionists have been indulging in an obsessive and exaggerated fear of Iran for years.
The New York Times recently added, “President Obama said on Monday that ‘clear-eyed, principled diplomacy’ ” had produced the agreement with Iran to stall its nuclear development, pushing back against rising criticism in Congress and from allies like Israel that the pact reached in Geneva was a “capitulation.” What does it mean that those in Congress would utilize the word capitulation? Furthermore, is “clear-eyed, principled diplomacy” code for “what we say, goes”?
“Clear-eyed, principled diplomacy” may actually be what the Obama folks think they are about. I think we have to give Obama a certain amount of credit on this one. He rejected, at least in this case, the neocon pre-emptive war doctrine and proceeded diplomatically. He has to assert that his policy is “clear-eyed” and “principled” to hold off the right. I think the fact that the Iranians accepted the deal indicates they too got something out of it and probably hope for even more in the next six months. The neocons and Zionists use the term capitulation in an effort to mislead the public into thinking this is another Munich. That is nonsense. There is absolutely no basis for comparison between Munich and the deal just made with Iran. At Munich, Nazi Germany was turned loose. In the present deal, Iran is constrained, not let loose. After Munich, there were no inspectors running around Nazi Germany checking on things. In Iran, there is now a small army of inspectors. After Munich, Chamberlain was not telling Hitler that if he did not behave, the alternative was war. That is what Obama is saying to Iran. The present deal is the opposite of Munich. Since the neocons and Zionists have opened the door to ugly comparisons, let’s get something straight here. It is not Barack Obama who is behaving like Neville Chamberlain. It is the neocons and their ilk who remind one of Adolf Hitler, at least in terms of manufacturing false scenarios for war and then relentlessly selling them to the public. Then, when they are checked, they display the same exaggerated, temper-tantrumlike hysterics as did the fascist leaders of the 1930s. So, if anyone is looking for the real threat to Western or Israeli security (existential or otherwise), it is these ideologically blinkered neoconservatives and Zionists and their media allies.
In Businessweek, it was recently reported that, “When Secretary of State John Kerry joined the nuclear negotiations at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva last Saturday, he employed the oldest negotiating trick in the book, evoking Congress as the bad cop to the Obama administration’s good cop. Kerry told Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that if they failed to reach an agreement that day, the Obama administration would be unable to prevent Congress from passing additional sanctions against Iran. Less than 24 hours later, Kerry and Zarif walked into the hotel lobby to announce that they had struck a deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program temporarily.” I assume none of this analysis is pertinent or true. What is the real story behind the “deal,” assuming most sane people are aware that Iran didn’t respond to Republican leverage?
The truth is that the US and Iran had been “secretly” negotiating for months, so the outline of an agreement was probably in place before anyone went to Geneva. As to Congress, the Iranians are quite aware of the situation there. And, of course, the Congress is a problem, particularly when it comes to a comprehensive and permanent agreement. At some point Obama will have to take on the Congressional allies of Israel, try to isolate them, and get the majority in Congress to undo the sanctions. That is the real battle to be fought.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that “there’s been some speculation in the wake of an interim agreement between Iran, the United States and others on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program that the thaw in relations could lead to progress on other matters of dispute, like the civil war in Syria.” That comment seems sane. Am I right?
I think we have to be cautious about how far we take that sort of speculation. Tehran has real national interests in what goes on in Syria and Lebanon as well. I don’t think the Islamic Republic will sell those out for unreliable gestures coming from Washington.
The Washington Post stated that, “The euphoria over the signing of a historic nuclear agreement with Iran gave way to sober reality Sunday as the parties clashed over a key element of the deal and congressional skeptics threatened to thwart it.” Is the far-right, reactionary wing of the Republican Party allowing Obama to achieve political victories that are essentially moderate-conservative, because they have pushed the country so far to the right? In the United States, it seems Israeli disapproval automatically means “left” even while Obama’s policies toward the Palestinians are so monumentally awful.
I don’t think the “far-right reactionary wing of the Republican Party” is letting Obama achieve an agreement with Iran. I don’t think they could stop it, and it seems pretty obvious they are hopping mad about it. An important background element to this whole process is public opinion. At the moment it is politically stupid for US politicians to talk about risking another war in the Middle East. That is why only those dominated by neocon or Zionist ideology are doing so and, hopefully, this irrationality will come back to hurt them in the next elections. Politically, there is a difference between the Palestinian and Iranian issues. Getting into a fight with Israel and its Congressional allies over the Palestinians unfortunately has been a no-win situation for US presidents. Getting pushed into yet another war in the Middle East because that is what the Israelis want would be an even higher political risk. Resisting that pressure is what is politically popular.
Salon featured a quote from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who deplored the agreement reached Sunday in Geneva, saying the deal with Iran was a “historical mistake” to which Israel is not bound. Is it a “historical mistake” to him, and for what reason?
Netanyahu and his ilk see the world through highly warped ideological lens. What he is saying is that it is an historical mistake to let any Muslim country have the power to even theoretically stand in Israel’s way. To maintain an historical situation where no such Muslim country comes to be, the Zionist ideologues are willing to fight to the very last American soldier. The option for a peaceful arrangement with a strong Muslim state is historically unthinkable for Netanyahu because he believes they are all anti-Semites. In other words, Netanyahu and his ilk are a bit crazy.
Americans do not seem to understand the inner workings of Iran. Obama is being called a dove. Former Ambassador John Bolton recently added to the discourse, “Iran is attempting to psychologically break the will of the West.” Does Iran pose a serious threat, or is the only threat it poses an ability to develop nuclear power? A nuclear weapon is a first-strike weapon, and I don’t think the US understands how involved or endangered Iran would be if they actually stood up to the West and mounted a weapon. Moreover, I don’t think Americans internalize how they would feel if Canada and Mexico had nuclear weapons, being funded by North Korea while Turkey had battleships in our two oceans. How pertinent or relevant is this analogy?
I think John Bolton is also a bit crazy. The Iran he envisions doesn’t exist. It is a country that has never crossed its border unless it was invaded first. The nuclear weapons capacity he fears does not exist now, and, according to every creditable Western intelligence service, there is no evidence that it was or is even planned for. Bolton is a neoconservative who is much more dangerous to the US and the world than any of the enemies he has dreamed up.