WASHINGTON — Since Jimmy Carter's utter miscalculations led to the installation of a radical theocracy in Iran, the Persian nation has become a thorn in the world's body politic — a rogue state in many ways fostering terrorism and preparing a nuclear capability that frightens most of its neighbors.
Now there seems to be a chance that diplomacy might at least slow down that process with even a small opportunity that could blossom into a normalization that would bring Teheran back from the brink on a long-range basis. On the surface, the interim agreement worked out with Iran's leaders during prolonged, marathon negotiations by the U.S. and its allies looks decidedly like a risk worth assuming.
But the question is whether the mullahs can be trusted or is the critic's comparison of Secretary of State John Kerry to Britain's World War II dupe, Neville Chamberlin, valid? Will the Iranians use the relief from the lifting of some of the oppressive economic sanctions while finessing the continued drive toward atomic capability?
Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, believe it is a potentially correct assessment, despite Kerry's assurances that their actions will be closely monitored.
The Israelis don't like this pact and there certainly is indication that some of Iran's neighbors share that concern, and might look the other way if Israel decided to act on its own. This puts an entirely different spin on the situation for the Obama administration, which must fend off Congressional conservatives who are skeptical of anything Obama does in the Middle East in the first place and particularly if the Israelis don't like it. The so-called American Jewish lobby is highly influential among American lawmakers.
Looming for President Barack Obama is a serious foreign policy brawl at a time when he already is trying to fend off a major assault on his one major domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act. This doesn't make for a pleasant Christmas holiday in a White House facing a new year of bitter partisanship that has hamstrung much of what the president has attempted to accomplish both at home and abroad.
Also on the foreign policy agenda is the agreement for providing some continued military presence for Afghanistan after most U.S. military operations halt at the end of next year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants several assurances that might force the withdrawal of all troops, including the residue left to train the Afghan army and police forces.
While there is a likelihood that Karzai will come around and the U.S. will make some concessions, one might also expect a new initiative from the Taliban once the bulk of the U.S. military support is gone.
On Iran, experts believe the Israelis have the capability of an airstrike that would set back for some time Iran's hopes of developing a nuclear device. Such an attack they believe would be tolerated by neighbor nations over whose airspace Israeli planes would have to cross. Netanyahu certainly has left little doubt that if push comes to shove, he would move in that direction.
Critics of the Kerry-led initiative also contend that it would set back the Middle East peace talks with the Palestinians. They say that there is every indication that the Israelis would use that to further dig in over the creation of a Palestinian state.
For those of us unschooled in the nuances and Byzantine machinations of Middle East politics that seem to produce one crisis after another, any potential peaceful solution to the 35-year standoff with Iran is worth pursuing.
The ignominy this nation tolerated after Iranian rabble overran the American embassy in Teheran and held its occupants hostage for nearly a year cost us the loss of global prestige and set the stage for three decades of tension that spread terror and unrest throughout the region. Obviously, there is much ground to cover and six months before a next step can be taken, but is it not worth a gamble?
There is a great deal at stake here, including a failure to pursue the opportunity that not only prolongs the tension but brings into play forces that further the chance of major regional conflagration. The Israelis are not going to sit by indefinitely while Iran becomes a nuclear power. It's time for some bipartisanship on this matter.
(Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps, shns.com.)
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at email@example.com.)