Give peace and negotiated Iran settlement a chance

Published 10:38 am Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

There’s a country on the edge of the Middle East with over 2,000 years of rich cultural history, whose ancient capitals include the magnificent cities of Persepolis and Isfahan.

In the 1950s, the U.S. overthrew its democratically-elected prime minister, via the CIA, in favor of empowering a Western-friendly monarch. A fundamentalist revolution deposed him in 1979. In the 1980s, the U.S. gave support to Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s eight-year war against this Islamic state, which took over half a million lives. A U.S. naval captain mistakenly shot down one of its civilian airliners in 1988, killing all 290 people aboard. The U.S. never officially apologized for the disaster.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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So, yes, some people still ritually chant “Death to America!” in the streets of Tehran. Iranian leaders have lingering suspicions about American motives. What doesn’t get much attention is that the majority of Iranian people inexplicably do not hold a grudge against the U.S. Iranian citizens, in spite of America’s history of meddling in Iranian affairs during the Cold War and beyond, have the most favorable view of America of any Muslim population in the region.

The same can’t be said for American views of Iran, even though far fewer Americans have died at Iranian hands than vice versa. Perhaps it’s because Americans are exposed to just as much or more overblown political rhetoric. After all, how could we trust a country that G.W. Bush gravely told us is part of the “Axis of Evil” during his 2002 State of the Union address?

Many Americans believe that Iran is a direct threat to the U.S. and that the Obama administration’s efforts as part of a six-nation deal to block Iran from building nuclear arms are inadequate. In his turn at this column a few weeks ago, Brian Hensley stated, “Their actions risk the safety and security of all Minnesotans.”

This isn’t quite as extreme as Sen. Lindsey “Before-we-all-get-killed-back-here-at-home” Graham’s hyperbole on ISIS, but where is the evidence of this level of danger? Remember the imaginary smoking gun that convinced Congress to invade Iraq before it became an even more hypothetical mushroom cloud?

Those weapons of mass destruction never materialized. After losing 4,500 American soldiers and spending $2 trillion (so far), I hope we are a little cannier at spotting the use of fear-mongering and empty talking points to promote an ideologically-driven foreign policy goal.

In any case, the Iran deal isn’t going to be satisfyingly clean or “decisive,” and that’s not necessarily a liability. (The damage wrought by a friendly but cocksure “decider-in-chief” from Midland is still quite fresh.) Iran and the U.S. have a badly damaged relationship. Trust is often rebuilt and reinforced with mutually beneficial economic relationships, not hostile posturing. It is also restored by not launching missiles at or dropping bombs on each other (or each other’s allies) over ever-lengthening periods of time.

The Iran deal, which may go into effect soon, is about the best chance of peacefully preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons that could reasonably be attained. It was brokered over a two-year period by the six most powerful nations in the world. It is neither perfect nor weak.

But some leaders in the U.S. (and in Israel and Iran) encourage people to focus on each other’s differences, eroding trust in the deal. They manipulate fear of “otherness” to gain support and submission for their prerogatives.

Once we strip off our religious and cultural labels, though, are our motivations as humans really that disparate underneath? As a Muslim man who relocated to Virginia after surviving a murder attempt for helping U.S. government workers in Iraq explained, “Most people think the same way when you talk to them. I am a human being. I have the right to live on this earth. I have the right to work. I like to try to fix what is wrong.” (Quote from Kirk Johnson’s “To Be A Friend is Fatal.”)

Our country is ultimately safest when we deem other people and their children worthy of protection instead of threatening to bomb them, courtesy of a dogmatic belief in American exceptionalism. We aren’t the only people on Earth whose birthright is to live in peace and safety and enjoy a flourishing culture.

Give peace — and negotiated settlement — a chance. This is the first time Iran has agreed to drastically restrict its nuclear program and accept international oversight. From this perspective, Israel’s Netanyahu is also a winner, even though fundamentalism and ideological tough-talk haven’t carried the day.


Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.