Last November, the U.S. signed a Joint Plan of Action with Iran. The preamble opens with “The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” Iran stipulates numerous steps toward that end. The U.S. agrees on steps involving sanctions, and one of them is “The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”
So, what happens? The U.S. imposes new sanctions!
I think that there are several causes for such an action by the U.S. The Iranians have it right that there is a strong Israeli lobby. This is not all. The State Department is a nest of people who don’t know how to behave diplomatically. They continue to think in terms of a narrow economic model of human behavior in which they impose “costs” and their opponents then are induced or forced to give in. They say this explicitly: “Washington said the moves were a signal that there would be no let-up of sanctions while international talks were underway…” They act as if they have the rod and the Iranians are the children. It is a standard attitude among State Department personnel to look down upon other nations and to regard themselves as superior. They act as if others are too dense to see through this or too weak to resist it, and they fail to realize the long-term repercussions of such haughty behavior. Another cause, related to the Israeli pressures, is that important government offices and think tanks are manned by people with strong pro-Israeli sympathies. Another cause is that Obama doesn’t have the courage and/or the desire and/or the political strength to have said “no” to the new sanctions. He might even be against them or have told the Iranians that.
But the bottom line is that the U.S. government cannot even adhere to an agreement that it signed 9 months ago. The U.S. claims to be a world leader. Morally, in terms of right and wrong, its own behavior keeps undermining this claim. The claim of world leadership that it makes is often undermined by its unilateral meddling when the moral foundation and often the legal foundation of that meddling is absent or even contravened.
The U.S. makes this world leadership claim because it is the number one military force in the world in certain respects. It has the technology to pinpoint a target and launch a drone and missile against it. It can get inside the cell phone of the head of Germany. It can keep a fleet of submarines circling the oceans with enough nuclear missiles to wipe out any country and, in the process, endanger the entire world. But this power is far weaker than it seems. In practice, the U.S. cannot control Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia or Libya or Syria or Ukraine or even Haiti, not without destroying its own economic and social bases, which are the sources of its military strength and also rationalize its claim to be a world leader.
In the long run, it’s moral leadership that counts, not economic strength and not military power. That’s because human beings have strong ideas of justice. Children, even babies, understand justice and injustice. People worldwide understand when injustices are inflicted. They understand when people or states make promises and then don’t keep them. They may be forced to go along with a powerful force that is unjust, but they will in one way or another be seeking to overturn it and they will look for opportunities and means to do so. The U.S. government may look strong, but it weakens itself in the moral realm by breaking its agreements, by not acting in good faith, and by failing to reciprocate the concessions of others. If a government can destroy whole countries like Iraq and Libya, if it can encourage destruction as in Syria and Ukraine, if it can ally itself with a brutal expansionary state like Israel, and if it can train and encourage death squads in Central America, then we should not be too surprised if on a matter of lesser importance or salience to it like a negotiation, it fails to act in good faith.
American pride over weaponry is a shallow pride. Americans cannot be proud of their government or nation on a moral basis. They can only feel shame if they look with open eyes and minds at the behavior, past and present, of their government.8:00 am on September 2, 2014