My opposition to the deal with Iran is not premised on any assumptions about her potential future behavior, but on facts related to her current one, especially her financial, logistical and military support of Bashar Al-Assad even as he perpetrates genocide against the majority Sunni population in Syria. When I say that Iran seeks to project power in the region by exploiting Shia communities there, this, too, is not on assumption, but an observation of a decades-long trend.
But my criticism of Iran and this current deal should not be taken as statement of support of Sunni authoritarianism anywhere. After all, I am a pro-democracy activist and over the years I have never endorsed or praised authoritarian rulers nor spared them my criticism irrespective of their communal backgrounds. My political writings have always sought to highlight dangers to popular aspirations for democratic transformation in the region posed by the activities of different ruling regimes. My focus on Syria and the ruling regime there come as a natural extension of who I am, a Syrian dissident, but this does not make me unaware of the authoritarian tendencies of some of the powers that support the rebel movement at this stage. In fact, my long-standing push for a greater involvement by the US and the West in managing the transition in Syria was meant specifically to counterbalance this trend. My own personal choice to avoid direct involvement in the official opposition establishment is in many ways meant to shield me from entanglement with and reliance on nondemocratic forces. Had the West been more responsive to the demands of the secular and moderate forces since the beginning of the Revolution in Syria, we would not be in his deadly mess. But this is academic by now.
Back to the current moment, my criticism of what I believe to be a bad deal for the region and the world is not meant as an invitation for war, even if some of those who share my belief call for military strikes. Indeed, the rise of Iranian hegemony does not augur well for regional peace and stability. Despite all sanctions, Iran still somehow managed to provide as much funds as needed to support Hezbollah and Assad and their violent and criminal activities throughout the last three years. A country that is willing to go to these lengths cannot be friendly to democratic transformation or interested in stability. Perhaps by fomenting and encouraging instability elsewhere in the region, Iran’s leaders are seeking to avoid instability at home. By offering a deal to Iran’s rulers at this stage, the West seems to be turning its back not only on the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people, but also the people of Iran.
Iran’s atavism has long gifted us entities like Hezbollah, while Sunni atavism has conjured groups like Al-Qaeda, and now the two and their affiliates are fighting it out in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon destroying our hopes for a better future throughout the region. And the United States and the leaders of the free world seem to be “at peace” with that somehow, and they are hailing their deal with Iran as though it were victory. Meanwhile, their analysts are busy distorting facts and hiding truths to make it appear as an important breakthrough. Perhaps for them it really appears as such, and perhaps they are simply trying to convince themselves of that driven by domestic political calculations. It doesn’t matter. In either case, the price is too high, for the peoples of the region, and soon for many in the world as well. The tragic developments in Syria make the underlying danger amply clear.
More importantly though the Geneva agreement deals a serious and perhaps deadly blow to existing global order, because, and in the age of “Never Again” and Responsibility to Protect, it rewards the perpetrators and enablers of genocide rather than punish them. So, the message that is being sent to all different sorts of unsavory actors around the world is that the key to relevance in this world is still the ability to exercise maximum violence with consistency and impunity. Once again the Law of the Jungle is getting legitimized in the name of realism.
Yet, and in a sad commentary on how far we still have to go before we shed our ideological blinders, adherents of nonviolence and members of the anti-war movement are celebrating this development throughout the world. Meanwhile, activists who still call for democratic change and for punishing war criminals are denounced, not as dreamers and idealists, but as extremists and warmongers. After all, and history has repeatedly shown, the fate of war criminals and purveyors of genocide is seldom determined through political processes. So, we are told, by insisting on holding criminals accountable, and refusing to forgive and forget and accept to be ruled by genocidal maniacs again until they see the light and decide to modernize and democratize of their own volition and without any popular pressure, the pro-democracy activists are, in effect, calling for war, which, in the minds of the realists in the West and the idealists of the anti-war movement, make them, not the corrupt and dictatorial rulers, the source of current upheavals.
This is the essence of the realism being championed by the Obama Administration in cooperation with Russia and Iran, and advocated by the global anti-war movement and the international left. Peace and stability are higher ideals than freedom and justice in this calculus, which is the essence of the ethos that makes the deal with Iran and President Obama’s general policy directions seem so promising. But to activists like me, this is exactly what dooms the deal, and the region. For so long as the requirements of peace and stability and those of freedom and justice are presented as mutually exclusive, we could never hope to achieve either.