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Author and analyst Phyllis Bennis says it’s largely a win for those opposed to militarization

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. The proposed nuclear agreement with Iran continues to generate plenty of discussion and disagreement. Opponents of the deal often cite a lack of control over Iran’s ability to weaponize their nuclear program, while proponents often suggest that some sanctions are better than none and ultimately the good comes in avoid conflict. Among the latter is our next guest, Phyllis Bennis. Bennis is, in addition to being an author and commentator, also directs the New International Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Welcome, Phyllis Bennis, back to the Real News Network. PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Great to be with you, Jared. BALL: So you’ve said that this deal is what you called a huge victory of diplomacy over war. But I’m wondering, is that a long-term victory given that Saudi Arabia, as a huge ally to this country, has a problem with the deal? Normalization with Iran might also mean that more arms dealers will want them as an emerging market, and of course finally the U.S. has said it will now increase its aid to Israel by about a third, which of course is the only regional nuclear power. So is this avoidance of war or conflict permanent, or at least extended? Or is this something that is only for the moment? BENNIS: Well, I think first of all we have to be clear what we’re dealing with. This is not a peace agreement for the world. This is not going to solve world hunger, end poverty, make everybody happy. This is not the circus comes to town. This is a deal to keep Iran from sometime in the future, if they decided to, which they have not decided to yet according to the CIA, the Mossad, and all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, decide to make a nuclear weapon. If they ever decided to do that now they can’t. So that’s a good thing. It ends over time the sanctions on Iran that have crippled the Iranian economy, as we know done very little to stop the development of Iran’s nuclear power program. They’ve built a lot more centrifuges, for example, to enrich uranium while they had sanctions. It’s people like in any country under sanctions. The military doesn’t usually get hurt very much. The people who get hurt are the people, ordinary people, ordinary civilian Iranians whose economy has been shredded by these sanctions over recent years. So from that vantage point it’s very important. The war that it I think is stopping is the possibility, the very real possibility unfortunately, of a U.S. war against Iran. That is not something that was off the table, that was impossible. And I think we have to look back and say that part of this victory belongs to the global anti-war movement around the war in Iraq. Because frankly if we had not had that huge global movement that culminated in February of 2003 with a day the world said no to war on February 15, somewhere around 14 million people flooding capitals throughout the world to say no to Bush’s war. We weren’t able to stop that war. But we were able to raise the political price of going to war. And so as a result I think part of the reason that George Bush did not ultimately go to war against Iran in 2007 as he was threatening to do, part of the reason we’re not at war with Iran today is because of that mobilization. That set of global mobilizations that made it far more expensive to go to war than many in Washington would have us believe. So I think yes, this is both an immediate and a longer-term victory. Now, does it solve the problem of the Saudi-Iranian competition for regional power? no. Does it deal with Israel’s existing nuclear weapons arsenal? Unfortunately, no. Israel still has the only nuclear weapons arsenal in the region, somewhere between 100 and 400 high-density nuclear bombs in their Dimona nuclear plant in the desert. None of those weapons are under international inspection. We don’t know if they’re corroding, if they’re leaking dangerous toxic material into the sands, into the water supply. None of that is known. Israel doesn’t acknowledge it has that widely known arsenal. It relies on something the call strategic ambiguity, meaning they will not confirm or deny that they have what the whole world knows they have, a nuclear weapons arsenal. Unfortunately, the U.S. has accepted that notion, so the U.S. also at the official level will almost never talk about Israel’s nukes and acknowledge that they are destabilizing the region. What Israel is really worried about here in terms of Iran’s nuclear power capacity, its ability to enrich Uranium, is that maybe someday Israel would lose its nuclear monopoly. That’s the threat. It’s not that it’s an existential threat to Israelis. It’s that it would lose Israel’s current ability to claim to be–to claim the deterrent that comes with being the only nuclear weapons power in the Middle East. BALL: So Phyllis Bennis, with that all being said, what do you think is the likelihood that this agreement will be ratified by Congress? BENNIS: Well first of all, we have to be very clear. This isn’t–it’s an agreement, as you said. It’s not a treaty. So it doesn’t have to be ratified. The [inaud.] BALL: Right. Thank you for that clarification. BENNIS: –ratify agreements. There is the danger, I think it’s quite likely, that when the vote comes in about 60 days from today, that Congress may well vote to, quote, disapprove of the measure. Now, what that’s supposed to mean isn’t very clear. But President Obama has made very clear that he will veto that resolution. The big question will be, will there be enough right-wing Democrats prepared to vote with the Republicans to overturn–I don’t think that will happen. It’s not impossible. There are plenty of right-wing Democrats who are afraid of the Israel lobby, who have no idea how discourse has changed in this country so that it is no longer political suicide to criticize Israel, although many of them still think it is. So I don’t think that’s going to happen. But we absolutely cannot assume it. Which is why a lot of organizations are working together. There’s a petition online at urging members of Congress not to disapprove. And if it is disapproved, not to allow, not to override the veto. There’s groups working to get other organizations and other individuals to write letters to the editor about this, to really flood social media. So we have to be very proactive about this. The fact that I don’t think that the veto will be overturned doesn’t mean it can’t happen, it doesn’t mean we can be complacent about it. BALL: Well, Phyllis Bennis, thank you for taking the time to help clarify this situation for us here at the Real News Network. BENNIS: Thank you very much. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News, and for all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as always, like Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.


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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.