The Iran Deal’s Strategic Payoff

A successful nuclear deal with Iran could mean an expanded Iranian role in blocking Islamic State advances in Iraq and Syria, but the potential U.S.-Iran cooperation alarms Israel and Saudi Arabia which may explain President Obama’s silence on the topic, examined by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

The Iran nuclear talks may be getting close to some sort of conclusion in Vienna, but American political and policy elites remain, to an appallingly large extent, clueless as to what is really at stake in the negotiations. (This was a significant theme in Hillary’s appearance on CNN, see here, and in Flynt’s appearance on CNBC, see here, to discuss the Vienna talks.)

And, while the headline from a recent NBC News poll notes that Americans favor an Iran nuclear deal by a “2 to 1” margin, in fact, the polls shows that a plurality of Americans say they don’t know what to think about a possible Iran nuclear deal.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks to a crowd. (Iranian government photo)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks to a crowd. (Iranian government photo)

These observations underscore a point that we have been making for some time: President Barack Obama has yet to make the case to his fellow Americans for why an Iran nuclear deal, and, beyond that, a potential realignment of U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic, is not just profoundly in American interests, but is strategically imperative for the United States.

This failure will almost certainly make it more difficult for Obama (and his successor) to implement a deal. Furthermore, this failure will severely circumscribe the strategic benefits that the United States can accrue from a deal.

At the moment, many American elites convey particular distress over the Obama administration’s inability simply to dictate the terms of a prospective United Nations Security Council resolution that would endorse a final nuclear agreement and, to help implement such an agreement, remove international sanctions previously authorized by the Council against the Islamic Republic.

In its approach to drafting a new Security Council resolution, the Obama administration has been demanding that previously authorized limits on exports of conventional weapons and missile-related technology remain in place. Iran, for its part, resists any text that would imply its “acceptance” of continuing international sanctions. Moreover, Russia and China are not going along.

Likewise, Moscow and Beijing have rejected the Obama administration’s demand that UN sanctions be lifted only for six months at a time, subject to renewal, renewal which the United States, on its own, could veto, thus realizing U.S. ambitions to be able to “snap” sanctions back into place without being blocked by Russia and China.

That the Obama administration has been pushing these positions reveals much of what is so fundamentally wrong with the U.S. approach to diplomacy with Iran. As Flynt pointed out on CNBC, “This was an approach that not only were the Iranians going to object to it, but I don’t think the administration ever had a serious chance of getting consensus within the P5+1, among the permanent members of the Security Council. It was foolish, really, for the administration to take those positions on those issues.”

Yet these are the positions the administration took, and now it must either find a way to walk back from them or (foolishly) embrace a diplomatic impasse. Of course, this reflects weakness on Obama’s part, but not the sort of weakness for which neoconservatives and others constantly lambaste him.

As Hillary noted on CNN, “We have tried [the interventionists’] version of strength,invading Iraq; invading Libya; occupying Afghanistan for more than a decade; arming, training, and funding various jihadis in Syria and all across the Middle East. And all it has brought us is damage to ourselves.

“The real strength would be, just like Nixon and Kissinger went to China and accepted the People’s Republic of China, we need to go to Tehran, as we wrote in our book, and make our peace with Iran. It will help us. It will resurrect our position in the Middle East and around the world. And if we don’t, we will see ourselves continue to flail across the Middle East and around the world

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is here to stay, like the People’s Republic of China. What we need to recognize is that rising Iran, just like rising China, is a strong, independent power. And we need to work with them, not constantly try to bring them down and align with other countries like Saudi Arabia that get us into strategic disaster after strategic disaster.”

But that is precisely what Obama has been unwilling  to do. Could the United States still “walk away” from the process?

As Hillary said on CNN, “A decision by the United States to ‘walk away,’ to cut off talks with Iran would be just as strategically damaging, if not more so, to the United States than the decision to invade Iraq. It would have enormously devastating consequences for the United States in the Middle East, keep us on a trajectory to get into one never-ending, unwinnable war after another. And it would have repercussions for us globally, in economic terms and military terms.”

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of  Going to Tehran. [This story first appeared at]

14 comments for “The Iran Deal’s Strategic Payoff

  1. Peter Loeb
    July 10, 2015 at 07:08


    “No one would question Umm Hassan because she always told the
    truth…She said she knew Palestine would not come back until
    all of us had died…” Elias Khoury in “Gate of the Sun: Bab al-
    Shams”.. Norman Finkelstein discusss the central role of
    identity politics” and the “culture of victimization” in “The Holocaust
    Inustry” (Chapter 1). Nathan Perlmutter observed that “the
    real anti-Semitism” consisted of policy initiatives “corrosive of
    Jewish interests” such as affirmative action, cuts to the defense
    budget, as well as opposition to nuclear power and even Electoral
    College reform…” Finkelstein observes: ” Lording it over those
    least able to defend themselves, that is the real content of
    American Jewry’s reclaimed courage.” Finkelstein dissects the
    political implications in America in detail. Michael Prior CM
    analyzes the international roots and implications of settler colonialism
    which the Leveretts do not touch. (See: “The Biblr and Colonialism:
    A Moral Critique”)

    While I often lean toward the Leveretts’ conclusions, they lack an
    in-depth analysis of many of these factors. Oddly the Leveretts’
    approach lacks a reality somehow. A kind of fantasy of advocacy
    tends to result.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. Roger Milbrandt
    July 8, 2015 at 18:15

    This article is very weird.
    So far as I can tell, it is written by two people named Leverett and it is largely about the comments of two people named Leverett.
    Furthermore, one of these Leveretts comments that US intrusions into Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have only done harm to the US. Many people would disagree and suggest these actions have also done harm to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
    Surely you guys can do better than this.

