Time Has Come to Fix U.S.-Iran Policy

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President Obama speaking indoors at a podium.

Though President Obama has been roundly criticized for having a soft foreign policy, he continues to prove the value of dialogue. Credit: CreativeCommons / Gage Skidmore.

A corollary to the old saying “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” is the reverse, “If it’s broken then fix it.” Well, the U.S. and other nations’ policies of imposing sanctions alone to inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capabilities has been tried, and it has failed in its stated purpose. It has, though, succeeded in at least pressuring Iranian leaders to talk with us and some of our European allies at the negotiating table.
While the full terms of the agreement are to be drawn up by the end of June, the framework coming out of Switzerland garnered support from our chief European allies, the British and the French.
Even prior to the details being released, however, the right-wing chorus of fear and division sang loudly to its base from the halls of Congress to the podium of the conference of conservative-leaning AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) with such notables as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Speaker John Boehner, and Senator John (never-reject-any-war) McCain, to (much) lesser figures who are attempting to make a name for themselves like first-term Representative Tom Cotton.
Benjamin Netanyahu and all the others gave no real alternatives to Obama’s negotiated settlement – even in advance of all the terms coming out — other than war. They, like George W. Bush during his tenure as Commander in Chief, see the world in terms of simplistic dualistic oppositions.
We know where “good versus evil” policy decisions have gotten us. Bush II’s immediate and, as has come to light, fabricated and contrived invasion of Iraq, turned up none of the weapons of mass destruction alleged by spotty and inadequate “intelligence” reports. The invasion did what George H. W. Bush had warned and feared in igniting a fierce multi-factional civil war in Iraq and destabilization of the entire region.
By toppling Saddam Hussein, the U.S. unleashed a massive Sunni backlash, which emboldened the formation and strengthening of groups like ISIS. This empowered Iran to support Shia factions and placed the U.S. in the unusual position of fighting on the same side as Iran in attaching ISIS. On the other hand, the U.S. has been fighting a proxy war against Iran by supporting Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula opposing insurgents in Yemen.
I believe now is the time — actually, it has been the time for decades now — to consider new forms of leadership, not only in the Middle East, but around the world. We need to get away from the leaders who demonize the other, who use fear, threat, and actual engagement in war as tools for their own maintenance of power. We need leaders who are interested in negotiating without a laundry list of preconceived conditions.
I see Barack Obama setting the bar higher, and initiating a great example of what leadership can be. As we all know, during the U.S. presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, Obama asserted that he would negotiate with leaders throughout the world, “anytime, anywhere,” to make a start at real engagement and for a new relationship. As we also know, Mr. Obama was roundly criticized for his so-called naiveté, not simply by conservative Republicans, but also from members of his own party, some of whom consider themselves politically progressive.
And herein lays the challenge, the risk, and the danger for leaders who reach out to the so-called “other side” or to their so-called “enemies.” A number of our great world leaders were not only criticized by members of their own ranks, but some were tragically assassinated by their own people for their courage to negotiate and reach out in the name of peace. These great leaders include Mahatma Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, Malcolm X, and the list goes on.
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in October 2009 they would be awarding President Barack Obama the coveted Nobel Peace Prize during his first year in office, I was confused and rather upset. I thought to myself that this untested President, while he might have talked a good line about his dreams for a more peaceful world, had not had the time to implement policies or take concrete actions to deserve this prestigious honor. I thought that the Nobel Committee had actually cheapened the Prize by conferring it on Mr. Obama that year.
As time passed, my suspicions seemed grounded. His decisions to send drones into fields of conflict, while taking out brutal extremists, also resulted in the tragic deaths of countless civilian non-combatants.
The joint efforts of President Obama, with the hard work and negotiating skills of Secretary John Kerry, and the initial groundwork laid by former Secretary Hillary Clinton, I believe that Obama and his team have now earned the award he was presented back in 2009. At the time of their announcement, the Nobel Committee now appears extremely prophetic by admiring Mr. Obama’s promotion of nuclear nonproliferation bringing forth a “new climate” in international relations, and in particular, by the President’s reaching out to the Muslim world.
Opponents are calling Obama and the supporters of the framework with the Iranians naïve at best. Well, we can live with that — literally!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor ofInvestigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), Editor ofHomophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), co-editor ofReadings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).