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Words from Winterbilt

Government Choices and Decisions

Shannon Bohrer

(6/2015) Last month this column was on making choices and decisions, as individuals. How we make our choices and how the importance of that choice is not always immediate and sometimes not important. This month, continuing with the same topic, we look at government choices, not that we can influence them, but how they can and could they affect us. The immediate and long term effects and importance are often unknown.

The negotiations between the United States and Iran over nuclear development - is a good example of a possible decision with possible significant long term consequences. On the face of it the idea is to negotiate a deal with Iran, so Iran cannot and will not develop a nuclear weapon. Sounds like a noble cause. So if it is so noble, why would anyone object to the negotiations and or any deal that would be made? There are many people that believe you cannot negotiate with a country that supports terrorism and violates human rights. That sounds like a good reason for an objection. Of course the support of terrorism comes from multiple Middle Eastern countries, possibly including Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi citizens - and we deal with them. Violating human rights is also important, but again, we deal with Saudi Arabia, China and Russia and many others.

Another often stated objection is that no matter what deal is made, Iran will not hold up their end of the bargain. Historically, Iran has been our enemy since they took Americanís hostages when Jimmy Carter was president. While that is factual, we supported the Shaw of Iran, who was our dictator that ruled Iran with our interest in mind, before Iran had a revolution. Since part of the Iranian revolution was for the purpose of throwing out our puppet government, should we take that into consideration? I do believe it is important to remember why we had a puppet government, which was part of our strategy in the cold war, which was also very important.

Was the Iranian revolution part of a very early Arab Spring? Of course the Iranians donít consider themselves Arabs, they generally think of themselves as Persians. Maybe the Iranian revolution was an early sign of change, and if so, how and when it will evolve and to what it will evolve to Ė is still unknown. One of Americaís exceptionalism traits is our inability to predict what will occur in the Middle East, even though we think we can. In that arena we have an excellent and consistent history.

There was also the Iraq Iran war, where we supported Saddam Hussain and Iraq against Iran. We canít trust the Iranians, but we trusted Saddam Hussain? We supported a dictator in Iran; our puppet government and we supported Saddam in his fight against Iran. Maybe, just maybe, from the Iranian perspective they probably have opponents to the negotiations saying that they cannot trust the Americans.

The reality is that negotiating with Iran to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon, might be a reasonable choice. Several years ago sanctions against Iran were imposed that were put in place by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and other countries. The other countries include; England, France Germany, Russia and China. The purpose of the sanctions was to create leverage against the Iranians, to encourage them to negotiate. Having multiple countries and the United Nations involved in the process encouraged Iran to negotiate. The key goal of the negotiations was to limit Iranís nuclear program. By international law and treaty, Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear development and use. The sanctions that have been imposed include trade restrictions, travel bans, the freezing of assets and nuclear technology. Some sanctions from the United State and the European Union include banking and oil, which by all reports has had negative effects on Iranís economy.

Historically, sanctions have not always been an effective tool in forcing an entity to change. The sanctions against Cuba for almost half a century is a good example. One possible reason that sanctions against Cuba did not work is that they were unilateral, just imposed the United States. Just because we did not trade with Cuba did prevent other countries from trading with them. The general rule is that to be effective, sanctions need to be multilateral. And the economic sanctions on Iran have been multilateral, which has been effective as a motivating tool for Iran to negotiate. However, having multilateral sanctions also means multilateral negotiations. The more parties involved the more difficult the negotiations.

Another large issue in negotiating with Iran is the current conditions in the Middle East. The Iranians are supporting the Iraqiís, the Kurds and the United States in the war against ISIS. But the Iraqiís are reported to be aiding the Houthis in Yemen, while we are supporting the Saudiís who are fighting the Houthi. So in one conflict the Iranians are our allies and in another conflict they are the enemy? If that makes sense!

I think we should consider that no matter what we do - we may not get what we want. If, as some would propose we hold out for stronger sanctions against Iran, to create a better deal, what happens if Russia and China decide to trade on their own? That is a big unknown Ė but is a real possibility. If we decide to negotiate a deal with what we have, do we really have any guarantees the Iranians will keep to the agreement? Some of the expertís so no, and every now and then some of the experts are right. If we donít create a deal and Iran continues toward developing a weapon, is military force an option? On this the experts seem divided; some saying military strikes would work and others saying it would not.

The reality is that we donít know what will happen with any choice we make. If you recall, the world said that North Korea would not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. They did and the threat still exists. So one perspective could be that no matter what we do; Iran could eventually build a nuclear weapon. When North Korea built a nuclear weapon, the Pakistani government admitted that one of their nuclear scientists helped them. Might there be other countries that would help Iran? There is always a probability that Iran could buy a weapon from North Korea. Because of all the sanctions against North Korea, they need the money the trade and they need oil.

History tells us that other countries have and will obtain nuclear weapons. What choices we make to slow down the process could be critical, but we really donít have any guarantees.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer