Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


JULY 2015

The White House is making the point that Barack Obama's controversial nuclear agreement with Iran is similar to Ronald Reagan's decision to seek d├ętente with the Soviet Union, when he and Michael Gorbachev had their historic meeting in Geneva in 1985. Media commentators make a similar argument in support of the Iran deal.

In reality, however, Obama's opening to Iran's Islamic Republic to suspend its nuclear arms program has more in common with President Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972, which opened limited diplomatic relations with the hostile Communist regime. Here are four reasons.

First, unlike with the Soviet Union, the United States and China had no diplomatic relations after 1949, when Communist forces under Mao Zedong overthrew a pro-western government headed by Chiang Kaishek. Similarly, Iran and the United States haven't had diplomatic relations since 1979 when forces loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini ousted a pro-western government, then attacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took fifty-two American diplomatic personnel hostage.

Another factor: When Reagan and Gorbachev began five-year negotiations to end the Cold War, the USSR's leadership was weakened because three previous Communist bosses had died in four years. Gorbachev, a new, younger, untried leader was trying to save his nearly bankrupt economy from collapse. Neither China in 1972 nor Iran today suffers from weak leadership, although Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, is considered a moderate compared to his predecessor.

A third factor is that Reagan's negotiations with Gorbachev and his successor, Boris Yeltsin, led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its replacement by a separate Russia and fourteen new independent republics. There was little prospect In the 1970s that China was about to break up. And there's no evidence that Iran will soon fall apart.

Finally, although Russia gave up for a decade a plan to expand its influence in Europe, neither China in the 1970s nor Iran in the 2010s shows any inclination to pull back from long-term goals of extending their influence in East Asia and the Middle East. Even though Iran gives up its quest for nuclear weapons for a decade. its regime wants to establish hegemony in the Persian Gulf region and extend its influence into Afghanistan.

The real challenge to American policy in the Middle during the coming decade will not be a nuclear-armed Iran; the major test will be how to prevent Iran's Islamic regime from undermining the governments in Saudi Arabia and other pro-western Arab countries while also supporting Iran's operations to defeat ISIS (Islamic Sate \ forces from taking over Iraq and Syria and threatening Israel.

That task will consume the remaining time of the Obama presidency and also challenge future occupants of the Oval Office. It reinforces the view that wise foreign policy making is an essential attribute for the next president.

File last modified on Monday, 27-JUL-2015 10:54 AM EST

Feedback to Author