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Asha Castleberry is a U.S. National Security Expert and U.S. Army Veteran. She is an Adjunct Fellow at the American Security Project (ASP) and a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council. She tweets at @ashacastleberry.
The Iran deal presents a contentious debate on whether the U.S. Congress should ratify the historic agreement. During its sixty-day review, various stakeholders aggressively attempt to influence the decision. Amongst all of the key stakeholders that are taking part in this debate, it is very important to learn from the military veteran community. The veteran community does not want Congress to ruin an unprecedented opportunity that could stop Iran from acquiring their first nuclear bomb.
As a proud U.S. veteran who recently spent two and half years deployed in the Middle East, I completely understand how Iranian aggression continues to be a threat to our national security. Our country still remembers when our falling soldiers in Iraq lost their lives from asymmetric threats that were supported by Iran. Currently, Iran remains supportive of proxy groups that are contributing to destabilization in the region. Countries like Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have every right to be concerned about their security: no one is in denial that Iran is a threat to our national security and our allies in the region. This is why we cannot afford to ruin the opportunity of stopping Iran from acquiring one of the most dangerous weapons of mankind.
There are many other veterans that agree with my point. Recently, a letter released by thirty-six retired U.S. generals and admirals declared that the deal is “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Instead of military action, allowing tough diplomacy to take its course will prevent putting soldiers at risk and facing unwarranted negative consequences.
Similar to many other agreements, the deal is not perfect. One major concern is that the sanction relief will provide more funding for dangerous behavior in the Middle East. Policy opponents overwhelmingly argue that the sanction relief will empower Iran’s treasury to support state terrorism. Undoubtedly, some of the money will go towards their destructive foreign policy. With the economic sanctions, the absence of any agreement enabled Iran to continue funding terrorism and growing its nuclear stockpile. Continuing on the same glide path of tough economic sanctions will not stop Iran from this behavior. The Iran deal is the only option that will do the exact opposite of stopping Iran from building their first nuclear weapon. Instead, the deal will put the brakes on the buildup of the nuclear program while allowing the U.S. to snap back to its original robust economic sanctions if Iran decides to cheat.
My next point is not to convince Washington that this deal could possibly moderate Iran but to take into account that the country’s current economic failures is transforming Iran’s foreign policy. Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s anti-West policies discouraged any hope of the country stopping expansion of their nuclear program. I witnessed this concern at the 2010 nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. There, I listened to the harsh remarks of then-President Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly. President Ahmadinejad’s keynote speech indicated Iran’s resistance to oblige key provisions in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which reflected a critical low point for the non-nuclear proliferation regime.
Currently, this is not necessarily the case. Surprisingly, Iran has regained its confidence to work with the non-nuclear proliferation regime. With this deal, Iran is willing to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct guaranteed and thorough inspections. This change in Iran’s behavior raises a very important question: what is causing the shift in Iran’s unprecedented nuclear policy decision? Over time, the people of Iran realized that economic prosperity is more important than acquiring a nuclear weapon. The Iranian people decided to vote for a leader that is willing to engage with Western powers. Iran’s anti-West policies placed them at a complete economic disadvantage, causing rising inflation and a high unemployment rate. The pursuit of economic prosperity was part of President Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 campaign platform. Iran’s economic failures are pressuring the country to generate more opportunities for a growing youth generation. In doing so, Iran is eager to fully reintegrate back in the global economy by restoring relations with both regional neighbors and Western powers.
A potential congressional rejection of the Iran Deal will take us a step back from preventing Iran building their first nuclear bomb and create a serious imbalance of power that could generate a nuclear arms race. Also, a congressional rejection will be a huge blow to the international community. On the world stage, this could possibly deepen the loss of confidence in the U.S. Congress. The U.S. should support this historic decision by joining the non-nuclear proliferation alignment with a congressional ratification that allows us for the first time to comprehensively stop Iran’s from growing its nuclear program.
PS21 is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.