Hawaii’s U.S. Congressional Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D, 2nd District) surprised me this weekend. And not in a bad way, either. Well known as one of the Democratic Party’s strongest hawks (in part, no doubt, due to her also being a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard), Gabbard released a measured, cautious and eminently logical statement on Friday, Sept. 11 outlining her reasons for supporting the Iran Nuclear Agreement, which takes effect on Sept. 17.
That deal will, in the words of The Washington Post, “end decades of economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.” It is quite controversial–especially with members of the Republican Party currently running for president–but also represents an historic achievement for President Barack Obama.
“I have spent the past several weeks carefully studying the Iran Nuclear Agreement and searching for a better alternative, considering seriously the arguments posed by proponents and opponents of this agreement,” Gabbard said in her statement before listing all the officials she’s met with. “I decided to vote for the Iran Nuclear Agreement not because it’s a great deal, or even a good deal. I voted for it because I could not find a better alternative. There are two main alternatives—both of them bad.”
Gabbard said the first alternative, get Iran to agree a better deal, is bad because, even if it were possible (which it mostly likely isn’t), “it would take many months, if not years, to bring everyone back together with no guarantee of producing a better deal than we have now.” During which time, Gabbard said, Iran would most like go ahead and build nuclear weapons–something Gabbard said they could do in “2-3 months.”
The second alternative–war–is even worse. “Military action now would set Iran’s nuclear program back three or four years, at best,” she said. “War would inflame the situation and create more chaos, leaving in its trail a cost that is impossible to predict, not only in terms of loss of life, but also on the American economy and the long-term strength of our military and national security.”
Gabbard then brilliantly summed up nearly decades of failings of U.S. military policy, stretching from Vietnam to the present day.
“Armchair generals don’t understand that while we have the power to decide when to start a war, we don’t have the power to decide when it ends, as we should have learned from our experience in Iraq and Libya,” she said. “Once a war starts, it takes on a life of its own–usually far more difficult and more costly than anyone imagined it would be.”
Of course, all this reasoning is entirely American. Iran has its own reasons for pursuing nuclear weapons–reasons that, if I lived in Tehran, would seem pretty damned solid to me.
“[T]he more prosaic reality is that ordinary Iranians crave nuclear arms because of a deep-seated sense of insecurity that they are vulnerable to attack by their enemies,” Con Coughlin wrote in a Nov. 9, 2011 Telegraph story. “Iran’s nuclear programme was, after all, conceived during the darkest days of the Iran-Iraq war in the Eighties when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Revolution’s founding father, reluctantly conceded that Iran needed to do whatever was necessary–including the development of nuclear weapons–if it was to prevent the country from being conquered by hostile Arab states.” Or the United States, for that matter.
For Iran, there’s no better protection against invasion than by holding nuclear weapons (after all, the United States has held the same view since 1945). We may not like because it doesn’t serve our interests, but we’re not the boss of the world, regardless of how many American officials wish it were so.
Photo courtesy U.S. Congress/Wikimedia Commons