NEW CASTLE, Penn., April 10, 2015 — Growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the Houthi uprising in Yemen jeopardizes Iran’s chance to free itself of crippling international sanctions. It also reveals the destructive nature of political division and polarization.
On the one hand, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and those aligned with him have aggressively pursued a nuclear deal with the West in order to normalize relations. On the other hand, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seems obliged to indulge hardliners who want to dominate the region.
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By financially supporting the Shia Houthi rebels and aggressively rejecting Saudi Arabia’s efforts to return the democratically elected government to power, Iran has demonstrated an unwillingness to forgo its efforts to become a regional power until it has repaired its standing on the global stage. In doing so, Iran could force the United States to abandon hopes of a nuclear deal, which is actually favorable to hardliners in Iran.
Iran’s aggressive behavior toward Saudi Arabia also offers Western critics of an Iranian nuclear deal a means to derail the effort. Given that those working toward a nuclear deal and normalized relations with Iran tend to be more moderate in their views, while those working against change tend to be hardliners, the unfolding situation demonstrates the destructive power of hardliner politics in all countries.
From blanket criticism of negotiations to the knee-jerk rejection of the preliminary framework agreement, hardliners in the Iran, Europe, the United States, and Israel demonstrate the dysfunctional nature of the political extremes. Although the extreme right of Iran holds vastly different views from the extreme right of the United States, while the extreme left is just as hazardous, the activist nature of these extremists suppresses the will of the majority and blocks the resolution of serious issues.
The signing of any deal never guarantees something will actually be done. That said, the most important aspect to any nuclear agreement is the ability to slow the development of nuclear technology, allow for some monitoring of that development and provide better insights into a nuclear program. Without proper intelligence, no military operations can be successful. Opening Iran to increased inspections and transparency gives the West greater insights into the Iranian nuclear program, which not only provides information on the current status, but could also benefit any future military operation against Iran’s nuclear program.
It is just as important to recognize that war must be sufficiently justified in order to garner ally support and counteract the propaganda of enemies. The failure of the George W. Bush administration to adequately justify the war in Iran cost the U.S. dearly in terms of ally support and soft power while creating more enemies for the U.S. By holding Iran to a specific agreement, or at least giving Iran an honest chance to reach an accord, the U.S., Israel, and others will be able to justify an military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, if necessary. Because the act of breaking an agreement would make Iran an imminent threat to the rest of the world, a military response could be more readily justified, even if there is no proof of an actual nuclear weapon.
A nuclear agreement offers Iran a chance to save face on the nuclear issue. Whether Iran minimally adheres to the agreement or decides to further dismantle its program, a nuclear deal of provides Iran a much more valuable diplomatic channel to the U.S. and the West. By demonstrating to the Iranian government that the U.S. is reasonable, Washington gives Iran fewer reasons to feel threatened and more reasons to feel secure. As such, success on an Iran nuclear deal shows moderate Iranian leaders like President Hassan Rouhani can get results and gives the leverage over the hardliners.
Unfortunately, the hardliner thinking of the extreme right blinds these individuals to the strategic benefits of signing a nuclear agreement. Similarly, those in Iran cannot recognize that their pursuit of nuclear weapons is their greatest national security threat, nor can they see the West as reasonable. Consequently, hardliners tend to derail progress, and the moderates of the world must counteract their dysfunctional nature.