An Ethical Foreign Policy?

12/09/2013 09:48 am ET | Updated Feb 08, 2014

Iran's nuclear agreement recalls Robin Cook's statement about foreign policy having an ethical dimension, often misquoted as "an ethical foreign policy." Cook realized that ethics was just one of several dimensions. The Iran imbroglio almost has as many tangled dimensions as string theory -- with the ethical one hard to find. Even the Israeli stock markets bounced upwards on news of the Iranian accord, showing the invisible hand in a better light than the long faces of Benjamin Netanyahu and his ideological supporters in the United States Congress at the reduced prospects of Armageddon in the Middle East.

Sanity is to be treasured wherever it can be found, not least because it seems a rare commodity. Barack Obama and John Kerry deserve congratulations for standing up against Netanyahu and his supporters in Washington.

One does not have to love the ayatollahs and their theocracy to sympathize with Iran, whose pariah status in its own right could be considered hard-earned, not least over its immoral and expedient support for the regime in Damascus.

But any objective perspective on Iran has to step back to include its opponents in the overview. Why is it that the loudest yelps against Iran's alleged nuclear capability come from Israel, a state that itself has a large nuclear arsenal? Why do the claims that Iran is a threat to peace come from the same state which has noisily and repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, in between inciting the U.S. to do so?

The West backed a bloody invasion of Iran by Iraq under Saddam Hussein, involving the proven use of chemical weapons and gas. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, the Western powers rammed through the punishing reparations to the Gulf states, which are still being paid by Saddam's victims, the people of Iraq.

A United Nations commission determined that Iraq was the aggressor against Iran, which was scarcely needed, since it was so obvious. However, when I asked an Iranian diplomat at the UN why it did not leverage that aggression finding into first dibs on the Iraqi compensation payments to the Gulf States, he said that all Iran wanted was the vindication. It puts in context Teheran's punctiliousness about international recognition of its legal right to have a nuclear enrichment program, even if it agrees not to exercise it. It is a pattern that befits a theocracy.

India, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, developed its nuclear weapons and then voted at the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the Security Council for a civil nuclear program that was within the NPT terms. In return, the U.S., in effect, gave up nuclear sanctions against India, with its declared arsenal, to enlist support against Iran, which has repeatedly declared it has no ambitions for a weapons program and whose supreme leader has actually issued a fatwa against them.

Incidentally, while there is undoubted repression of journalists and dissidents in Iran, I actually told Iranian television, live, that even if the Iranians had the legal right to, they should not have a civil nuclear program because it was environmentally damaging and economically devastating. They have had me back on their screens often since.

One can sincerely doubt whether any country, let alone Iran, needs a civil nuclear program. Certainly, the costs that British consumers have been saddled with for electricity from the planned nuclear generators should raise questions about how economic such power is.

The cost of energy is clearly a factor in all this. I pointed out on Iranian TV that Iran was importing refined petroleum products because it lacked the technology to process the oil it was pumping.

The Gulf states, whose treatment of religious minorities, women and dissenters makes the ayatollahs seem positively liberated, have been supporting Israeli and the U.S. bellicosity -- behind the scenes, of course, since it ill befits the custodian of the two shrines to incite a unbeliever's attack on a Muslim nation. Would Obama have dared thwart them and the Israeli lobby at the same time if natural gas had not relieved the U.S. from its long-time energy dependence?

We can be pleased that Obama and Kerry have pulled off a deal and averted the immediate threat of war. But why should common sense be such a long-winded process? And how did shallow expedience so often hold it up?

Published originally in Tribune, George Orwell's old paper.