Aug 24, 2015 9 Comments ›› orepa

Is your email box filling with appeals to you to contact Congress about the Iran deal? Are they telling you we have to have this deal or we’ll have war with Iran? After getting too many of those emails from surprising sources, it seemed worthwhile to step back and look at the big picture and remind myself what my commitment to nuclear abolition means. The result is this open letter:


Dear Friends who I love dearly and who I believe with all my heart mean well,


Please stop sending me “It’s the Iran Deal or War” crap. My inbox is filling with “Don’t Bomb Iran” and “Diplomacy Not War.”


I’m asking you to stop for two reasons:


  1. Surely you don’t mean it. Surely you find that insidious threat as stomach-turning as I do. “Don’t make us kill you for no reason at all. Because we’ll do it.” Despite the fact that, deal or no deal, Iran is still in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty—way more in compliance than the US, not to mention our staunchest MidEast ally which has not even signed the Treaty because it won’t comply with it.

That kind of talk is dangerous, right-wing cant and we should not legitimize it for one split second by pretending it might be true. It’s not an honest or fair framing of the question on the table. It’s a trap. Don’t fall for it, please, please, please.


  1. The fight to get the Iran deal approved by Congress is not our fight. It’s a dangerous distraction from the work of getting rid of all nuclear weapons.


I’ve thought about this a lot, trying to figure out what makes this deal so precious, and to whom, and here’s what seems clear to me. I’m looking at the big picture, because, really, that’s close enough to see what’s going on. The details, in this case, are devils distracting us from the big picture.


Here are five important things to remember about the Iran deal.


  1. The Iran deal codifies an astonishing double standard—though it’s probably lost its power to amaze in the United States. We get bombs; you don’t. We’ve taken this double standard as our right for decades, part of our idea of American Exceptionalism, I guess (which, technically, applies to a fraction of North America).


  1. The Iran deal doesn’t change much—Iran was submitting to inspections before and will be submitting to them some more (with or without a deal).


  1. The Iran deal props up the basic illusion of security on which nuclear weapon policy depends, that:


  1. a) nuclear weapons—which are suicidal as well as homicidal—somehow grant nations that have them a measure of security;
  2. b) if Iran is stopped from developing them, no one else will get them, either;
  3. c) nuclear weapons offer some assurance of regional stability.


  1. The Iran deal maintains an imbalance that, if you think of it from Iran’s viewpoint, is completely irrational: We, and Israel, are allowed to threaten Iran with our nuclear weapons (nothing is off the table, we always say), and allowed to “protect” ourselves with our nuclear weapons. They are not allowed to do either—they are not allowed to have nuclear weapons. In what rational world does this approach anything remotely resembling fairness or justice?


  1. The Iran deal also makes Iran jump through way more hoops and submit to way more inspections and accountability measures than we ourselves do.




And some others think it is this deal or war.


What I am not hearing anyone consider is this possibility, however remote it seems to us, armed to the teeth as we are with our nuclear suicide vests, laughing incredulously when Oscar Arias says our nuclear weapons are a sign of weakness rather than a sign of strength:


Maybe Iran is serious when both its political and religious leadership say they don’t want nuclear weapons. The reason I ask you to consider it is twofold: 1) If you were an Iranian in Iran, you could make equally rational arguments for and against nuclear weapons (if you set aside moral qualms, which apparently they are not willing to do); and 2) there is no evidence to suggest otherwise (even US intelligence estimates concur). I know! It’s just impossible to believe, isn’t it?


Bottom line: if the Iran deal is a good thing, it’s virtues are limited, and the framing of the current push to get Congress to approve it as “war or diplomacy” provides a wonderful cover for the weaponeers who continue to fund our nuclear modernization program with billions of tax dollars.


If we’re serious about nuclear abolition, I think the Iran deal is not our fight. At least some of us need to be saying, loud and clear, that any one-sided deal that countenances the nuclear double standard not only kicks the can down the road, it increases the nuclear peril by undermining the hopes of the rest of the world that nuclear weapons states might one day honor their commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.


  1. alice slater says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. As I wrote on the action alert for world beyond war:

    Wouldn’t it be great if the US stopped provoking Russia, agreed to a space weapons ban which it has been blocking, dismantled NATO or at least the eastward expansion which we promised Gorbachev we wouldn’t do after the wall came down, rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia which we walked out of and get our new missile bases out of Turkey, Poland and Romania so then Russia would talk to us about getting rid of our 15,000 nuclear weapons out of the 16,000 on the planet. so we can have complete nuclear disarmament as we promised in 1970 in the NPT and do it in 15 years, so we won’t have to worry about Iran when the deal is up. As Pogo said, “We’ve seen the enemy and it is us!”

