Obama’s line on the Iran nuclear deal: A second false narrative

Buying into the narrative that Iran is a rogue nuclear state could harm the thawing of relations between the country and the US

By Gareth Porter

I’m glad that the United States and Iran reached an agreement in Vienna after nearly two years of negotiations and 35 years of enmity. A failure to do so under present political conditions would certainly have left a festering conflict with unpredictably bad consequences. And the successful negotiation of such a far-reaching agreement in which both sides made significant concessions should help to moderate the extreme hostility that has been building up in the United States over the years.

But my enthusiasm for the agreement is tempered by the fact that the US political process surrounding the Congressional consideration of the agreement is going to have the opposite effect. And a big part of the problem is that the Obama administration is not going to do anything to refute the extremist view of Iran as determined to get nuclear weapons. Instead the administration is integrating the idea of Iran as rogue nuclear state into its messaging on the agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday makes the administration’s political strategy very clear. In two sentences, Kerry managed to combine the images of Iranian-supported terrorism and sectarian violence across the entire region and Iranian determination to get nuclear weapons. He told the Committee about the administrations plans to “push back against Iran’s other activities – against terrorism support, its contribution to sectarian violence in the Middle East,” which he called “unacceptable”. Then he added: “But pushing back against an Iran with nuclear weapons is very different from pushing back against Iran without one.”

The administration’s determination to be just as alarmist about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions as its opponents creates a US political discourse on the Iran nuclear issue built around two dueling narratives that disagree about the effect of the agreement but have one politically crucial common denominator: they both hold it as beyond debate that Iran cannot be trusted because it wants nuclear weapons; and the only question is whether and for how long that Iranian quest for nuclear weapons can be held off without war.

The Israeli line is that the agreement is merely a temporary lull, and that it will simply embolden Iran to plan for a bomb once the agreement expires ten years hence. But for the administration’s tough-minded diplomatic efforts, Iran would have continued advancing towards getting a nuclear weapon, and that the only alternative to the agreement is war with Iran. (more…)