Senator Schumer announced yesterday that he would be voting to disapprove the deal reached by the P5+1 with Iran to lift sanctions and impose restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. It's not clear yet whether Schumer will persuade enough Democrats to join him and the GOP/neocons in voting against the deal. Obama has promised a veto on any resolution of disapproval, they will then have to try to override the veto. Even if that happens, most of the sanctions will be lifted since only a small set of them were imposed by Congress, the rest were put in place by the UN, EU and the US administration. It's also important to remember that when Congress passed the statutory sanctions, they gave the Obama administration authority to lift them as well. Then earlier this year, Congress insisted it have time to review the deal before statutory sanctions were lifted.
I'm more interested in dissecting Schumer's reasoning. The Times reports:
“To me, after 10 years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it,” he said.
This is what Iran's population looked like in 2011:
Today, 15% of the population (11 million) is between 10 and 19 years of age. In ten years, these 11 million children will come of age in Iran, and a number of older people will die. About 40% of Iran's population is currently between the ages of 20-40. They will reach the peak of their careers and influence over the next ten years.
As this group reaches their prime, another group will be exiting the public sphere. Khameini is 75 years old. The moderate establishment is comparatively younger, Khatami is 72, Rouhani is 67, Mousavi is 73 (still under house arrest), Shahroudi is 68, older moderates include Rafsanjani who is 81 and Karroubi (also under house arrest) who is 78. No one knows who the next Supreme Leader will be, and there has been talk of reforming the post, but it's has been put on hold till Khameini dies or retires. There is a chance the next Supreme Leader will be a moderate and it is also possible that the powers of the office will be reduced. The leader is chosen by the "Assembly of Experts".
The assembly has skewed conservative since the sanctions were strengthened in 2010. But the current head, Mohammad Yazdii is 84 years old, and his deputy Shahroudi, is a moderate. It's likely sanctions relief will moderate the assembly (members are elected for 8 year terms by public vote). One of Khomeini's grandsons has been touted as a candidate for the office of Supreme Leader, he is a moderate. I don't think it'll happen because he's too young. Another grandson once called for armed US intervention to overthrow the regime. I put that in to demonstrate just what the range of opinions is among the "moderates".
A new Assembly of Experts will be elected next year, in 2016. Chances are, they will be the ones to choose the next Supreme Leader, unless Khameini lives past 84. Rouhani is openly advocating for Kourrabi and Moussavi to be released from house arrest. His hand is strengthened if the deal goes ahead.
Over the next ten years, Iran will see mammoth demographic changes, and the deal brokered by the P5+1 and championed by Obama ensures the next generation does not come of age with a negative view of the West.
Schumer's dead wrong to assume Iran will not change over the next ten years. It certainly will. The only question is how the Iranian electorate will perceive the US and the western powers in general. Will they see us as oppressive regimes intent on impoverishing the Iranian people, or as partners in trade who deal with Iran fairly? Their view on that question will impact their attitude towards the moderates who advocate greater engagement with and openness to the world.
More below the fold:
Schumer's full statement is on Medium, which ironically demonstrates how faulty his reasoning is. Ten years ago, Twitter did not exist, and Facebook was barely a year old. Today, both are used widely the world over and though Iran officially blocks them, people find their way around the blocks. The Iranian firewall is nowhere near as effective as China's.
In an amusing contrast to his use of Medium, the Times reports that:
Ultimately, Mr. Schumer wrote his statement on his decision alone in his Senate office with a pen and yellow legal pad.
“I examined this deal in three parts: nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first 10 years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after 10 years, and nonnuclear components and consequences of a deal,” he wrote. “In each case I have asked: Are we better off with the agreement or without it?”
Let's set aside the image of the lonely legislative warrior crafting grand strategy on a legal pad. That's PR fluff meant to make Schumer's deliberation sound so much more impressive than it likely was.
To reduce the pain of sanctions, the Supreme Leader had to lean left and bend to the moderates in his country. It seems logical that to counterbalance, he will lean right and give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the hardliners resources so that they can pursue their number one goal: strengthening Iran’s armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.
