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The Iran Deal: End of American Exceptionalism

Iran nuclear deal
Picture by European External Action Service, licensed under CC BY 2.0

At the end of the Cold War, the magnitude and reach of U.S. influence could neither be denied nor contested by the international community. The Soviet Union, the only other superpower, had collapsed, which meant there no longer existed a check on the U.S.’s ability to extend its influence. With the U.S. dominating all major international institutions, maintaining the world’s strongest military and economy, and possessing massive amounts of influence in every region, it seemed that the U.S. would not have to engage in unfavorable diplomatic negotiations. America, it appeared, would be able to actively undermine any nation that challenged it, as its breadth of power would allow it to unilaterally solve most problems that confronted it.

However, two decades later, U.S. power has been on a rapid decline. After two failed wars, a majorrecession, and the rise of a great power in China, the days of American primacy seem numbered. Yet, the U.S. has had difficulty accepting this new reality as it continues to try and act as the sole superpower by not acknowledging and negotiating with adversarial powers. By doing so, the U.S. is failing to adapt to contemporary challenges and are actively isolating ourselves from other world powers and the international community.

As Americans noted with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. cannot hope to singlehandedly defeat extremist groups and impose democracies in the Middle East. Instead, it must employ local actors, some of whom America may dislike, to effectively combat greater, common threats in the region. However, that requires re-establishing diplomatic ties with “hostile” nations and even granting unfavorable short-term concessions to nations in order to advance long-term U.S. interests.

Accordingly, Obama’s decision to successfully negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran was a tactical move that yields consequences beyond Iran’s nuclear program. While some critics are calling the deal a failure, they miss the greater political importance of such negotiations. America gains little from imposing harsh sanctions upon Iran, as years of sanctions have done little to stem Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Further, without a deal, Iran is unlikely to yield to U.S. pressures to stop building nuclear weapons when the U.S. is responsible for Iran’s economic woes. A deal, however, provides an actual mechanism for regulating the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

More importantly, the U.S. gains political capital with Iran, which can then be utilized to acquire Iran’s assistance in combatting more pressing threats. Iran is a powerful actor in the region and can provide necessary troops and political leverage over actors such as Iraq and Syria to effectively combat ISIS and push for democratic transitions in these conflict-ridden countries.

The precedent established by this deal encourages continued negotiations with actors in the region in an attempt to develop pragmatic relationships that serve U.S. interests and to advance national security interests in the Middle East. However, if Congress rejects this deal and refuses to negotiate with key actors, the U.S. will continue to see a decline in its influence in the region. Additionally, war will dictate the terms of relations between the U.S. and the region, bringing about more sectarian tensions.

The recent re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba demonstrates that the U.S. can overlook past animosities when working with other nations. This is the same mentality the U.S. must use when voting on the Iran nuclear deal in coming weeks. Contact your member of Congress to remind them: The ramifications of accepting or rejecting this deal go beyond Iran’s nuclear cache. By accepting this deal, the U.S. demonstrates its continued willingness to negotiate with actors in the Middle East–by rejecting it, the U.S. continues to cling on to an outdated strategy that will only limit the scope of its influence.

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