‘Iran, U.S. Set to Establish Joint Chamber of Commerce within Month,” reports Agence-France Presse. Government official Abolfazi Hejazi tells the English-language newspaper Iran Daily that the Islamic Republic will shortly commence direct flights to America. Passenger jets, not ICBMs, one assumes — although, as with everything else, the details have yet to be worked out. Still, the historic U.S.–Iranian rapprochement seems to be galloping along, and any moment now the cultural-exchange program will be announced and you’ll have to book early for the Tehran Ballet’s season at the Kennedy Center (“Death to America” in repertory with “Death to the Great Satan”).
In Geneva, the participants came to the talks with different goals: The Americans and Europeans wanted an agreement; the Iranians wanted nukes. Each party got what it came for. Before the deal, the mullahs’ existing facilities were said to be within four to seven weeks of nuclear “breakout”; under the new constraints, they’ll be eight to nine weeks from breakout. In return, they get formal international recognition of their enrichment program, and the gutting of sanctions — and everything they already have is, as they say over at Obamacare, grandfathered in.
Many pundits reached for the obvious appeasement analogies, but Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal argued that Geneva is actually worse than Munich. In 1938, facing a German seizure of the Sudetenland, the French and British prime ministers were negotiating with Berlin from a position of profound military weakness: It’s easy to despise Chamberlain with the benefit of hindsight, less easy to give an honest answer as to what one would have done differently playing a weak hand across the table from Hitler 75 years ago. This time round, a superpower and its allies accounting for over 50 percent of the planet’s military spending was facing a militarily insignificant country with a ruined economy and no more than two to three months’ worth of hard currency — and they gave it everything it wanted.
I would add two further points. First, the Munich Agreement’s language is brutal and unsparing, all “shall”s and “will”s: Paragraph 1) “The evacuation will begin on 1 October”; Paragraph 4) “The four territories marked on the attached map will be occupied by German troops in the following order.” By contrast, the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, plus Germany) “Joint Plan of Action” barely reads like an international agreement at all. It’s all conditional, a forest of “would”s: “There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step . . . ” In the postmodern phase of Western resolve, it’s an agreement to reach an agreement — supposedly within six months. But one gets the strong impression that, when that six-month deadline comes and goes, the temporary agreement will trundle along semi-permanently to the satisfaction of all parties.
Secondly, there are subtler concessions. Explaining that their “singular object” was to “ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon,” John Kerry said that “Foreign Minister Zarif emphasized that they don’t intend to do this, and the Supreme Leader has indicated there is a fatwa which forbids them to do this.” “The Supreme Leader” is not Barack Obama but Ayatollah Khamenei. Why is America’s secretary of state dignifying Khamenei as “the Supreme Leader”? In his own famous remarks upon his return from Munich, Neville Chamberlain referred only to “Herr Hitler.” “Der Führer” means, in effect, “the Supreme Leader,” but, unlike Kerry (and Obama), Chamberlain understood that it would be unseemly for the representative of a free people to confer respectability on such a designation. As for the Führer de nos jours, Ayatollah Khamenei called Israel a “rabid dog” and dismissed “the leaders of the Zionist regime, who look like beasts and cannot be called human.” If “the Supreme Leader”’s words are to be taken at face value when it comes to these supposed constraints preventing Iran from going nuclear, why not also when he calls Jews sub-human?
I am not much interested in whether “the Supreme Leader” can be trusted. Prudent persons already know the answer to that. A more relevant question is whether the U.S. can be trusted. Israel and the Sunni monarchies who comprise America’s least worst friends in the Arab world were kept in the dark about not only the contents of the first direct U.S.–Iranian talks in a third of a century but even an acknowledgment that they were taking place. The only tip-off into the parameters of the emerging deal is said to have come from British briefings to their former Gulf protectorates and the French getting chatty with Israel. A couple of days ago, Nawaf Obaid, an adviser to Prince Mohammed, the Saudi ambassador in London, was unusually candid about the Americans: “We were lied to, things were hidden from us,” he said. “The problem is not with the deal struck in Geneva but how it was done.”