This is a profound misreading of Iranian politics. As I've argued before, Iran's government is quite responsive
to the needs of it's people. It has delivered on health, well-being and education, which is why it enjoys tacit support. And though we would argue it is not a "true" democracy, it does answer to the people. But I would also say that, our own isues with gerrymandering and campaign finance bring into question any characterization of the US as a "True Democracy".
Unless Schumer has an inside scoop on the 2016 Iranian elections, this is just a self-serving argument on his part. A more likely probability is that the moderates gain significantly next year if they can deliver sanctions relief ahead of the election. Iranians were celebrating in the streets when the deal was announced, and they know it was the moderates who delivered it.
Back to Schumer:
Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.
If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement. [...]
Admittedly, no one can tell with certainty which way Iran will go. It is true that Iran has a large number of people who want their government to decrease its isolation from the world and focus on economic advancement at home. But it is also true that this desire has been evident in Iran for thirty-five years, yet the Iranian leaders have held a tight and undiminished grip on Iran, successfully maintaining their brutal, theocratic dictatorship with little threat. Who’s to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?
The "dictatorship" of the Supreme Leader will not last thirty years, or even twenty, because Khameini is 75 years old. It's not even a dictatorship, that is another profound misreading of Iranian politics and the structure of its government
As for leaving Iran a threshold nuclear state, lets just remember where the Iranian leadership are coming from. They are justifiably suspicious of Western intentions. Remember, we along with the Brits overthrew Iran's popularly elected president, Mossadegh in 1953. That was done so the Brits could maintain control of the Iranian oil industry. Though Mossadegh's tenure was not without controversy, many Iranians think this is what stalled their country's natural evolution into a secular democracy (talk about blowback). We then went on to support the violently repressive regime of the Pahlavi dynasty. After the Iranian revolution, the US supported the Iraqi regime of Sadaam Hussein in a disastrous war against Iran, going so far as to knowingly provide targeting information for the use of illegal chemical weapons by Iraq. Oh yeah, we also entered into a shooting war with the Iranian navy and the USS Vincennes managed to shoot down a Iran Air 655, killing 290 civilians on board. Today, our closest ally in the region is led by a right-wing neo-con (Benjamin Netanyahu) who keeps saying he sees no option but to bomb Iran. And these are not idle threats, Israel has a couple of hundred nukes and has started "preventive/pre-emptive wars" with first strikes against its neighbors in 1957, 1967 and 1982, not to mention targeted strikes on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, here at home, our right-wing is festooned with senior leaders who have both joked and threatened in all seriousness to bomb Iran. We also managed to prosecute a disastrous war with Iran's neighbor to the south (Iraq) which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And we did that to remove our one-time ally, Saddam Hussein.
So pardon me if the Iranian leadership is a little bit skeptical about our intentions, convinced we do not understand them or the region, and wants to protect its interests. They have good reason to be. In Schumer's note, he writes:
After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community.
Many Iranians will stop reading after "Iran would be stronger financially". Their worst fears will have been confirmed, that the US (and its regional ally Israel) is intent on keeping Iran impoverished and its people from reaching their full potential. Unless we destroy that presumption, there is no chance Iran will moderate. The Iran deal brokered by the P5+1 makes a moderate government far more likely, and we will know rather quickly, when the elections are held next year in Iran, or even sooner if Rouhani can get Mousavi and Karroubi released (there are rumors he wants to put that to a referendum).
Sat Aug 08, 2015 at 4:56 AM PT: Foreign Policy has two good articles out: Selling the Nuclear Deal in Tehran
President Hassan Rouhani is riding a wave of popularity, and is seeking to transform his diplomatic victory into political leverage at home.
Chuck Schumer’s Disingenuous Iran Deal Argument
The claim that inspections occur with a 24-day delay is the equivalent of Obamacare “death panels.” Remember those? A minor detail has been twisted into a bizarre caricature and repeated over and over until it becomes “true.” Let’s get this straight. The agreement calls for continuous monitoring at all of Iran’s declared sites — that means all of the time — including centrifuge workshops, which are not safeguarded anywhere else in the world. Inspectors have immediate access to these sites.