The Real Dispute With Iran

Talking to Washington is hard. Washington speaks loudly; listening is very easy. But having a conversation, with give and take (that is the definition of a “conversation”) is hard. Neither Lula nor Erdogan should take this personally; even within the Washington bureaucracy, a lower ranking bureaucrat will find it hard to have a real conversation involving the expression of fundamental differences with a higher ranking bureaucrat. The relative expertise on the issue at hand may well be irrelevant. The Washington culture simply does not give problem-solving top priority. That place of honor is reserved for demonstrations of power.

Obama’s Iran policy is caught up in this trap. So loud have the demands of Washington become that Washington does not have the guts to back down from its demonstration of power; it must win not because of the issue but because a calm, cooperative compromise would fail to demonstrate Washington’s power. Erdogan and Lula are now essentially using the same language in an attempt to persuade Washington to make solution of the nuclear dispute with Iran the priority, rather than the demonstration of power.

This makes sense. As long as the conflict is really about who calls the shots, Iran has every reason to resist a solution. As long as the conflict is really about who is Numero Uno in the Mideast, ditto. And as long as a solution requires the humiliation of Ahmadinejad, well, what politician ever accepts personal humiliation just for the sake of his country?

Ankara and Brasilia want a world in which secondary but rising powers such as themselves are free to express their own opinions and profit from nuclear technology. If Iran is denied those two freedoms just to satisfy expansionist right wing Israelis insistent upon dominating the Mideast, the national security of Turkey and Brazil will also be threatened. Today, the rule in the world is clear: submit to Washington and you get to proliferate (evidence: India and Israel); argue with the U.S. and you are denied the right to militarize nuclear technology.

If Washington truly wanted to solve the Iranian nuclear dispute, its best shot (no guarantees, of course) would be to ask Erdogan and Lula (along with the Japanese) to lead the way. But the result would be an admission that Israel does not rule the Mideast and that Washington must accept a new global nuclear regime: one in which all have the right to civilian nuclear technology, one in which kissing up to Washington is no longer the basis for access to nuclear knowledge.

That would be a far safer world for us all, but Lula and Erdogan will need some help, perhaps from Japan and Spain, to pull off such a coup.

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