Nuclear negotiations are no time for political games

Leaders discuss Iran's nuclear future.

Leaders discuss Iran’s nuclear future.

Obstruction has defined and united Congressional Republicans since the earliest days of President Obama’s term. Few Republican maneuvers, though, have generated as much rage as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton’s cynical, stupid and dangerous letter to Iran. Forty-seven Republican senators signed the letter, attempting to undermine or diminish the nuclear deal being worked out between Iran and the U.S.

Per the deal, in exchange for the U.S. lifting some of its sanctions on Iran, Iran will agree to keep its nuclear program within certain agreed-upon parameters, including postponing any nuclear weapons programs. As the specifics continue to be ironed out, Cotton’s letter provided a senseless, politically motivated distraction. Fortunately, the Iranians are more serious than Senate Republicans, and the letter hasn’t derailed the diplomats having the real conversation. Representatives from the most powerful nations on the globe – the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China – are all working with Iran to come up with an internationally agreeable program.

The very manner in which the deal is being conducted is striking. The U.S. would never allow another country to dictate how it goes about its nuclear strategy, much less its national security. For instance, in defending his letter Cotton warns the hard-headed Iranians that if they don’t cooperate in the negotiations, “The Congress stands ready to impose much more severe sanctions.” Just imagine the shoe on the other foot, with Iran bringing all the leverage to the table and telling the U.S. exactly what its nuclear program can and cannot consist of. It’s inconceivable.

It’s at least partly the loosening of our sanctions on Iran that has Cotton and others so worried. As a Republican, Cotton’s interests are aligned unwaveringly with his largest donors in financial and energy corporations, including American oil. Current sanctions essentially prevent Iran from entering the world oil market. If those sanctions are lifted or relaxed, Iran could create an even bigger glut of oil in a market that’s got too much of it already.

A key part of the deal is curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons programs. The fewer nukes there are in the world, the better, but it’s worth noting that all of the other countries at the table possess them. To further illuminate some nuclear hypocrisies, Germany spent decades opposing the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which seeks to halt the spread and acquisition by new states of nuclear weapons, right up until it got weapons itself under a NATO weapons-sharing program. Now that it has nukes of its own, Germany naturally opposes any other states acquiring them and supports the NPT.

Fat Man, the bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki at the end of World War II, killed tens of thousands of Japanese. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only instances of nuclear weapons being used in war.

Fat Man, the bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki at the end of World War II, killed tens of thousands of Japanese. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only instances of nuclear weapons being used in war.

The much-praised strategic arms limitation treaties between the U.S. and Russia have not been fully met and never went far enough to reduce the number of nuclear weapons to a safe level in the first place. There really is no safe level. Enough payload remains in nuclear stocks to annihilate all life on the planet. As many as 1,800 warheads are locked and loaded on a hair trigger. Even more weapons are still being produced, to the tune of $350 billion over the next decade in the U.S., which also recently pledged to upgrade or replace outdated warheads – many of which should have been phased out by earlier treaties anyway – with newer models capable of killing even more people even more efficiently.

Despite the severity of the nuclear issue, most of the conversation around the Iran letter has focused on relatively petty political ramifications. As of March 18, more than 300,000 Americans have signed an official petition on whitehouse.gov urging the letter’s 47 signatories be charged with treason. Whether or not there’s a Constitutional basis for the treason charge is debatable. Policymakers have engaged in foreign diplomacy without presidential approval before. It could even be a good thing, in certain situations that aren’t too hard to imagine.

So forget the treason charge – Cotton’s letter is objectionable because it deliberately tries to make the world a more hostile and dangerous place than it already is. American political leaders commit this kind of crime on a daily basis, whether they’re ripping away more of our already frayed social safety net, blocking efforts to curb global warming, giving generous tax cuts to the superrich, torturing prisoners or carrying out military invasions that help give rise to terrorism in the Middle East. The U.S. is also the only state to ever actually use nuclear weapons in wartime, destroying two cities and slaughtering around 200,000 Japanese people – an important point of historical context that is often left unsaid as it may well undermine our credibility on the nuclear question. In terms of the scale of the havoc they wreak, our leaders are among the most dangerous people on the planet, and everyone else knows it. By a wide margin, international polls rank the United States as the most significant threat to world peace.

The fail-safe that’s supposed to let us sleep at night is the principle of mutually assured destruction, or MAD – essentially a nuclear suicide pact. MAD is exactly why the Iranians would be interested in a nuclear weapons program. Israel, with which Iran regularly exchanges hot words, carries a nuclear arsenal. The missile defense shield NATO is extending into Turkey, another nuclear state with which Iran shares a small border, is feared by some as secretly being a first-strike apparatus. Both Israel and Turkey are backed by the most violent and powerful nation on the planet, the U.S., which also routinely sends threatening messages to Iran of its own – Cotton’s letter being only the most recent. And now, with ISIS gobbling up territory in Iraq and Syria, Iran’s desire for some nuclear insurance is, if not allowable, at least understandable.

Sadly, even if Iran’s nuclear program never develops into weapons, there is still plenty to worry about. Because of the issues involved in extracting uranium and dealing with nuclear waste, nuclear energy isn’t very green even when it’s done as cleanly as we know how to do it. But when you account for disasters like Fukushima and the defects and underreporting that riddle American nuclear power plants, it’s clear that nuclear energy isn’t much of a solution to environmental and energy concerns. Even as this species should be getting over its nuclear flirtations, President Obama considers it a feather in his cap that he supported construction of the first new nuclear plant in three decades. Iran following suit isn’t the solution the world needs.

Almost every angle to the deal is lousy. If it falls through, Iran’s nuclear program could go any direction and tensions will remain high. If a deal is reached, Iran will be producing more fossil fuels and nuclear waste, neither of which the world needs. Human beings can harness the power of the atom, but we have not overcome our primal motivations of power, territory and wealth. Our mathematical abilities vastly exceed our moral capacity. Tom Cotton’s letter clearly demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the severity of the nuclear threat. As unwinnable a quagmire as this seems, we must support the Iran deal for the sake of peace and diplomacy.

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One thought on “Nuclear negotiations are no time for political games

  1. Pingback: War, from a last resort to the first | Third Rail News

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