As news of a US-Iranian nuclear deal spread like wildfire this weekend, the mainstream media began to ask its usual set of questions. Is the deal for real? Can we trust the Iranians? Are the mullahs just using a temporary break in sanctions to buy enough time to build a bomb?
Ever since the Second Bush administration labeled Iran part of the “Axis of Evil,” the media has portrayed the Iranian government as a scheming theocracy, so the discussion of the “two-faced Persians” isn’t all that surprising.
But aside from being wildly racist, this portrayal is also wildly inaccurate. That’s because the biggest threat to an American-Iranian accord comes from President Obama’s enemies at home – Congressional Republicans – not from the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Already Republican leaders in the Senate are calling for more sanctions against Iran. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that doing so is the only way to ensure a long-term deal between the U.S. and Iran.
The call for sanctions also has support in the House. Kevin McCarthy of California says that he backs any Senate plan to tighten restrictions on Iran’s economy.
Republican attempts to sabotage a Democratic president’s deal with Iran are nothing new, however.
Just ask Jimmy Carter.
In 1980 Carter thought he had reached a deal with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr over the release of the fifty-two hostages held by radical students at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Bani-Sadr was a moderate and, as he explained in an editorial for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year, had successfully run for President on the popular position of releasing the hostages:
“I openly opposed the hostage-taking throughout the election campaign…. I won the election with over 76 percent of the vote…. Other candidates also were openly against hostage-taking, and overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against it [hostage-taking].”
Carter was confident that with Bani-Sadr’s help, he could end the embarrassing hostage crisis that had been a thorn in his political side ever since it began in November of 1979.
But Carter underestimated the lengths his opponent in the 1980 Presidential election, California Governor Ronald Reagan, would go to screw him over.
Behind Carter’s back, the Reagan campaign worked out a deal with the leader of Iran’s radical faction – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini – to keep the hostages in captivity until after the 1980 Presidential election.
This was nothing short of treason. The Reagan campaign’s secret negotiations with Khomeini – the so-called “October Surprise” – sabotaged Carter and Bani-Sadr’s attempts to free the hostages. And as Bani-Sadr told The Christian Science Monitor in March of this year, they most certainly “tipped the results of the  election in Reagan’s favor.”
Not surprisingly, Iran released the hostages on January 20, 1981, at the exact moment Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.
The “October Surprise” emboldened the radical forces inside Iran. A politically weakened Bani-Sadr was overthrown in June of 1981 and replaced with Mohammed Ali Rajai – a favorite of Khomeini’s. These radical forces today are represented by people like former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hard-liners who oppose any deal with the United States and, like Khomeini in the 1980s, will jump at any chance to discredit the current moderate presidency of Hassan Rouhani.
The October Surprise also led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people around the world, and in Central America in particular. Reagan took money from the Iranians and used that money to kill nuns in Nicaragua.
But those are just the most obvious results of the October Surprise. Again, if Carter were able to free the hostages like he and Bani-Sadr had planned, Carter would have won re-election. After all, he was leading in most polls in the months leading up to the election. And if Reagan were never elected, America would be a much more progressive nation.
Flash-forward thirty-three years, and once again a Democratic President is trying to negotiate in good faith with Iran. President Obama has made a deal with the moderate Iranian President that – if everything goes as planned – will solve a major international crisis.
But like President Carter’s deal, President Obama’s deal is opposed by Republicans who have proven time and time again that they will stop at nothing to sabotage a Democrat in the White House.
And while there is no proof that Republican Senators are secretly asking Ayatollah Khameini to violate the terms of this weekend’s nuclear deal, their obsession with slamming Iran with more sanctions is just as dangerous. We know what happened the last time a deal with Iran fell through because of Republican sabotage. Who knows what could happen this time?
A long-term Iranian nuclear deal would be a once in a generation chance for the United States to rethink its foreign policy. President Obama should go for it. But he should watch his back. Because if history tells us anything, it’s that Republicans are more than willing to betray their country for a little short-term political gain.