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Until Donald Trump, Things with Iran Were Getting Better

Apparently, authoritarians love Donald Trump. That was the conclusion last year, during the Republican primaries, in this heavily retweeted Vox article. But that wasn’t my take away. Instead, what stuck out to me was how much authoritarians feared Iran.

Yes, Iran.

According to Vox’s poll, over 55% of high and very high “authoritarians” thought Iran poses a “high risk” to Americans. (Of course, they fear terrorism even more, though they shouldn’t.) They feel this way partly because Republican candidates during the campaign competed to argue who would fight Iran the hardest. While Trump never promised to rip up the deal on day one, he did promise to renegotiate it as soon as possible. Ted Cruz’ over-exaggeration in The American Thinker probably captures this best:

“[Iran’s] intention is to murder both of us. We face an enemy that hates us and has been very explicit that they intend to do everything they can to kill Israelis and us. These enemies are driven by a radical theological view that glorifies death and suicide. This deal harkens back to the Munich Deal of 1938, allowing homicidal maniacs to acquire weapons of mass murder.”

This is utter nonsense, and I’m trying to be polite.

Since the Donald Trump administration started, we have only seen more of this rhetoric, putting Iran “on notice” for its ballistic missile test. And worse than rhetoric, The New York Times reported that General Mattis wanted to seize an Iranian ship.

Far from being a tyrannical religious state, Iran is a theocratic-democracy. Far from being a threat, Iran is a regional power with no military capability to hurt the United States (unless we try to invade). Far from being motivated simply by radical ideology, Iran’s grievances with America are political and historic. Most importantly, far from being a disaster, the Iran nuclear deal has been an unqualified success.

If you’ve been following the news since we signed the Iranian Nuclear deal with five other countries, you would have seen a growing, beneficial relationship, not a looming threat.

Good News Story 1: Sanctions were lifted after Iran complied with the nuclear deal.

To sum up in overly-broad terms, Iran dismantled its nuclear facilities that were enriching uranium and transferred the enriched uranium to Russia. America and other countries then lifted sanctions and freed previously frozen assets. Even the most cynical Iran watchers had to admit this moves the Iranian time table for nuclear weapons back years.

Good News Story 2: Iranians elected moderates.

On February 26th, 2016 Iran held a legislative election for seats for their Islamic Consultative Assembly. And while Iran is still far from a leader of democratic freedom--the Economist has a fairly critical take here--moderate politicians gained seats. This means President Rouhani can continue to uphold the terms of the nuclear deal.

Now, comparing the Iranian elections to the recent elections in Saudi Arabia....Wait, Saudi Arabia didn’t hold elections? Of course not. Saudi Arabia has only held 3 elections in its history.

Good News Story 3: Sailor swap avoids military crisis.

Without a nuclear deal and renewed diplomatic relationships, the sailor crisis could have exploded, as we wrote about here. Arms control agreements don’t just limit the number of weapons each side has; they facilitate and convince historic enemies to engage in dialogue. This dialogue will help prevent future conflict. As we’ve written before, the most historic and revolutionary thing a President could do would be to become allies with Iran.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a very lethal scenario where the sailor crisis (or one like it) erupts into a regional war. In that scenario, thousands (or tens of thousands) die. Resolving the sailor incident peacefully was the best outcome.

Good News Story 4: America and Iran exchanged prisoners

Days after ratifying the agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran, America and Iran exchanged prisoners (seven Iranians released by America; five Americans released by Iran). Secretary John Kerry and Foreign Secretary Javad Zarif had been negotiating on this issue in parallel to the nuclear discussion for months, It also couldn’t have happened without the start of communication by each country’s head of foreign affairs through the nuclear discussions.

Good News Story 5: Iran renewed trading with countries around the globe

Free trade makes war less likely. Much less likely. (Remember, America and Japan stopped trading right before Pearl Harbor.) Since the Iranian deal, Boeing made a $16 billion deal to sell 80 planes to Iran, which means jobs in the US. Other countries have followed suit, exploring deals with Iran or planning to open branches/offices in Tehran. This free trade makes war much less likely.

(Of course, the US still has other sanctions in place so we may not be able to take advantage the way China and the EU will.)

Good News Story 6: A year on, sanctions continue to work

Read this article by Federica Mogherini, the chief EU negotiator in the Iran talks, about how the Iran deal one year on has been a win for both sides. The IAEA has the ability to do inspections it never had before and Iran is experiencing real GDP growth. More importantly, trade has jumped between Iran and the EU, which is sparking greater diplomatic cooperation. In all, the deal has been a win for all sides.

Donald Trump, of course, could upset and reverse all these gains. We have to hope he doesn’t.