    • JFK
      July 8, 2015 at 18:55

      It seems pretty obvious that the US invasions as directed by Israel into post 9/11 M-E countries have been bad for everyone except war profiteers and neocon/Zionist Israelis along with uninformed and misinformed supporters of Israel who might find some perverted satisfaction in all of this…

      • Apeon
        July 12, 2015 at 00:28

        Dear JFK—Just remember that the policies were Hillary’s, and you will get more of the same when you vote for her

    • Gregory Kruse
      July 9, 2015 at 08:31

      What is Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria? Are they like countries or something? Weird.

    • D5-5
      July 10, 2015 at 11:28

      The positions of these Leveretts make sense and are interesting because they appear to have gone against, or been somehow critical of the Bush administration. That could be clearer–it takes quite a while to wade in here to establish the credibility of these views. I needed to read carefully to not confuse the “Hillary” references with Hillary Clinton. Also in checking the first link I had to scroll very far down to come to the supporting material there, but in the process saw the attitudes of the CNN reporters in responding. The word “attitude” is correct, it seems to me, versus, “intelligent questions of” or “open-minded enquiry to.” The attitudes reflected remind me of the American mood in 1979 when Iran took American hostages for a year. There was tremendous anger, and so paranoia, fear, anger, desire for revenge, continuing on and on all these years, all inform these so-called news casters, and all this fits with bullying propaganda programs passed off as so-called “news and information.”. I believe the article should have pointed clearly to these attitudes in the questioners as a large part of the problem in informing the American public about Iran and coming to reasonable conclusions to help Americans get their heads out of the sand and see the world more clearly..

    • Apeon
      July 12, 2015 at 00:25

      Roger—NO they cannot

  3. Mark
    July 8, 2015 at 14:20

    Now if US politicians would stop the killing they’re responsible for by sending our tax dollars and military to fight Israel’s pre-planned wars — all due to Israel’s undue influence through lobbying activities — the entire world would benefit in short order unless cutting Israel off from the American dole causes them to throw some sort of a nuclear tantrum.

    Zionists are religious extremists with no equal in the lengths they’ll go to. It is possible they’ll choose the Samson Option if they don’t get their way.

    • Ali Javadi
      July 8, 2015 at 16:02

      Thank you for your accurate comments. However as an Iranian I have a simple question for you. Why does such a great country like US has been having so many stupid president one after the other for the past 50 years?!!
      How dumb can one be not to realise that Zionists are sucking the blood of your country to the last drop. It must be very frustrating for people like you!

      • Kooshy
        July 8, 2015 at 16:39

        When one speaks and have an informed dialogue with an informed American, what you brought-up is the most irritating burden on them, how to correct a burdening foreign country influence on U.S.’ real interests. IMO is not going away anytime soon and without blood. Iranians should make sure not to ever allow a foreign country’ interest supersede and burdens over Iran’ national interest.

      • Mark
        July 8, 2015 at 17:58


        To add insult to injury, the American people have been heavily propagandized by what in all truth is a “news and entertainment” mass media industry that is largely owned and operated by pro-Zionist interests. Many truth’s have been kept from us or misrepresented — one being the true history and reality of the Zionist/Palestinian conflict.

        The truth here is ugly and there are no nice words to make it look better or pretend it is something different.

        Another truth kept from us was the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected Mossadegh in 1953 for the sake of dirty and greedy corporate oil profits — only to install the murderous Shah until the justified Iranian revolution in 1979. I hereby extend an apology from all Americans who apologetically understand the truth as well as all those Americans that would apologize if they knew the truth.

        Our entire political system has been infiltrated and coerced by Zionist influence in the form of Israel’s AIPAC lobby and others — that threaten to fund the political opponents of any US official who does not back Israel’s desires.

        This is not to blame Zionists for the fact US politicians are weak self-serving traitors — and yes they are traitors having sold out the best interests of the American people to the highest bidders being the Zionists and war profiteers — it is hard to accept we are this corrupted and hard to imagine that we could be more corrupted. These wars for profit are not in the best interests of Americans or other world citizens.

        The truth is our politicians along with Zionists are partners in crime profiting by controlling and running the IMF, the largest banks (Wall Street), the military industrial war profiteers as they go around the world making wars and wrestling valuable resources from the indigenous people wherever they can get away with it — and they sell it all to the US public with the “news” propaganda as though we are bringing “freedom and democracy” to the world.

        Americans are just now beginning to see the truth. These US war policies are insane — we only have one world and we risk everything and put all life at risk because of greed.

        • Rob Roy
          July 9, 2015 at 14:01

          Mark, thank you for you accurate, beautifully expressed comment.

      • Anonymous
        July 9, 2015 at 18:24

        Oh! But it is! We have watched politician after politician succom to big money after taking office. In this regard the Israeli’s have been most successful.
        But good news awaits. Boycott, divestment and sanctions. For myself I buy nothing made in Israel. I oppose every bit of support for Israel. I will, along with my brother, disinherit any child of mine or his, who joins the military to fight in these imbecilic wars.

        • Uncle Sam's patriotic sister
          July 10, 2015 at 19:02

          Boycott Israel and their propaganda machine — being both the US “news” and entertainment industries. When is the last time anyone saw one Hollywood movie with an Arab or Persian as the hero?

          Word of the truth is getting around among everyday Americans and those that are seeing clearly can do their patriotic duty simply by pointing out the truth to those who don’t yet see it…

Comments are closed.