How the pro-Iran deal lobby became the Russia appeasement lobby - analysis

The same voices who believe Russia must not be defeated in Ukraine are the same ones that wanted Iran to be empowered.

European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021. (photo credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021.
(photo credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

It wasn’t so long ago that pro-Iran deal talking points were pumping out op-eds at US newspapers arguing that if America didn’t do a “deal” with the regime in Tehran, then there would be war. Who would be going to war? They didn’t specify, but there were hundreds of articles written about how the absence of a deal would lead to war.

For an American public that was fatigued by the war in Iraq, which the Obama administration had left in 2011, avoiding war with Iran made sense. Now the pro-Iran lobby has shifted gears.

Now, the concern is war with Russia. Wherever there are US adversaries, the same voices come rushing into the breach to talk about how the US should appease the dictatorship and not escalate, engage or be mean to it.

The “war could break out” mantra is always the talking point of this crowd. It’s not necessary to name names here – what is important is the milieu. Back in the era of 2011-2015 when the Iran deal was being set in motion, the group of people pushing it coalesced around some ideas. Some were “realists” in US foreign policy, or pragmatists. Some were anti-Israel people who didn’t want the “Israel lobby” to influence US policy on Iran.

Others liked the Islamic Republic and had been lobbying for the US to shift its partnerships in the Middle East from the “Sunnis” to the “Shi’ite” Iranian regime, with the argument being that the “Sunni” regimes had radicalized groups that led to the Global War on Terror.

 A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iran, by contrast, could be a potential partner against jihadists. All the US needed to do was wake up and see Iran as a force for good and stability in the region. In this analysis, Hezbollah and Hamas, backed by Tehran, were not terror groups, but they were resisting militants who just needed to be “engaged,” brought into parliaments and moderated. We can work with Hezbollah, was the argument. After all, Hezbollah and Hamas provide social welfare and are part of the “global south.”

Iran, by contrast, could be a potential partner against jihadists. All the US needed to do was wake up and see Iran as a force for good and stability in the region. In this analysis, Hezbollah and Hamas, backed by Tehran, were not terror groups, but they were resisting militants who just needed to be “engaged,” brought into parliaments and moderated. We can work with Hezbollah, was the argument. After all, Hezbollah and Hamas provide social welfare and are part of the “global south.”

This logic led to the Obama administration reducing pressure on both Hezbollah and on the Iran-backed Assad regime. The Iran deal was an important project of the Obama administration, including for John Kerry, the secretary of state. While administration insiders called foreign policy circles in DC “the blob,” in reality they wanted their own blob to pump out talking points about how, if there is no deal, there will be war.

HAVING DONE the deal, the Iran deal crowd moved on. However, it is important to recall that among the milieu of supporters of the deal were those who were not only critical of Israel but who also believed the deal – or even a nuclear-armed Iran – could bring stability to the Middle East. This sounds counter-intuitive: How can empowering a regime that is vowing to attack Israel, using proxies in other countries, and bashing the US, be a good thing for stability?  

The logic behind empowering Iran, opposing Israel and wanting to reduce the US support for allies in the Middle East can now be understood through how some of those same voices that backed the Iran Deal have called for appeasement of Russia.

Let's begin with the assertion that a nuclear Iran might make the Middle East more stable, a claim made back in 2012. One American academic recently said on NPR that “this policy that the Biden administration is following is remarkably dangerous and foolish. We know that the one circumstance in which a great power is likely to use nuclear weapons is when its survival is threatened, when it thinks a decisive defeat is being inflicted on it.”

He argues that US policy today is to inflict a defeat on Russia in Ukraine. Remember, it was Russia that invaded Ukraine. But now the theory is that Russia, possibly facing defeat, might use nuclear weapons.

Now, wait a second: If a nuclear Iran would have made the Middle East more stable, where is the stability now that nuclear Russia has invaded Ukraine and driven millions to become refugees? And if Iran behaves one day the way we are told Russia is behaving with nuclear weapons, namely that Iran must not be “defeated” because then it might use nukes, isn’t that a recipe for cementing the Iran regime in power forever, shielded itself by them?

Furthermore, it seems to give Iran a blank check to invade other countries, the way Russia did, and then make countries concerned about escalating against Iran lest it feels it might be defeated and need to use nukes. This doesn't seem like a recipe for stability, but rather for enabling aggression.

NOW LET'S look at the case for appeasing Russia and see how it ties into the case for the Iran deal. Under the arguments put out in some US media outlets, the Russians are now being confronted by a “proxy war” in Ukraine. I’ve previously written on how this is falsely used to accuse the US of using Ukrainians against Russia, when it is the Ukrainians that want to defend their country from brutal aggression.

But now other voices are writing with dire warnings that this “proxy war” could lead to nuclear war and that Kiev should even be restrained from any kind of victory against the Russian invader, lest Russia feel defeated or lose the areas it illegally occupies in Ukraine.

The critics of Ukraine – the appeasers of Russia – are mobilizing to restrain the embattled county. Ukraine was expected to lose the war quickly, but now that America's adversary Russia is looking to be hobbled, the fear of the “realists” and others is that Moscow might lose too much.

As with the pro-Iran lobby, the goal here is to empower the US adversary as a counterweight to democracy and US interests. Of course this is sold as being in America's interest, having a strong Russia controlling part of Ukraine and invading whenever it sees fit, just as an aggressive Iran was sold as “stability.”

So even though it is Russia that started the war, the concern is put forward that if it doesn’t get most of what it wants then it might feel threatened, which could harm security in Europe. This is despite the fact that the horse has already left the barn when it comes to harming security – Russia opened that door with the invasion.

THE STRANGE nexus that links appeasement of Russia and concerns that it might lose in Ukraine, to the Iran deal and a bizarre belief that the Islamic Republic could bring stability to the Middle East, stretches back a decade and a half to the period after John Kerry ran for president, when he hinted at some of these concepts at Davos in 2007 while sitting on a panel with Iran’s former president Mohammed Khatami.

In the fall of 2009, the US even sought out a “reset” with Russia and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton posed with Sergey Lavrov – Russia's foreign minister then as now – in Geneva. This came a year after the Russian invasion of part of Georgia in the Caucasus.

Moscow likely believed in February 2022 that it could also invade Ukraine, as it did to Georgia, and it might get appeasement and a reset. Instead it has faced American resolve and a more unified NATO and EU.  

Nevertheless, the voices out there suggesting the US not “provoke” or “escalate” the situation any more in Ukraine continue to push op-eds at media in the US and UK. They warn of nuclear war and complain about every new initiative. They believe the same propaganda about “war” will work again as it did with the Iran Deal.

The argument reveals a hidden truth about the Iran deal. It’s now clear that the deal was designed to empower Iran and to basically hand it a blank check to invade countries in the region, under the guise that any confrontation needed to be replaced by “engagement.” And if Iran one day gets a nuclear weapon then the talking point will change to the one rolled out about Russia: We shouldn’t confront Iran or it could increase the danger of nuclear war.

In short, the same voices who believe Russia must not be defeated in Ukraine are the same ones that wanted Iran to be empowered – and some of the same voices that don’t want Ukraine to have all the funding it needs for self-defense are the ones who also opposed Israel-US cooperation.