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The Wisdom of Poignant Memory: Reflections on the Iran Nuclear Deal

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the commentator and don't necessarily reflect the views of WKMS.

As world leaders and U.S. presidential candidates react to the historic agreement between P5+1 countries including the United States and Iran regarding their nuclear program, Murray State history professor with a focus on diplomatic history Dr. Brian Clardy weighs in with his thoughts on the deal putting into context events of the late 1970s and mid 1980s.

The Wisdom of Poignant Memory: Reflections on the Iran Nuclear Deal

by Dr. Brian K. Clardy

Murray State University In October 1986, I was a very brash sophomore political science major at the University of Tennessee at Martin who held a deep seated distrust of the Soviet Union. Like President Ronald Reagan, I believed Moscow to be the capital of an “evil empire” that was bent on the destruction of the West and democratic values and that “Peace through Strength” was the only realistic posture that the United States should assume in any negotiations with the Communist Bloc.

One Saturday afternoon, I watched a breaking news story on television. President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev emerged from a small building in Reykjavik, Iceland….and neither man was smiling. Something had gone wrong during the Summit and the talks had ended. Later, Secretary of State George Schultz came on television and relayed the message that Gorbachev had made Reagan an offer that the latter easily refused. I was elated and cheered like the Chicago Bears had won another Super Bowl………to the dismay of my roommate who an accounting major and working on a spreadsheet.

A year later, when Reagan and Gorbachev met in Washington and signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (IMF) Treaty, my elation had turned to sour pessimism. Instead of cheering, I put pen to paper to voice my concerns. Several of my classmates (including current CNN political contributor Van Jones) had started an underground newspaper called “The Fourteenth Circle,” and I submitted a SCATHING op-ed to the upcoming second edition. Sure enough, the article was published under the blaring headline, “CLARDY SPEAKS!”

I was concerned that the President had given too much leeway to the Soviets and allowed them carte blanch superiority in conventional weapons stockpiles. Moreover, I argued that Moscow was totally untrustworthy as a negotiation partner and that the U.S. Senate should stop ratification of this pact in its tracks.

Now…..future events demonstrated how wrong I was, but from that experience I learned a clear and interconvertible lesson as a wannabe pundit: look at the details of any international agreement before going off the deep end.

So when President Obama announced that the P5+1 Talks in Vienna had yielded an agreement with Tehran, I took the news with cautious optimism. The fact that the Iranians agreed to any concessions on their nuclear program alone was surprising, but the devil is always in the details.

I am going to make two assumptions as this deal is being submitted to the Senate for consideration:

1. That Tehran came to the negotiations in good faith.

Since 1979, Washington and Tehran have been on………well…………not so good terms. Iran was considered, the United States, a sponsor of terror and a destabilizer in the Middle East. And Iran never forgot Washington’s support of the Shah and the humiliation of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s. And since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, there has been bad blood and could have led to armed conflict without the steady thinking of the leadership. With President Rouhani’s pragmatic decision to meet his negotiation partners half way, this deal was made possible. So I am going to assume that Tehran took these talks seriously.

2. That Tehran realizes the full scope of the ramifications should it renege.

The verifications regime that has been put into the center of this agreement is clear and solid. Unlike past Cold War era agreements from back in the day with the Soviets, the inspections processes cannot be skirted. And should Tehran back out, sanctions would be put back in play and other political and military options are on the table.

And let us not forget that a suspicious (and well-armed Israel) will be watching carefully.

Just the same, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, and the floor debates will be interesting to watch. And like that pedantic 19 year old in that dormitory in Martin, Tennessee, I will be watching and anxious to participate in the larger national conversation.

The difference now is that I am older and wiser…………and less apt to make sweeping judgments.

Dr. Brian Clardy is an assistant professor of history and Coordinator of Religious Studies at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. His academic research hs been published in "The Tennessee Historical Quarterly," The Journal of Church and State," and "The Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives."
Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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