  2. Vic Macks says:

    Thanks Ralph for making so much sense.

  3. Motoko Huthwaite says:

    Thank you, Ralph, for making sense out of what was way over my head. Our goal remains the same: No Nukes! Period.

  4. Carol E Green says:

    Your declaration, Ralph. is timely and helpful as I prepare my letter to the editor of the Maryville TN Daily Times that ran with the misleading AP story suggesting Iran would be doing their own inspections. The IAEA website addresses this, somewhat. Legal obligation for confidentiality, as with hundreds of arrangements with other IAEA states, leads to a “trust us” statement. The NPR report had more clarification of this “side deal”.

    But the point remains: The US Congress keeps blinders on so the nuclear weapons industry can keep on ignoring the NPT Article VI, and thus the US Constitution Article VI.

  5. Tupper Morehead says:

    Would not it be a good thing to stop the economic embargo on Iran so that the innocent women and children suffering from hunger, poverty, illness, and unnecessary death may be alleviated from some of the burden of trying to live until the next day? It is my understanding that the Iran deal will result in a lifting of the economic embargo. My preferential option is for the poor, who just want to live until tomorrow. Of course, if my only concern is about the future of the world, instead of whether the innocent poor will live until tomorrow, this is a moot point. For me this is a “both-and” rather than an “either-or” moral discussion. Both present and future are concerns for me, not either present or future.

  6. Tom Mayer says:

    I share the basic sentiments behind Ralph Hutchinson’s letter, but I think his arguments are quite wrong headed. The Iran Deal would make nuclear disarmament more, not less, likely. The danger of a nuclear attack comes not from Iran, but from Israel and the United States.

    The Iran Deal is significant for two main reasons. (1) The United States is doing something important that Israel does not want it to do. This could change the nature of Middle Eastern politics and perhaps curb the cycle of perpetual warfare in which we are stuck. (2) The Iran deal further isolates Israel as the major road block to a nuclear free Middle East. It will be subject to increased international pressure to eliminate its nuclear weapons. It might even face a boycott of crucial nuclear components.

    Eliminating nuclear weapons is not going to happen by nations suddenly deciding to live up to their NPT obligations. This is a-political utopian thinking. I much more likely scenario is the emergence of nuclear free regions accompanied by gradual reduction of the Russian and US nuclear stockpiles. The Middle East is a crucial region in this regard, and a crucial step towards making it a nuclear free region is weakening the lockstep Israel-US alliance. The Iran Deal helps in doing this.

    Of course Israel will never give up its nuclear weapons when it feels in danger of being attacked. This sense of danger cannot be eliminated if Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people. Thus the creation of a nuclear free Middle East is deeply connected with justice for the Palestinian people. Pressure from the USA is essential to motivate a change in Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians. Here to the Iran Deal is an important step in a positive direction.

    One of the great difficulties in eliminating nuclear weapons is the contradiction between between local security and global disaster. While proliferation of nuclear weapons makes a global disaster more likely (virtually certain in the long run), acquisition of such weapons does a country with a certain security against being attacked. This is why some countries want them.

  7. Kim Bergier says:

    Your open letter certainly is thought provoking.
    Tomorrow, Aug. 26th, at noon, some of us plan to be at Senator Gary Peter’s office in Detroit, MI to ask him to support the Iran deal. Now I’m wondering what to say, ask and/or do.

    • orepa says:

      no worries. tell him to support the deal.

      but it’s also an opportunity to remind him of the larger context. if what we really want is a world that is more secure, and free of nuclear threats, we have to do something about the biggest nuclear stockpile out there—ours—and the others than remain a threat to stability everywhere. in the MidEast, especially, Israel’s.

      the double standard—we get them, they don’t—is nearing the end of its holding power. that’s what iran should teach us. and in some places, we’ll have less leverage, so the time to prepare for the only practical solution (as Kissinger, Nunn, Shultz, etc are preaching) is now. we have to aggressively pursue downsizing of the stockpile, not investing in modernization.

  8. Danville Sweeton says:

    Absolutely right, Ralph. Peace and preservation of life on this planet can only come from working toward nuclear disarmament multilaterally; not by hypocritically demanding Iran refrain from building nukes while the U.S. and Israel continue to stockpile them; not to mention other countries that possess nuclear weapons.
    We need leadership for worldwide nuclear disarmament and we need it YESTERDAY!

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